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Indonesia strikes agreement with Freeport on share divestment
The Indonesian government on August 29 announced that Freeport-McMoRan can apply for a 10-year license extension at its Grasberg gold and copper mine after securing an agreement for the U.S. mining company to divest 51 percent of its shares in its Indonesian subsidiary. The agreement also commits Freeport to convert its existing contract—which expires in 2021—into a Special Mining License, build a second smelter in Indonesia within five years, and invest at least $17 billion in the Grasberg mine by 2031. Freeport will maintain control over operations at Grasberg and will now negotiate with the Indonesian government on the price of the divested shares. Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan on September 6 indicated that the divested shares would likely be sold to state-owned enterprises in Indonesia.
Timor-Leste reaches deal with Australia on maritime boundary dispute
Timor-Leste and Australia on August 30 struck a deal “on the central elements of a maritime boundary delimitation” in the Timor Sea, according to a statement by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Details of the deal will remain confidential until all issues are resolved, but it also included an agreement to address the legal status of the disputed Greater Sunrise gas field and establish a special regime to govern its development and share revenues. The deal is planned to be finalized in October.
Myanmar government under pressure as violence against Rohingya escalates
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 11 accused Myanmar of conducting “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” after more than 300,000 Rohingya crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August. The refugees fled after militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police and border outposts on August 25. The attacks sparked attacks by vigilante groups and a military crackdown that the UN human rights chief said was “clearly disproportionate” amid allegations that security forces have torched Rohingya villages and terrorized civilians to drive out the Rohingya population. The Rohingya declared a month-long cease-fire on September 10, but the Myanmar government refused to reciprocate.
Cambodian government cracks down on opposition and media
Cambodian police on September 3 arrested Kem Sokha, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, and charged him with treason on September 5 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Cambodian government with U.S. support. The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Bill Heidt on September 12 rejected the allegations and called on the Cambodian government to release Sokha. Radio Free Asia on the same day closed its Phnom Penh office, saying it had been forced to do so by a government that “has no intention to allow free media to operate” before next year’s elections. The Cambodian government previously forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to close on September 4 on alleged tax violations and shut down the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute on August 24.
Former prime minister flees Thailand before trial verdict
Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra fled Thailand before an August 25 court ruling that could have sentenced her to 10 years in prison for negligence involving a controversial rice subsidy program spearheaded by her government. Senior members of Yingluck’s political party said on August 26 that she had fled to Dubai, where her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has a home. The court responded by issuing an arrest warrant for Yingluck, confiscating her $900,000 bail, and delaying its verdict until September 27. Yingluck had previously been impeached in 2015 for corruption over her role in the rice subsidy program.
Malaysian opposition leaders testify for inquiry into 1990s central bank losses
Anwar Ibrahim, de facto leader of Malaysia’s opposition coalition, on September 7 testified before the Royal Commission of Inquiry regarding foreign exchange losses suffered by Malaysia’s central bank during the 1990s. Anwar, currently serving five years in prison, was finance minister from 1991 to 1998 and was questioned about whether he fully disclosed the extent of the losses to the Malaysian government. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003), chairman of the opposition coalition, was present for Anwar’s testimony and will testify before the commission himself on September 18. The inquiry, which began on August 21, is viewed as a means for the Malaysian government to revive scandals from Mahathir’s time in office and weaken the political opposition before elections that must be held by August 2018.
Philippine government "rethinking" approach to drug war after controversial deaths
Philippine presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on September 7 said the controversial deaths of three teenagers had sparked a "major rethinking" of the government’s approach to the drug war. Abella's statement comes after the body of a 14-year-old boy was found with nearly 30 stab wounds, the third teen involved in a recent spate of extrajudicial killings linked to the drug war. Abella said that investigations into police involvement in the killings and Senate hearings on the drug war indicated that a rethinking of the drug war is under way. The speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives on September 11 alleged that the killing of minors could be an attempt by "drug lords" to sabotage the anti-drug campaign and the following day called the Philippine Commission on Human Rights “useless” after the House of Representatives voted to cut the commission’s annual budget to $20.
Malaysian police claim to have thwarted attack on Southeast Asian Games
The new head of the Royal Malaysia Police on September 5 claimed to have foiled a plot by members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group to attack the August 30 closing ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games and August 31 Malaysian National Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur. The group of two Philippine nationals and six Malaysians was allegedly led by a 25-year-old Philippine national linked to past Abu Sayyaf kidnappings in the southern Philippines; no further details on the attack plan or how advanced it was were provided. The plot was discovered during a series of counterterror operations conducted from July 4 to August 30, which resulted in the arrest of 8 locals and 11 foreigners by the police’s Counter-Terrorism Division.
Vietnam targets central bank and national oil company in graft investigations
The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security on September 8 charged Dang Thanh Binh, a former deputy governor of the State Bank, with “lack of responsibility” and said he is accountable for $400 million illegally withdrawn by a former chairman of the Vietnam Construction Bank, which was taken over by the central bank in 2015. The charges follow a government report detailing flawed supervision of the banking sector and a refusal to follow anticorruption rules at the central bank. The government’s ongoing anticorruption campaign also hit national oil and gas company PetroVietnam, with four senior officials charged on September 1 for mismanagement of funds invested in Ocean Bank, whose former chairman and CEO are on trial for embezzlement and abuse of power. PetroVietnam’s links to the Ocean Bank graft case had previously brought down former Communist Party Politburo member Dinh La Thang, who was ousted in May 2017 for violations he committed as PetroVietnam chairman from 2009 to 2011.
Singapore declares first female president
Former speaker of parliament Halimah Yacob on September 14 was sworn into office as Singapore’s eighth president and first female president. Yacob—who is ethnically Malay—declared her victory “a proud moment for Singapore, for multiculturalism and multiracialism.” Her victory followed a controversial election process during which presidential hopefuls Salleh Marican and Farid Khan were denied eligibility by the Singaporean Elections Department on September 11, clearing the way for Yacob to claim the post without contest. The president of Singapore is a largely ceremonial position, but holds powers relating to the safeguarding of national financial reserves and the appointment of key personnel in the civil service. Yacob is the first ethnic Malay to hold the office of president since 1970.
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