Ahad, 16 Februari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Asia-Pacific stability depends on success of ASEAN code of conduct - Kerry

Posted: 16 Feb 2014 09:01 PM PST

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The future stability of the Asia-Pacific region depends on the success of negotiating an ASEAN code of conduct on maritime claims, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.

The United States has been increasingly uneasy at what it sees as China's effort to gain creeping control over waters in the Asia-Pacific, including its November 23 declaration of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in an area of the East China Sea that includes islands at the centre of a dispute with Japan.

Speaking in the Indonesian capital during a trip to Asia and the Middle East, Kerry added that negotiations on a Tran-Pacific Partnership trade deal would continue and he believed the U.S. Congress would come to an appropriate conclusion on the trade talks.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations groups Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Free Syrian Army sacks chief, appoints replacement

Posted: 16 Feb 2014 09:00 PM PST

AMMAN (Reuters) - The Western- and Arab-backed Syrian Free Army (FSA) has sacked its leader and replaced him with a more experienced field commander as part of a revamp of moderate forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad, opposition sources said on Monday.

A statement by the FSA's Supreme Military Council said it replaced General Selim Idriss, who had served in the Corps of Engineers of Assad's army, with Colonel Abdelilah al-Bashir, head of FSA operations in the province of Qunaitera on the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The decision was prompted by "the ineffectiveness of the command in the past few months... and to provide leadership for military operations against the criminal regime and its allies from terrorist organisations," said the statement.

The announcement was made on Sunday after a Supreme Military Council meeting in Turkey attended by Asaad Mustafa, defence minister in a provisional government set up by the opposition last year, the sources said.

Dissident rebels have long been wary of accepting leadership by Idriss, who has spent most of his time outside Syria since helping create the Supreme Military Council in December 2012.

During his tenure, the FSA suffered major setbacks.

Loyalist forces backed by Shi'ite fighters from Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah regained strategic territory in the province of Homs in the centre of the country and expanded a buffer zone around Damascus, where most elite troops, mostly comprised of Assad's minority Alawite sect, are based.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups also emerged as a potent force on the ground, and several Islamist brigades broke off from the FSA, helping create the Islamic Rebel Front, which overshadowed the FSA militarily.

A statement by the opposition National Coalition, which has embarked on U.S.-and Russian-sponsored peace talks with Assad's government to end the three-year civil war, said news of Bashir's appointment came as a "relief".

The coalition's delegation added several FSA commanders to its negotiating team in the second round of peace talks, which concluded on the weekend in Geneva without any significant results.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Eric Walsh)

China says keen on meeting with Taiwan president, but no rush

Posted: 16 Feb 2014 07:55 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday it was keen on a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, but signalled it was in no rush to set a venue or timeframe for what would be a historic get-together.

Since taking office in 2008, Ma has signed a series of landmark trade and economic agreements with China, cementing China's position as Taiwan's largest trading partner.

But Taiwan said last week that China had rebuffed as "inappropriate" a request for the two men to meet at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.

Fan Liqing, spokeswoman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters the subject of a Xi-Ma summit was "not a topic for discussion" during last week's landmark meeting between top Chinese and Taiwan government officials.

That meeting was an important step in pushing overall cross-Strait relations, she said, adding that further steps would follow, promising to benefit people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

"As for a meeting between the leaders on both sides of the Strait, we have said many times that this is something we have upheld for many years, and we have always had an open, positive attitude towards it," Fan said.

"Compatriots on both sides of the Strait all hope that the leaders can meet."

She declined to elaborate on the topic of an appropriate venue for the two presidents to meet, adding, "APEC has its own rules, which should be handled in accordance with the memorandums of understandings."

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since Nationalist forces, defeated by the Communists, fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.

But in recent years the two sides have built up extensive economic ties, and last week they held their first direct government-to-government talks, a big step towards expanding cross-strait dialogue beyond trade.

Yet booming trade has not brought progress on political reconciliation or reduced military readiness on either side. Many in democratic Taiwan fear autocratic China's designs for their free-wheeling island.

In October, Xi told Ma's envoy to last year's APEC summit, Vincent Siew, that a political solution to the standoff between China and Taiwan could not be postponed forever.

But Ma later said he saw no urgency to hold political talks and he wanted to focus on trade.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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