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Prominent lawyer and Aung San Suu Kyi adviser assassinated in Yangon
U Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and adviser to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, was assassinated at Yangon International Airport on January 29. The gunman was captured after fleeing the scene and fatally shooting a taxi driver. The president’s office issued a statement saying the assassin’s intent was to “destabilize the state.” To date, Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on the assassination and did not attend the funeral.
Duterte responds strongly to outrage over police killing of a Korean businessman
The death of a South Korean businessman while in the custody of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has caused international outrage at out-of-hand extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. In response, President Rodrigo Duterte formally apologized and temporarily suspended the PNP’s involvement in the drug war, vowing to hold those responsible to account and to “cleanse the ranks” of the PNP. The businessman, Jee Ick-Joo, was abducted by a police drug squad in October 2016 and brought to Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters, where he was allegedly strangled and cremated. Jee’s wife, still believing her husband was alive, paid $100,000 in ransom demands before her husband’s death was confirmed.
Duterte earns sharp rebuke from Catholic Church over drug war while seeking aid from the military
The Catholic Church in the Philippines has issued its strongest public statement opposing President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, calling it a “reign of terror” in a letter that raised concern over the extrajudicial killings stemming from Duterte’s drug policies. Thus far, an estimated 7,000 people have been killed as a result of the drug war. Duterte has transferred lead responsibility for the drug war to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and has said that the military will be called on to support the PDEA’s efforts. The troops will play a supporting role, the PDEA director general said, and will not be on patrol duty or responsible for their own operations.
Southeast Asians protest Trump’s travel ban despite muted government responses
Demonstrations were organized outside U.S. embassies in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines on February 3 protesting the U.S. travel ban imposed against seven Muslim-majority countries. While the ban does not directly affect Southeast Asia, protestors voiced concerns about Islamophobia and refugee rights. Government responses from these countries have been muted. Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said the ban “doesn’t involve Malaysia at all” and Indonesian president Joko Widodo said his country was not affected by the ban, but the Indonesian foreign minister said she had “deep regrets about the policy.”
Myanmar to investigate after UN Rohingya report calls out likely human rights abuses
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has promised to investigate crimes against Rohingya Muslims after a UN report, published on February 3, detailed extreme violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State since October 2016. The report says that it is “very likely” that “crimes against humanity” have occurred, listing allegations of mass killings and gang rapes by Myanmar’s security forces against children and adults. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government have come under intense scrutiny for their limited response to the violence. Access to Rakhine State, even for humanitarian aid, is still heavily restricted by the government.
Malaysia sends aid ship to Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar
A Malaysian aid ship carrying supplies for the Rohingya affected by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State departed from Port Klang, Malaysia, on February 3. After stopping in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 9 to deliver aid, the ship was slated to continue on to Teknaf, Bangladesh, to deliver aid to Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh to escape the violence. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who oversaw the ship’s departure, said the mission was a symbol of unity among Muslims that he hoped would not strain Malaysia-Myanmar relations.
Duterte declares early end to cease-fire with communist rebels
President Rodrigo Duterte on February 3 scrapped a six-month cease-fire with the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and insisted that soldiers should prepare to fight. Duterte’s move was in response to the rebel group’s killing of six soldiers and kidnapping of two others in violation of the cease-fire agreement. The NPA insisted that it had acted in retaliation to Philippine army provocations, while saying that the end of the cease-fire did not mean the rebels were uninterested in continuing peace negotiations and that it was possible to “talk while fighting.”
Cambodia cancels military exercise with the United States
The Cambodian government on January 16 announced that its premier annual joint military exercise with the United States will not take place in 2017 and 2018. A Cambodian Defense Ministry spokesman said that the Angkor Sentinel exercise was called off to divert attention to more pressing matters, such as the upcoming elections and the national anti-drug campaign, and that the postponement was only temporary. The cancellation of the U.S.-Cambodia exercise comes on the heels of Cambodia’s largest-ever joint military exercise with China.
Malaysia seeks revision of 2008 international ruling on island dispute with Singapore
Malaysia on February 2 petitioned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to review its 2008 decision to award Singapore sovereignty over Pedra Branca, a small but strategically located island at the eastern entrance to the Singapore Strait. According to an ICJ press statement, Malaysia says it has discovered three documents in the UK National Archives that support its claims to the island. The Singaporean Foreign Ministry says it is reviewing the Malaysian application and is preparing a response.
Top Indonesian cleric forgives Jakarta governor after apology for accusations of bias
Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma’ruf Amin has urged forgiveness for Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama after Ahok apologized for accusing Ma’ruf of political bias. During his ongoing blasphemy trial, Ahok’s legal team accused Ma’ruf of collaborating with the governor’s political opponents before the MUI—Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body—issued an October 11 opinion that Ahok had committed blasphemy the previous month while citing a Quranic verse, an incident that sparked protests against the governor. Ma'ruf has accepted Ahok’s apology and urged all members of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, to do the same.
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