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Full US Review of Policy Toward North Korea Expected

The Trump White House has ordered a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, looking at all the options Washington has for its future dealings with Pyongyang and the Kim Jong Un regime, well-informed diplomatic sources told VOA this week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the threat posed by North Korea as recently as Tuesday in his conversation with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Tillerson did not answer a question posed by VOA on the status of the policy review on Wednesday during his meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

A nuclear-armed North Korea presents President Donald Trump’s administration with one of its most urgent and potentially explosive problems, many experts argue.

“As the new president has heard directly from [former] President [Barack] Obama and in intelligence briefings, North Korea has nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems that already threaten South Korea and Japan, as well as U.S. bases in those countries and in the western Pacific,” said Evans Revere, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies in Washington.

Some contend it is time for Washington to take a different approach in its dealings with Pyongyang, such as directly engaging with the reclusive and unpredictable regime. Others are calling for a harder line against Pyongyang’s militaristic gestures, such as its ballistic-missile launch this month, timed to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s talks in the U.S. with Trump.


“The Trump administration needs to engage the North Koreans to determine how the two sides can avoid a possible confrontation that is in no one’s interest,” Asia-Pacific expert Donald Zagoria told VOA Wednesday.

Call for broader contacts

Zagoria, of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, is prominent among those who feel that broader contacts with North Korea are the best way to resolve differences.

He is senior vice president and director of a forum on Asia-Pacific security at NCAFP, which is based in New York. Founded more than 40 years ago, the nonprofit policy organization aims to resolve conflicts that threaten U.S. interests.

“The new administration needs to appoint a special representative who has the authority to deal with this issue and to coordinate policy across the bureaucracy,” Zagoria said.

The NCAFP is trying to organize talks between North Korean representatives and former American officials in the hope that such talks, the so-called “Track 1.5” diplomacy, can contribute to the resolution of problems that governments are unwilling or unable to address officially.

No details of preparation

Zagoria, who was a consultant to the National Security Council and the State Department under former President Jimmy Carter, declined to comment on details of the preparations for such talks.

One potential stumbling block, however, already looms. The State Department has not yet approved visas for North Korean officials to travel to New York for such talks.

A spokesperson for the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau, Anna Richey-Allen, told VOA, “An individual’s eligibility for specific categories of visas is based on a number of factors, including the activities that he or she intends to undertake in the United States.”

In contrast to the views of Zagoria and others who hope for greater engagement with North Korea under Trump, other experts argue that Washington “must apply immediate and unprecedented pressure” on the North Korean regime to compel Pyongyang to change its provocative behavior.

The United States should enhance “extended deterrence and measures to physically demonstrate U.S. determination to fulfill its commitments,” Revere said at a recent discussion organized by NCAFP.

Increased military exercises

Revere added that the United States could “increase scope and frequency of military exercises to include participation by other members of the United Nations Command,” including Britain and Australia.

If the planned Track 1.5 talks do take place, they would be the first such meetings in years.

“The substance will determine the significance,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It would provide an opportunity to hear if North Korea has anything new to say,” Glaser said, adding, “other than its familiar demands that Washington must recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state.”

Another factor could figure in U.S. diplomacy and the Trump administration’s expected review of policy toward North Korea in the coming weeks, said former presidential adviser Dennis Wilder, who worked for former President George W. Bush and currently is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s U.S.-China Initiative.

“The policy review may not be completed quickly,” Wilder said, “given the abrupt change of leadership at the National Security Council [after Michael Flynn’s departure] and the absence of new, middle-level political appointees for East Asia and Pacific affairs at the departments of State and Defense.”

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Threatening Letter Sent to UNHCR Staffer in Islamabad

The U.N. refugee agency’s head office in Pakistan has received a letter containing death threats toward one of its international staff members.

A senior police official told VOA on Thursday that a high-level probe of the incident had begun, and that efforts were underway to find the man who arrived in a white car at the UNHCR office in Islamabad to deliver the letter to a security guard there.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office is located in Islamabad’s highly secured Diplomatic Enclave, which houses mostly foreign embassies, including that of the United States. Visitors are strictly required to seek prior appointments from the concerned offices and are asked to get their car license plates registered with police at the main entrance a day before their arrival.

