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Duterte apologizes as battle for Marawi City continues
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on June 26 claimed that the Maute group’s leadership is “crumbling” as the siege of Marawi City—which has caused more than 375 casualties, including 70 soldiers and an estimated 280 militants—continues for the fifth week. Fighting resumed in Marawi on June 25 following an eight-hour cease-fire declared by the government to allow residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on June 20 apologized to Marawi residents for declaring martial law on Mindanao, saying it was necessary to fight the terrorists destroying the city.
Key terrorist leaders reported to have escaped Marawi siege
Malaysian police on June 25 announced that militant leader Mahmud Ahmad is believed to have escaped from the siege of Marawi City in the Philippines, contrary to previous reports that he had been killed in the fighting. The Philippine military on June 24 made a similar announcement about the likely escape of Isnilon Hapilon, the emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia and the target of the Philippine government raid that triggered the fighting in Marawi. Hapilon is believed to have planned the Marawi offensive with the Maute group, with Mahmud providing financing for the operation.
China cancels high-level visit, border exchange with Vietnam over maritime dispute
Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, cut short his visit to Vietnam on June 18, and China’s Defense Ministry subsequently canceled the 4th Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange on June 20. Fan left Hanoi abruptly after meetings with Vietnam’s prime minister, president, and defense minister, reportedly due to Vietnam’s rejection of Chinese demands that it refrain from hydrocarbon exploration within China’s nine-dash-line claim in the South China Sea. Fan was scheduled to visit Hanoi on June 18-19 before observing the border exchange on June 20-22.
Southeast Asian officers board Japanese warship on South China Sea cruise
Military officers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states on June 19 boarded a Japanese navy Izumo-class helicopter carrier in Singapore for a four-day cruise of the South China Sea. The cruise demonstrated helicopter operations and gunnery exercises, but did not cross China’s claimed nine-dash line in the South China Sea. ASEAN military representatives also attended a separate three-day event in Japan beginning on June 20 that included seminars on international maritime law and the observation of military disaster relief drills.
Thailand approves national strategy bill to ensure enduring military influence
Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly on June 22 unanimously approved the National Strategy Act, which creates a National Strategy Commission that will consult with future governments over the next 20 years to implement a legally binding national strategy. The commission will initially be led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and will include representatives of the armed forces, business community, and other elite groups. The commission will draft a 20-year national strategy for cabinet approval, to be revised every five years in cooperation with future governments. Critics say the national strategy and unelected commission monitoring its implementation will give the military enduring influence over Thailand’s politics and economy.
Hun Sen tells opponents to “prepare your coffins”
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen on June 21 warned the political opposition and his critics to “prepare your coffins” if they continue to insult his government and threaten the stability of the nation. This is the latest example of Hun Sen’s heated rhetoric against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which escalated before recent local elections that the ruling party won despite historic gains by the CNRP. Hun Sen has repeatedly warned that only he and his family can maintain order in Cambodia, and that a defeat for the ruling party in the general election next year would lead to civil war.
Indonesia settles tax dispute with Google
The Indonesian government on June 14 reached an agreement with Google to settle the company’s tax bill for 2016 and the terms for future tax payments, but the government did not comment on whether the sides had reached agreement on payments for previous tax years. Indonesian officials had previously said that they planned to seek five years of back taxes from Google, which they allege failed to pay enough tax on digital ad revenue generated in the country. Indonesia has stepped up its enforcement efforts on tax payments by corporations under Finance Minister Sri Mulyani.
Singapore prime minister apologizes for family feud
The siblings of Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong on June 14 publicly accused their brother of abusing his power by attempting to preserve the family home against the wishes of their father, the late Lee Kuan Yew. In a series of exchanges on Facebook and in the press, Lee’s siblings accused him of ignoring their father’s will—which called for the home to be demolished—for his own advantage by exploiting the family legacy to create a political dynasty. The prime minister on June 19 apologized for the public disagreement, which he said had affected Singapore’s reputation, and promised to address questions on the matter when Parliament reopens on July 3.
Malaysian first lady implicated as 1MDB asset seizures continue
The U.S. Justice Department on June 16 alleged that nearly $30 million stolen from Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) was used to buy jewelry for the wife of “Malaysian Official 1,” previously confirmed to be Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Separately, Australian model Miranda Kerr on June 27 turned over to the Justice Department $8 million in jewelry gifted to her in 2014 by 1MDB-linked financier Jho Low. The Justice Department seeks to recover about $1.7 billion in assets bought with money misappropriated from 1MDB and has previously seized a Picasso painting given to Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two Hollywood films.
Myanmar military kill three in raids on alleged terrorist training camps in Rohingya areas
Myanmar’s government on June 22 announced that its security forces killed three men during a raid on a suspected Rohingya insurgent training camp in northern Rakhine State. The camp is alleged to be run by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the same rebel group accused of attacking military border outposts in October 2016. During the raid, described as an “area clearance operation,” security personnel seized weapons and ammunition from the camp in a mountainous area near the border with Bangladesh.
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