Rabu, 20 November 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

U.S. Korean War veteran from California detained in North Korea - son


PALO ALTO, California (Reuters) - North Korea has detained an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave last month, his son said on Wednesday.

Merrill Newman, a retiree from Palo Alto, California, was taken away a day after he and his tour guide spoke with North Korean authorities during a meeting in which his military service in Korea was discussed, his son, Jeff Newman, said in a CNN interview.

The son, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, said his account of his father's disappearance and the meeting that preceded it was based on details relayed to him through another American travelling with his father at the time.

"I understand that my dad was a bit bothered but really didn't go into any detail (about the meeting) with his travelling companion," the son said in the telephone interview.

The younger Newman went public about his father's detention hours after Japan's Kyodo News Service, citing an unnamed diplomatic source in a dispatch from Beijing, reported that an elderly American man who had entered North Korea with a valid visa for sightseeing last month may have been detained. The report did not identify him.

Neighbours of the elder Newman in northern California told Reuters on Wednesday they were concerned about his fate after he travelled to North Korea but failed to return.

The San Jose Mercury News reported earlier that Merrill Newman was taken off a plane as he was about the depart the reclusive country on October 26.

The detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour.

The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

Jeff Newman told CNN, however, his family has been in contact with the State Department and had arranged for heart medication needed by his father to be delivered to the North Koreans through Swedish diplomats.

Of the meeting his father had with North Korean officials the day before his detention, Newman said: "The Korean War was discussed and my dad's role in the service, and the meeting concluded."


The elder Newman and his travelling companion went to dinner that night, he told CNN, and "the next morning, they got up, checked out of the hotel, went to the airport, got on a plane. Apparently five minutes before they were ready to depart, an authority came on the plane ... asked to see my dad's passport, and he was asked to leave the plane."

A recent newsletter from Channing House, the Palo Alto retirement home where Merrill Newman lives, identified his travelling companion as another resident, Bob Hamrdla, and said that the two were to be accompanied by Korean-speaking guides at all times on their 10-day trip.

"There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible," Hamrdla said in a brief statement released by Channing House on Wednesday that provided no further details.

Newman's son said his father had arranged his trip with a travel agent said to have been approved by the North Korean government for travel by foreigners and that he "had all the proper visas."

The elder Newman served as a U.S. infantry officer in the Korean War, later worked as a manufacturing and finance executive and retired in 1984, according to a biography of him in a February 2012 newsletter from Channing House.

Hamrdla, a former assistant to the president of Stanford University who moved into Channing House in 2011, did not return calls. He has led more than 40 study and travel programs to Central Europe, according to a biography on the Stanford website.

A State Department advisory to American travellers warns that "U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention."

North Korea says the detained man has broken the law, according to Kyodo.

Separately, North Korea said on November 7 that it had arrested a South Korean spy, but it has not provided any more details.

"The South Korean that North Korea claims to be a South Korean spy turned out to be 50-year-old missionary named Kim Jeong-wook," the Donga Ilbo newspaper of Seoul said on its website, citing Kim's family in South Korea and unnamed sources in China.

A U.S. embassy official in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed the two cases were separate.

U.S. missionaries of Korean descent have a long history of getting into trouble in North Korea and have required high-Profile figures such as former President Bill Clinton to secure their release.

In his visit, Bae brought in what the North said were "propaganda materials" aimed at overthrowing the state. An attempt by U.S. North Korean rights envoy Robert King to secure Bae's release in August was rejected by Pyongyang.

(Additional reporting by William Mallard in Tokyo, Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing, Jumin Park and James Pearson in Seoul, Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, and Arshad Mohammed and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

China Supreme Court rules out confession through torture


BEIJING (Reuters) - Using torture to extract confessions must be eliminated, China's Supreme People's Court said on Thursday, singling out a widespread practice that has long attracted international condemn.

"Inquisition by torture used to extract a confession, as well as the use of cold, hunger, drying, scorching, fatigue and other illegal methods to obtain confessions from the accused must be eliminated," the Supreme Court said in a statement posted on its official microblog account.

The Supreme People's Court also introduced more stringent rules for death penalty cases, saying adequate evidence must be furnished and that only experienced judges should handle capital punishment trials.

China's government said last week it would work to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

The Supreme People's Court comments were part of a statement on weeding out false charges in legal cases and follows a landmark package of reforms last week, including abolishing forced labour camps and freeing courts from political influences.

But judicial independence in China is often just given lip service, as courts ultimately answer to the Communist Party.

"The problem is always with the implementation," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch. "In the judicial system in China the public security system is by far the most powerful institution, and there are effectively very few checks and balances on how it exerts its power."

Rights advocates have long called on China to better safeguard the rights of the accused. Coercing confessions through torture and other means is a widespread practice, with some defendants in high-profile cases confessing to crimes in public before trials have taken place.

Torture is also rampant in the ruling Communist Party's own internal judicial system, laid bare in a September case, in which six interrogators were charged with drowning a man by repeatedly dunking him in a bucket of ice-cold water.

The Supreme People's Court also emphasized that courts much not yield to pressure from the media or "unreasonable petitioning by litigants." Public outrage has sometimes swayed verdicts in high profile cases.