The UNHCR’s complaint registered with police, a copy of which was seen by VOA, says UNHCR security cameras captured images of the man while he was delivering the letter and of his car in the parking area.

“However, due to poor quality of the photograph and video, it was not possible to ascertain the registration number of the car and to identify the driver,” according to police.

‘Insider’ suspected

Police said they suspected that “an insider” could have sent the letter, and they ruled out involvement of Islamist groups. They insisted it was not possible for an outsider to drive into the Diplomatic Enclave without being detected, because security cameras cover the entire area and a heavy police force is permanently deployed there.

The news came as a series of brazen bomb attacks claimed by Islamist militants have killed scores of people in Pakistan over the past fortnight.

The anti-state Pakistani Taliban and local affiliates of Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the deadly violence.

On Wednesday, the military launched a nationwide operation to eradicate the threat of terrorism, responding to the recent wave of militant violence.

Posted by Ukrap on

Контактна група обговорить 1 березня у Мінську звільнення заручників – Моцик

Тристороння контактна група із врегулювання ситуації на Донбасі під час чергового раунду переговорів 1 березня у Мінську обговорить питання безпеки та звільнення українських заручників і політв’язнів. Про це повідомив представник України в політичній підгрупі Олександр Моцик.

«Політична підгрупа розглядає питання політичного блоку. Це вибори, амністія, конституційний процес і інші. Наша позиція чітка, що для вирішення політичних питань має бути вирішений весь спектр питань безпеки», – сказав Моцик.

За його словами, обговорювати будуть питання не лише, пов’язані зі звільненням українських заручників на окупованих територіях Донбасу, а й українських політв’язнів на території Росії. 

Крім того, додав Моцик, на порядку денному переговорів – питання гуманітарно-економічного характеру, які зараз є на Донбасі, питання біженців, тимчасово переміщених осіб та політичні питання.

Наприкінці листопада в політичну підгрупу, замість Романа Безсмертного, увійшов новий представник від України, дипломат, екс-посол України в Польщі та США Олександр Моцик.

Напередодні мала відбутися відеоконференція Тристоронньої контактної групи. Але, як повідомила речниця екс-президента, представника України в Контактній групі Леоніда Кучми Дарка Оліфер, зустріч не відбулася, бо представники російської сторони не вийшли на скайп-зв’язок. Російська сторона цього не коментувала.

За останніми даними СБУ, в полоні бойовиків перебувають 109 громадян України.

Звільнення заручників є однією з вимог мінських домовленостей про врегулювання на окупованій частині Донбасу.

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Прокуратура відкрила провадження за фактом викрадення Гончаренка

Прокуратура Одеської області відкрила кримінальне провадження за фактом викрадення народного депутата, заступника голови фракції «Блок Петра Порошенка» Олексія Гончаренка.

Як повідомляє кореспондент Радіо Свобода, провадження відкрили за частиною 2 статті 146 (викрадення людини або незаконне позбавлення волі) Кримінального кодексу України.

Сьогодні речниця генерального прокурора Лариса Сарган повідомила, що невідомі особи викрали Олексія Гончаренка. У прокуратурі та управлінні СБУ Одеської області Радіо Свобода підтвердили факт викрадення.

Нещодавно депутат Олексій Гончаренко відзначився акцією перед посольством Німеччини в Києві. 8 лютого на уламку берлінського муру він написав слово «Nein». Таким чином, за його словами, він висловив протест проти заяви німецького посла Ернста Райхеля, який в інтерв’ю «РБК-Україна» припустив, що вибори на Донбасі можуть відбутися і за присутності російських військ.

Генеральна прокуратура України почала кримінальне провадження щодо дій депутата, кваліфікувавши їх як хуліганство.

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Президент Ірану Роугані відвідав місто Ахваз після протестів

Президент Ірану Хасан Роугані заявляє, що його уряд вжив заходів щодо запобігання проблемам водопостачання в південно-західному місті Ахваз. Про це він заявив в ході одноденного візиту в місто, який відбувається через кілька днів після протестів щодо вимкнень електрики, забруднення і безгосподарності уряду.

