- Philippine Congress okays bill on payments to human rights victims
- North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests
- U.S. to lift ban on women in front-line combat jobs
Posted: 23 Jan 2013 08:10 PM PST
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine Congress has approved a bill awarding compensation to thousands of victims of human rights abuses under late President Ferdinand Marcos's 20-year iron rule.
Under the final version of the bill approved by a bicameral committee late on Wednesday, payments amounting to more than 10 billion pesos ($246 million) to the victims will come from funds recovered by the government from Marcos's ill-gotten wealth.
The abuses occurred during the period of martial law from September 21, 1972 up to Marcos's downfall on February 25, 1986.
Victims who can claim compensation include about 10,000 people, subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and execution during the Marcos regime, and their relatives who filed and won a class-action suit against Marcos in 1995 in Hawaii.
Marcos, who was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1986, fled the country and died in exile in Hawaii.
The bill needs to be ratified by a plenary session of Congress on Monday before it is signed into law by President Benigno Aquino, whose late father, a former senator critical of Marcos, was assassinated in 1983 at a Manila tarmac upon his return from exile in the United States.
"We urge Congress to immediately ratify the compensation bill and for President Aquino to sign the bill into law so that the reparation process can start," Neri Colmenares, a party-list representative and one of the proponents of the bill, told reporters.
Marcos's family has since returned to the Philippines and retains power and influence in the country. His wife Imelda, infamous for her collection of jewellery and shoes, is currently a member of the lower chamber of Congress while his son is a senator.
In 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court awarded over $600 million in funds, considered to be illegally acquired by Marcos, to the Philippine government.
The bill provides for the creation of an independent body that will evaluate and process payments to the victims, with compensation to be based on the gravity of abuse they endured.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 23 Jan 2013 07:58 PM PST
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "enemy".
The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the United Nations Security Council agreed a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction the country for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.
"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.
North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.
"Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea," Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul as KCNA released its statement.
"We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," Davies said. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."
The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
The concern now is that Pyongyang, whose only major diplomatic ally, China, endorsed the latest U.N. resolution, could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.
Its previous tests have been viewed as limited successes and used plutonium, of which the North has limited stocks.
North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to U.N. and U.S. actions.
Its long-range rockets are not seen as capable of reaching the United States mainland and it is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
"The UNSC (Security Council) resolution masterminded by the U.S. has brought its hostile policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) to its most dangerous stage," the commission was quoted as saying.
(Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 23 Jan 2013 07:22 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will formally end its ban on women serving in front-line combat roles, officials said on Wednesday, in a move that could open thousands of fighting jobs to female service members for the first time.
The move knocks down another societal barrier in the U.S. armed forces, after the Pentagon in 2011 scrapped its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
U.S. defence officials said the decision to end the ban had been taken by outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and individual military services would have until 2016 to seek exemptions if they believed any combat roles should remain closed to women.
Panetta is expected to announce the decision formally on Thursday. It will come after 11 years of non-stop war that has seen 84 women killed as a result of hostile action in the unpopular, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military services will have until May 15 to submit a plan on how they will comply by 2016.
Women have represented around 2 percent of the U.S. casualties of in Iraq and Afghanistan and some 12 percent - or 300,000 - of those deployed in the war efforts in the past 11 years, in which there were often no clearly defined front lines, and where deadly guerrilla tactics have included roadside bombs that kill and maim indiscriminately.
Women serve in combat roles for the armed forces of a few developed nations, including Canada and Israel, but officials say demand from women for such jobs in NATO nations is very low. In 2010, Britain decided after a review that it would not change rules excluding women from infantry or combat teams.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a suit in November seeking to force the Pentagon to end the ban on women in combat, applauded the planned move, which will overturn a 1994 policy preventing women from serving in small front-line combat units.
The outgoing head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington, and Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also voiced approval.
"This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defence of our nation," Murray said. Levin said it reflected the "reality of 21st century military operations."
A plan for implementing the decision will have to be approved by the defence secretary and notified to Congress. The plan will guide how quickly the new combat jobs open up and whether the services will seek exemptions to keep some closed.
Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, questioned the extent to which women would ultimately gain access to front-line combat, saying he doubted there would be a "broad opening."
Michael O'Hanlon, a defence analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, noted that integrating women was "a very delicate matter." He called for the Pentagon to take a gradual approach, perhaps starting with special forces.
Former female service members cheered the move.
Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and head of the Service Women's Action Network, said her decision to leave the Marine Corps in 2004 was partly due to the combat exclusion policy.
"I know countless women whose careers have been stunted by combat exclusion in all the branches," said Bhagwati, who called the decision an "historic moment."
"I didn't expect it to come so soon," she said.
The move comes nearly a year after the Pentagon unveiled a policy that opened 14,000 new jobs to women but still prohibited them from serving in infantry, armour and special operations units whose main function was to engage in frontline combat.
For Panetta, it will add to his legacy as a secretary who oversaw the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and pushed the process to end discrimination against women.
Asked last year why women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan conducting security details and house-to-house searches were still being formally barred from combat positions, Pentagon officials said the services wanted to see how they performed in the new positions before opening up further.
(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Chicago, Marty Graham in San Diego and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler and David Brunnstrom)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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