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Over 150 escape in largest-ever Philippine jailbreak
Some 158 inmates escaped from a jail in the capital city of Cotabato Province in the southern Philippines when it was attacked by around 100 armed militants on January 4. One guard was killed and another injured during the jailbreak. To date, 43 inmates have been recaptured and 8 killed. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are believed to be behind the attack.
Top officials downplay Indonesia-Australia military cooperation rift
Indonesian officials have walked back a January 5 announcement by Armed Forces Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo that military cooperation with Australia would be suspended. President Joko Widodo was reportedly not consulted prior to the announcement, and Security Coordinating Minister Wiranto has clarified that only cooperation on language courses would be suspended. The suspension stems from complaints by an Indonesian officer assisting the Australian military with an Indonesian language program, who claimed the program insulted Indonesia by including materials that supported West Papuan independence and mocked Indonesia’s state ideology.
Myanmar detains police after video of Rohingya beating surfaces online
An online video showing Burmese security forces beating Rohingya villagers during a security operation has provided evidence of violence against the Rohingya related to the ongoing crackdown in Rakhine State. Journalists and aid workers have been denied access to the area, making independent verification of human rights abuses difficult. Four police officers have been detained on suspicion of involvement in the beating, and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said action would be taken against those who broke police force rules.
Fighting continues to intensify in Myanmar’s Kachin and Shan states
Continuing attacks have been reported in Kachin State and northern Shan State, with rebels reporting increased airstrikes and heavy bombing against ethnic armed groups, threatening the safety of refugees and civilians. The Ministry of Defense in a January 8 report stated that four additional Kachin Independence Army outposts had been seized. The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma on January 9 was barred from entering previously approved sites in Kachin State where human rights abuses are rumored to be taking place.
Vietnam deports Taiwanese fraud suspects to China
Vietnam on January 2 deported four Taiwanese nationals to China because of their suspected involvement in telecommunications fraud, despite strong objections from Taiwan. The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry claimed that Beijing pressured Vietnam into deporting the suspects to China despite repeated Taiwanese requests to have them returned to Taiwan instead. In 2016, over 200 Taiwanese involved in telecom fraud were deported to China from third countries, including Malaysia and Cambodia.
Philippine president tours Russian warship during Manila visit
Two Russian warships, the destroyer Admiral Tributs and the fleet oiler Boris Butoma, arrived in Manila for a goodwill visit on January 3. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte toured the destroyer on January 6, and Russian and Philippine officials expressed optimism for future cooperation on military exchanges, visits, and exercises between the two countries. The visit comes a month after Duterte sent his foreign and defense secretaries to Moscow to deepen ties between Russia and the Philippines.
Singapore charges Swiss banker as 1MDB investigation continues
A Singaporean court on January 11 sentenced Jens Sturzenegger, the former manager of Falcon Private Bank’s Singapore branch, to 28 weeks in prison and a $89,000 fine for his role in defrauding Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund. Sturzenegger pleaded guilty to three counts of falsifying financial information and three counts of failing to report suspicious transactions totaling $1.25 billion. Sturzenegger is the fourth person to be jailed, as well as the first westerner and fifth banker charged, in Singapore’s 1MDB investigation.
Singapore blogger seeks asylum in the United States
Amos Yee, an 18-year old Singaporean YouTube personality and blogger, is seeking political asylum in the United States. Yee was convicted of obscenity and served jail time in 2015 after publishing YouTube videos featuring profanity-laced criticisms of Christianity, Islam, and late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew. Yee was taken into custody after arriving in the United States on December 16 and will have the chance to officially file for asylum during an immigration hearing within the next few weeks.
Timor-Leste to terminate controversial oil and gas treaty with Australia
Australia on January 9 agreed to allow Timor-Leste to terminate a 2006 maritime border treaty that affects revenue sharing from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea, which analysts estimate holds $40 billion in reserves. Timor-Leste has sought to terminate the treaty for years, arguing it was unfair due to alleged Australian spying during the negotiations, and took the dispute to an international commission last year. The treaty will be terminated after a three-month notice period, and Australia and Timor-Leste will then renegotiate their maritime boundary with the help of the United Nations.
Chinese Navy makes first submarine visit to Malaysia
A Chinese Song-class diesel-electric submarine and a support ship on January 3 made a port call at Kota Kinabalu in eastern Malaysia’s Sabah State, the first visit by a Chinese submarine to Malaysia. According to an official statement from the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, the submarine stopped in Malaysia on its return from anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia. The visit builds on a November 2015 agreement for the Chinese Navy to make use of the port of Kota Kinabalu, and follows an October visit by three Chinese Navy ships to Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur.
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