«Уже було докладено також багато зусиль, щоб вирішити питання про аварійне вимкнення електроенергії», – сказав Роугані, додавши, що він відправився в місто, щоб оглянути заходи, які вживаються для вирішення проблем.

Жителі Ахваз, столиці багатої нафтою провінції Хузестан, минулого тижня вийшли на вулиці, закликаючи високопосадовців приїхати в місто, щоб побачити ці проблеми. 

На відео протестів видно, що натовп скандує проти «несправедливості» і закликає на допомогу. Демонстранти також скандували, що «чисте повітря» – це наше право.

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Росія: опозиція повідомила про «попередження» від поліції перед маршем пам’яті Нємцова

Про спроби правоохоронних органів російської столиці Москви «застерегти» учасників маршу пам’яті Бориса Нємцова, заплановано на 26 лютого, повідомили у четвер його організатори. На дії співробітників прокуратури і поліції, зокрема, поскаржилися опозиційний політик Володимир Мілов, член руху «Солідарність» Сергій Давідіс, головний редактор опозиційного видання «Щоденний журнал» Олександр Риклін, представник правозахисного центру «Меморіал» Олександр Черкасов.

Крім того, як повідомив правозахисний портал «ОВС-Інфо», поліцейські також прийшли додому до керівника московського відділення «Партії прогресу» Миколи Ляскіна.

У письмових «застереженнях» до організаторам маршу йдеться про неприпустимість «екстремістської діяльності» під час проведення акції, зазначають організатори.

Російські силові органи не підтверджують і не спростовують, поширеної представниками опозиції інформації.

Марш пам’яті Бориса Нємцова в Москві був узгоджений з міською владою. Подібні акції заплановані ще в кількох містах Росії

Опозиційний політик Борис Нємцов був застрелений 27 лютого 2015 року в центрі Москви. Судовий процес у його справі досі триває.

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У Женеві відновилися переговори за посередництва ООН щодо Сирії

Сирійські мирні переговори за посередництва Організації Об’єднаних Націй відновилися 23 лютого в швейцарському місті Женева. Водночас, як заявив представник ООН щодо Сирії Стаффан де Містура, він не очікує якогось «прориву» від цієї зустрічі.

У четвер де Містура відкрив раунд переговорів з окремих зустрічей із сирійською урядовою делегацією та делегацією від опозиції.

За кілька годин до приїзду делегацій Стаффан де Містура заявив журналістам, що найімовірнішим позитивним результатом нинішнього раунду переговорів стане «імпульс» для подальших зустрічей сторін.

Представник сирійського опозиційного Вищого комітету щодо переговорів Селем аль-Mезлет заявив, що його делегація проситиме про прямі переговори з представниками уряду.

«Це дозволить заощадити час і буде доказом серйозних намірів, замість переговорів в окремих кімнатах», – сказав він.

Протягом перших трьох раундів женевських переговорів, прямих зустрічей між делегаціями уряду і опозиції не було.

Близько 300 тисяч людей загинули і мільйони вимушено покинули свої домівки з часу початку в 2011 році громадянської війни у Сирії.


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Rare Jungle Cats Sighted in Northern Thailand

The sighting of rare jungle cats in northern Thailand has buoyed environmentalists and conservationists concerned that habitat loss and animal poaching are contributing to the species’ decline.

The jungle cats (Felis chaus) are found across a diverse region of the globe — from Egypt, West and Central Asia, South Asia, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia — and are considered a key indicator of wildlife conservation.

But conservationists say the jungle cat faces growing pressure across the world as its habitat is reduced by human intervention.

Two cats were caught on “camera-trap” in early January on the Omkoi Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai province.

Thanya Nethithamkul, director general of Thailand’s National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, told local media it may have been up to four decades since jungle cats were last seen in the wild in Thailand.  

“We thought jungle cats were lost to our forests. Locals have claimed to have seen them, but there was no evidence proving their existence. But this time we have pictures to show their presence,” Thanya said.

Photographer Parinya Paduntin was working with a team of research assistants from the Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Research Station. 

Parinya told VOA a sensor triggered camera was mounted in the park for two weeks in early January. The images of the rare cats sparked great excitement, he said.

