- Thousands flee on third day of siege in Zamboanga
- Riau farmers sue Susilo over haze
- First underground reservoir planned
ZAMBOANGA: Muslim rebels took potshots at Philippine troops as they hid behind hostages who were roped together pleading for mercy, on the third day of a deadly siege in a key southern city.
As the fighting intensified in Zamboanga city with soldiers backed by armoured troop carriers hunting down snipers and rebels, thousands more residents fled, many of them taking refuge in a sports stadium.
In the nearby Santa Catalina district, troops confronted Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrillas hiding behind about 30 men who had been roped together and made to stand on the side of a street.
"Stop firing! Stop firing!" shouted the men while waving white blankets as the gunmen behind them took potshots at the soldiers.
About 180 rebels poured into six coastal neighbourhoods, home to 160,000 mainly Muslim residents, before dawn on Monday in a bid to derail peace talks.
Three days of fighting has left 12 people dead, including two civilians, a police officer, a soldier and eight rebels, according to the latest official tally. Another 36 people have been wounded, including three policemen and 12 soldiers.
Police also arrested two male MNLF suspects in Santa Catalina, wounding one of them. Officers said the men were carrying bags of rice which they had scattered on the floor to reveal two hidden pistols.
In the Santa Barbara neighbourhood black smoke rose into the sky as a government building burned, but sniper fire held back a convoy of firetrucks sent to put out the blaze.
Behind the burning building two rebel snipers fell from the upper sections of a mosque after taking fire from an armoured car. Soldiers later poured into the building.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said the rebels were demanding international mediation.
She said a former governor from the rebels' stronghold of Sulu province tried to talk to the gunmen on Tuesday, but "they refuse to listen to anybody locally."
"They say that it's an international problem, and no less than the international community, the United Nation, should come in," she told television network ABS-CBN.
The fighting continued as a rival Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), held talks with the government aimed at ending a rebellion that has claimed 150,000 lives in the south.
The two sides issued a joint statement at the venue of the talks in Malaysia denouncing the MNLF attack.
"Their actions intend to derail the (peace) process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos," the statement said, calling for the perpetrators to be "stopped and held accountable".
The talks are fleshing out a draft power-sharing arrangement between the national government and a Muslim self-rule area in the south that is expected to be led by the MILF, as well as the post-conflict demobilisation of the group.
About 3km away from the fighting, 13,000 people were taking refuge in the Zamboanga stadium.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said police and the military had the six besieged neighbourhoods surrounded but ruled out a full-fledged military assault for fear of heavy civilian casualties.
"We continue to look for ways to solve this problem peacefully," he told a news conference.
Officials said their efforts were made more difficult because the rebels were hiding among the civilian residents, and because they had failed so far to reach MNLF founder Nur Misuari.
A similar deadly siege on Zamboanga in 2001 led to his imprisonment until 2008, when all charges against him were dropped. — AFP
JAKARTA: Indonesian farmers in a province at the centre of South-East Asia's worst smog outbreak for years have filed a lawsuit against the president in response to the haze crisis.
Environmental groups on Tuesday filed the class-action lawsuit at the Jakarta High Court on behalf of farmers from five villages in Riau province on Sumatra island.
They argue that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not done enough to curb activities, such as slash-and-burn land clearance and logging, that lead to climate change, and their lives are being deeply affected.
In June, raging fires set to clear land in Riau cloaked the province, Malaysia and Singapore in smog, with the haze hitting the worst levels for more than a decade.
Riau is at the centre of Indonesia's booming palm oil industry, and illegal slash-and-burn clearance is common, as it is the quickest and cheapest method for land to be converted for use as plantations.
A coalition of green groups filed the lawsuit, including forest protection group Jikalahari, which said the severe haze this year had prompted the action and had "deeply affected the communities".
"This haze affects all activities – work, school, and even leads to flights being cancelled," Muslim Rasyid, head of the Riau-based group, said yesterday.
The forestry and environment ministers and the Riau governor are also accused in the lawsuit.
"The president and his ministers have done little to protect communities from the effects of climate change," said Riko Kurniawan, director of Friends of the Earth in Riau.
Susilo vowed in 2009 to reduce Indonesia's carbon emissions by at least 26% by 2020. To achieve this goal, the government has suspended the issuance of new land-clearing permits.
But activists say the moves have been ineffective with land clearance, both legal and illegal, still rampant, and fires often the method of choice.
Indonesia, home to around 10% of the world's tropical forest, has rapidly lost masses of its biodiverse jungle in recent decades to make way for paper and oil palm estates.
The country is the world's biggest supplier of palm oil, the most commonly used vegetable oil found in everyday grocery items, like biscuits and shampoo. — AFP
THE future Bidadari estate will lay claim to a unique feature – Singapore's first underground service reservoir built on low, instead of high ground.
Holding enough water to fill three Olympic-size pools, the tank will be built beneath the town's planned park to save on surface space and keep the surroundings unmarred.
The land above it will be "integrated with the surrounding park amenities, hence optimising land", PUB said, adding that high ground available for service reservoirs is "limited".
The Bidadari reservoir could pave the way for more such underground tanks on low ground.
"Where possible, PUB will work with other agencies to explore a similar concept in other new areas," said the national water agency's spokesman.
Service reservoirs store drinking water to regulate supply to homes and boost water pressure during periods when demand is high.
There are 14 such reservoirs now, but all are located on high ground such as Mount Faber and Fort Canning, letting gravity do the work in channelling the water to homes.
In contrast, the Bidadari reservoir will have a pumping station on a 200sq m plot of land atop it.
Experts The Straits Times spoke to said such a system is viable, given how Housing Board flats already have low-level water tanks, although on a smaller scale.
A lot will depend on the pumping system. It has to be extra reliable in Bidadari, which will have 10,000 public flats.
The estate's first Build-To-Order flats will be launched for sale in 2015.
Work on the reservoir will likely begin in early 2017, alongside general construction work there.
National Research Foundation water technology adviser Lui Pao Chuen, a former defence chief scientist, believes that building below the surface is key for Singapore, given the scarcity of land.
"Instead of having reservoirs above ground, which is water you can't even swim in, you have land that you can walk on. Going underground is an obvious solution to preserve as much free space for people as possible," he said.
The use of below-ground spaces was put in the spotlight by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan earlier this month, when he blogged that the Government was considering an underground masterplan.
In the wake of the revelation, experts noted that building beneath the ground is expensive, especially if rock and soil formations are unsuitable.
PUB said yesterday that it was "premature to estimate the cost" of the proposed reservoir as a detailed study on its structure and construction methods has not yet been done. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
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