The court released a paper late last month calling for an end to corruption in courts and for officials to stop interfering in decisions.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan, Li Hui and Natalie Thomas; Editing by Michael Perry)

Afghanistan, U.S. reach draft security agreement


KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Afghanistan reached a draft agreement on Wednesday laying out the terms under which U.S. troops may stay beyond 2014, one day before Afghan elders are to debate the issue.

A draft accord released by the Afghan government appears to meet U.S. demands on such controversial issues as whether U.S. troops would unilaterally conduct counterterrorism operations, enter Afghan homes or protect the country from outside attack.

Without the accord, Washington has warned it could withdraw its troops by the end of next year and leave Afghan forces to fight a Taliban-led insurgency without their help.

Thousands of Afghan dignitaries and elders are due to convene in a giant tent in the capital Kabul on Thursday to debate the fate of U.S. forces after a 2014 drawdown of a multinational NATO force.

"We have reached an agreement as to the final language of the bilateral security agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga tomorrow," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the U.S. capital, referring to the gathering.

The draft agreement is to take effect on January 1, 2015, and says it will remain in effect "until the end of 2024 and beyond, unless terminated."

A senior U.S. administration official said there has been no decision on the size of any post-2014 U.S. force, however the administration does not foresee a residual force staying in Afghanistan until anywhere near 2024.

Intense negotiations between Kabul and Washington have provoked frustration among the Afghan tribal and political elders who made perilous journeys from all over the country to the capital Kabul for a grand assembly to debate the pact.

Efforts to finalise the pact stalled on Tuesday amid disagreement over whether U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to issue a letter acknowledging mistakes made during the 12-year Afghan war.

Kerry denied any discussion about the possibility of a U.S. apology to Afghanistan for U.S. mistakes or Afghan civilian casualties, a move that would likely draw widespread anger in the United States.

"The important thing for people to understand is there has never been a discussion of or the word 'apology' used in our discussions whatsoever," Kerry said, adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also not asked for an apology.

It was unclear where the notion of an apology originated.

A U.S. official said that when Kerry declined Karzai's invitation to attend the Loya Jirga, the Afghan leader asked for U.S. reassurances to the council on the future security relationship that would also address civilian casualties.

Kerry suggested outlining the U.S. position in a letter. When Karzai asked if the letter could come from Obama, Kerry said he would check, this official added.

The secretary of state on Wednesday said "it is up to President Obama and the White House to address any issues with respect to any possible communication" between the two presidents.

Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, insisted on Tuesday that an apology was "not on the table."


The 24-page draft agreement posted on the Afghan foreign ministry's website suggested that the United States had got its way on several controversial issues:

- The pact does not commit the United States to defend Afghanistan from foreign attack, saying rather that Washington "shall regard with grave concern any external aggression;"

- It says U.S. forces "shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes" - phrasing that suggests they could enter Afghan homes as long as civilians were not the objective;

- It says U.S. military operations may be needed to fight al Qaeda and says the two countries will cooperate "with the intention of protecting U.S. and Afghan national interests without unilateral U.S. military counterterrorism operations," phrasing that does not absolutely rule out the United States acting on its own.

- It gives the United States the exclusive right to try U.S. forces for criminal or civilian offences in Afghanistan and it grants U.S. military aircraft unfettered over flight rights.


U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and toppled its Taliban-led government which harboured the al Qaeda leaders.

Their presence has generated deep enmity among some Afghans who resent what they see as U.S. violations of their sovereignty and civilian casualties flowing from U.S. military operations.

The drawdown of Western troops has allowed tentative peace overtures between Kabul and the Taliban to gather pace, and Afghan officials arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to initiate talks.

The Taliban have nonetheless condemned the Loya Jirga as a farce, and security has been tight in Kabul following a suicide bomb attack near the assembly ground over the weekend.

Insurgents fired two rockets at the tent where the last Loya Jirga was last held in 2011, but missed the delegates.

If the two sides cannot agree on a pact, Karzai has suggested submitting different versions of the document for the Loya Jirga to decide on. That caused confusion among Jirga members.

Khan Ali Rotman, who runs a Kabul youth organisation, said if the pact was not in Afghanistan's national interests, "we will raise our voice and not vote for it".

But a Kabul senator, Khan Mohammad Belaghi, said Afghanistan had no choice but to sign:

"We have to have a partnership with a country like the United States and we will vote in favour of it because it can protect us from threats from neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, and the Taliban."

Violence spiralled on the eve of the meeting, with the Taliban attacking two high-ranking police officials.

Gunmen ambushed and killed the police chief of Marja district in the southern province of Helmand on his way to work, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Also in the south, guards shot dead a suicide bomber trying to force his way inside the house of the Kandahar provincial police chief, said Hamid Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the police. Later a bomb exploded at a hotel a few doors away, killing three and wounding 14, he said.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Katharine Houreld in Kabul and Sarwar Amani in Kandahar, Dylan Welch in Islamabad and Steve Holland in Washington; writing by Maria Golovnina and Lesley Wroughton; editing by Ralph Boulton and Jackie Frank)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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