“I felt great. We all thought [the jungle cat] was already extinct. You cannot describe it we were speechless. It’s a great success,” Parinya said. “If we could scream out we would have. It was so exciting. There was a chaos moment wanting to report the news to all my friends to say what had happened.”

Edwin Weik, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, said while not extinct in Thailand, the jungle cat remains on the list of critically endangered species in Thailand.

Anak Pattanavibool, director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Society, said the sighting was “very important”.

“The record of jungle cats these days, they are very rare and in Thailand a lot of good people believe it may have gone already,” Anak told VOA. “But this time, the person who used this high quality camera trapping system, got very good quality photos of the cat; very clear, very beautiful. It’s very, very important to confirm,” he said.

Jungle cats and other similar species are facing ongoing challenges in the region, where in many parts of Asia their populations have been in decline due to trapping, snaring and poisoning.

The International Union for the Conservation of  Nature (IUCN) has the jungle cat listed as “least concern” on the IUCN’s “red list of threatened species”.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) jungle cats are listed under Appendix II  meaning while not necessarily threatened with extinction, trade needs to be controlled to avoid threats to their survival.

The IUCN says a scarcity of jungle cats in mainland Southeast Asia “is likely the result of high levels of hunting in open and accessible” forest areas.

In Cambodia, in particular, the IUCN says all the protected areas “are insufficiently managed and threatened by habitat loss, degradation and hunting.”

Anak says the sighting of the jungle cats comes as their habitat more generally is disappearing.

“Most of the jungle cats have gone because of habitat disruption  the loss of grass, the open woodland habitat,” Anak said. “This is the habitat that is still remaining in very, very small pockets in northern Thailand  so it’s very important  we have to try to save this habitat.”

Thailand, pressed by the international community and CITES conventions, has taken steps to curb its role as a wildlife trafficking hub, especially in areas such as ivory shipped illegally from Africa and bound for markets in China and Vietnam.

Thai wildlife and customs officials have succeeded in uncovering operations trafficking pangolins, turtles, and tiger parts and bones for markets, especially in China.

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the non-government Freeland Foundation, monitoring wildlife trafficking, said the discovery of the jungle cats is set against the dangers and challenges of curbing trafficking and poaching.

Kraisak said in recent years some 30 Thai wildlife rangers have been killed by poaching gangs who often have travelled from nearby countries.

“In areas where we call animal sanctuaries along the border with Burma [Myanmar] and with Laos this is where we considered as the richest area for bio-diversification of fauna and flora,” he told VOA.  But the region is highly vulnerable to poaching gangs.

“People do come in illegally to kill wild animals here. We have even found that companies in China would hire Cambodians, armed militias to come into Thailand and hunt animals and cut the [protected] wood  redwood and other perfumed woods that sets high values in China itself,” Kraisak said.

Thai National Park director general Thanya refused to reveal where exactly the two rare jungle cats were sighted.  But he added the presence of the cats pointed to a healthy forest in the Omkoi Wildlife Sanctuary.

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China Aware US Navy in South China Sea, Respects Freedom of Navigation

The U.S. navy said the strike group, including the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson, began “routine operations” in the South China Sea on Saturday amid growing tension with China over control of the disputed waterway.

Defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said China had a grasp of the situation regarding the carrier group in the South China Sea.

“China hopes the U.S. earnestly respects the sovereignty and security concerns of countries in the region, and earnestly respects the efforts of countries in the region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Ren told a regular monthly news briefing. “Of course, we also respect freedom of navigation and overflight for all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law,” he added.

The situation in the South China Sea was generally stable, Ren said.

Good military relations between the two countries are in interests of both, as well as of the region and the world, and China hoped the United States could meet China half way, strengthen communication and avoid misjudgment, Ren said.

Friction between the United States and China over trade and territory under U.S. President Donald Trump has increased concern that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint.

China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea late last week. War games involving its only aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbors with which it has long had rival claims in the waters.

China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters that have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.

The United States has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free of movement. 


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Activists Urge Unilever to Press Myanmar, Help Rohingya

Activists are urging Unilever, a major investor in Myanmar, to speak out against the country’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, which the U.N. has said may be called “crimes against humanity.”

More than 10,000 people have joined the Facebook group for the campaign, known by the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow, and hundreds have signed on. A letter sent this week to Unilever CEO Paul Polman asked the company to clarify its stance on the Rohingya.

“Silence in the face of genocide, whilst doing business, is simply not an option,” said Britain-based campaign organizer Jamila Hanan. “Multinational corporations must start to speak out. They must be obliged to use their power and influence to help bring about a more just society in the regions in which they operate.”

Unilever did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Citizenship rights

Rights groups accuse the Myanmar army of burning homes, mass killings and rape in their sweeping counterinsurgency campaign in Rakhine state, where most of the estimated 1 million Rohingya live.

The Muslim Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination in Myanmar, a majority-Buddhist country. Most do not have citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even when they’ve lived in Myanmar for generations. The #WeAreAllRohingyaNow group is seeking a restoration of citizenship rights denied to the Rohingya by a military government in 1982.

Hanan says the group chose to target Unilever because it has been responsive to activists in the past. 

Advocate for social responsibility

Unilever, with some $55 billion in revenue last year, is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. Billions across the world buy Unilever-made Dove soap, Lipton tea, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

The company’s first factory in Myanmar opened in 2013. It now manufactures food and shampoo near Yangon.

Polman is a major advocate for corporate social responsibility and has won dozens of awards in eight years at Unilever’s helm. He recently signed an open letter to the U.N. citing concerns about Myanmar’s military offensives in Rakhine State, but not on behalf of Unilever, which has kept silent on the country’s politics.

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Police Rally in Hong Kong as 7 Officers Jailed Over Protester Beating

Tens of thousands of police staged a rally on Wednesday evening in Hong Kong. The protest followed a judge’s decision to jail seven police officers for beating a protester during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Many turned up in white as a sign of solidarity. Organizers claimed more than 33,000 people attended the rally.

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Australia’s Highest-paid Public Servant Quits $4.3M Job

Australia’s highest-paid public servant announced his resignation on Thursday, two weeks after a revelation that he made 5.6 million Australian ($4.3 million) last year sparked a public furor and created a political headache for the government.

Australia Post managing director Ahmed Fahour said he was quitting the national mail service on the same day the government-owned corporation posted a profit of AU$131 million for the six months through December. The figure was a big jump from the AU$16 million profit the corporation made in the same half a year earlier.

The Lebanese-born former banker, 50, said he was leaving because Australia Post had transformed from a traditional mail service to a parcel and e-commerce business during his seven years at the helm.

His resignation was not caused by the widespread public outrage at his high salary, he said.

“Clearly, this has been a very difficult and emotional decision for me and my family. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the timing is right. As the half-year results show, the transformation has worked,” Fahour said.

Fahour said he would leave Australia Post in July following the announcement of his successor.

The government later announced that an independent tribunal that decides the salaries of lawmakers, judges and government department bosses will be given power to rule on how much Fahour’s replacement is worth.

While the Australia Post board of directors will continue to decide the managing director’s salary package, it will now have to persuade the Remuneration Tribunal that the pay is consistent with what other senior public servants are paid.

Earlier this month, a Senate committee revealed Fahour’s pay despite objections from Australia Post that making it public could damage the corporation’s brand.

His AU$4.4 million salary plus an AU$1.2 million bonus in the last fiscal year was more than 10 times the prime minister’s salary of AU$507,000.

By contrast, U.S. Postal Service Chief Executive and Postmaster General Megan Brennan’s salary was $286,137 last year.

Fahour said that Australia Post should not be compared to the loss-making U.S. Postal Service.

“They are a letters company and, by the way, they lose $20 billion a year and have done so now for a number of years,” Fahour said.

“That’s not the right comparison. We need to be compared to other parcels logistics companies, e-commerce companies – and those companies are global,” he said.

When Fahour’s pay was made public, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former merchant banker with a personal fortune estimated at exceeding AU$200 million, said he told Australia Post Chairman John Stanhope that the salary was too high.

“As someone who spent most of his life in the business world before I came into politics, I think that is a very big salary for that job,” Turnbull told reporters.

The highest paid Australian public servant after Fahour was Bill Morrow, chief executive of Australia’s government-owned NBN Co., who was paid AU$3.6 million last year, including an AU$1.2 million bonus. NBN is rolling out Australia’s national broadband network.