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Philippine forces hit militants; civilians wave white flags

Philippine military jets fired rockets at militant positions Saturday as soldiers fought to wrest control of a southern city from gunmen linked to the Islamic State group, witnesses said. Civilians waved flags from their windows to show they are not combatants. The city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has been under siege by IS-linked militants since a failed raid Tuesday night on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists. Hapilon got away and fighters loyal to him took over parts of the city, burning buildings and seizing about a dozen hostages, including a priest. Their condition was not known. At least 44 people have died in the fighting, including 31 militants and 11 soldiers, officials say. It was not clear whether civilians were among the dead.

The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism could be growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the ideology of the Islamic State group. Although Hapilon and other groups in the southern Philippines have pledged allegiance to the IS, there is no clear sign of significant, material ties. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing.

“I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly,” Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed in the distance. “I pity the civilians and the women who were near the targeted area. They’re getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon.”

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said government forces are working to “clear the city of all remnants of this group.”

He said some civilians refused to evacuate because they want to guard their homes, slowing down the government operations.

“But that’s fine as long as civilians are not hurt,” Padilla said. On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of “contamination” by the Islamic State group. Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “contamination by ISIS” loomed in the country’s future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

“You can say that ISIS is here already,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr., a military commander, said civilians are enduring “extreme deprivation” because government services are unavailable and shops are closed.

“These terrorist atrocities continue to sow terror and confusion even to noncombatant Muslims and Christians,” he said in a statement. Hapilon is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to extricate him, said the Philippines’ military chief, Gen. Eduardo Ano. He said Hapilon suffered a stroke after a government airstrike wounded him in January. Ano predicted that the military operation will take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi, including Indonesians and Malaysians. Ano also said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. “We suspect that, but we’re still validating,” he said. Hapilon, an Islamic preacher, is a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which have a heavy presence in Marawi and were instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon’s capture.

Warthog attack plane finds new life in Trump administration

The Warthog is sitting pretty. Once on the brink of forced retirement, the A-10 attack plane with the ungainly shape and odd nickname has been given new life, spared by Air Force leaders who have reversed the Obama administration’s view of the plane as an unaffordable extra in what had been a time of tight budgets. In the 2018 Pentagon budget plan sent to Congress this week, the Air Force proposed to keep all 283 A-10s flying for the foreseeable future.

Three years ago, the Pentagon proposed scrapping the fleet for what it estimated would be $3.5 billion in savings over five years. Congress said no. The following year, the military tried again but said the retirement would not be final until 2019. Congress again said no. Last year, officials backed away a bit further, indicating retirement was still the best option but that it could be put off until 2022.

Now the retirement push is over, and the Warthog’s future appears secure.

“The world has changed,” said Maj. Gen. James F. Martin Jr., the Air Force budget deputy, in explaining decisions to keep aircraft once deemed expendable. The Air Force has similarly dropped plans to retire the iconic U-2 spy plane amid prospects for bigger budgets under President Donald Trump. It also reflects the relentless pace of operations for combat aircraft and surveillance and reconnaissance planes that feed intelligence data to war commanders. The service had complained for years that its inventory of aircraft was getting dangerously small and old. Gen. Mark Welsh, who retired as the top Air Force officer last year, was fond of describing the service as having 12 fleets of aircraft that qualify for antique license plates in the state of Virginia.

The A-10 is a special case. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona who flew the A-10 in combat and commanded a squadron in Afghanistan, speaks of it with obvious affection.

“The A-10 is this badass airplane with a big gun on it,” she said she told Trump in a recent conversation, explaining why the Warthog is unlike any other attack aircraft. The “big gun” to which she refers is a seven-barrel Gatling gun that is nine feet long and fires 30mm armor-piercing shells at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute. Also armed with Maverick missiles, the A-10 is effective not only in a conventional battle against tanks and other armored vehicles. It also provides close-air support for Iraqi and other U.S. partner forces taking on Islamic State fighters in the deserts of Iraq and Syria. A number of A-10s fly missions in Syria from Incirlik air base in Turkey.

McSally is among members of Congress for whom elimination of the Warthog carried political risks back home. Sen. John McCain, a fellow Arizona Republican, joined her in strenuously arguing against the plane’s early retirement. Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is home to an A-10 unit; retirement of the aircraft might have made Davis-Monthan more vulnerable to closure. A veteran of combat in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and beyond, the plane entered service in 1976. It is among Cold War-era icons like the venerable B-52 bomber that have exceeded expected lifespans and are likely to remain central to U.S. air campaigns for years to come.

Specially designed for the Cold War mission of attacking armor on the front lines of a potential European war with the Soviet Union, the A-10’s air crews considered it so ugly they called it the Warthog. Its official nickname is Thunderbolt II. The plane has been out of production since 1984 but has received many upgrades over the years, most recently with new electronics.

CHRO: Concerns of Forced Displacement of Chin Civilians as a Result of Arakan Army Activities

CHRO: Concerns of Forced Displacement of Chin Civilians as a Result of Arakan Army Activities

Friday May 26th, 2017

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) is deeply concerned by the displacement of hundreds of Chin civilians, mostly women and children from the Mara, Chin community in Paletwa Township, southern Chin State. This is as a result of ongoing Arakan Army (AA) activities in the region. CHRO has independently verified the information, which was first reported by the New Indian Express on Monday, 22nd May 2017. While initial news of short term humanitarian support by local authorities in India was to be welcomed, today’s reports of Chin refugees returning under armed guard are deeply concerning. CHRO sources have confirmed that at least 500 people from four villages in Northern Paletwa fled their homes, having feared the prospect of conflict between AA and Tatmadaw forces in the area. On the 18th May, 2017 approximately 261 people from Ralie village, fled over the Indian border to Lungpuk village, and approximately 64 villagers fled to Khaikhy village, both located in Mizoram. A further 243 people are internally displaced, having fled Lel Thit, Tha Lowa and Shwe Laik Wa villages.

“We are gravely concerned by this latest incident where innocent Chin civilians have suffered due to Arakan Army activities in Chin State. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and CHRO has documented a trend of abuse against Chin civilians that have resulted in severe human rights violations, including forced displacement, hostagetaking, torture and death as a result of AA activities.” Said Mai Thin Yumon, Country Program Coordinator, Chin Human Rights Organization.

It is reported that an AA force numbering at least 60 soldiers gathered in Yon Let Wa village and the surrounding area on 17th May, 2017. They demanded 50 sacks of rice from the villagers in Yon Let Wa. As the village did not have the stocks to provide this, they were told by AA soldiers to go and buy more from the nearby village of Shin Let Wa. Due to the presence of Tatmadaw in this area the villagers were concerned of the risk posed to them if perceived to be supporting AA activities. Rather than risk arrest, the villagers decided to flee.

“All parties to an armed conflict have legal obligations to protect civilians. Non state armed groups such as the AA must abide by the rules of customary international humanitarian law (IHL).This means avoiding conditions that might lead to the displacement of civilians. Arbitrary demands, have clearly led to the creation of these conditions.” Continued Mai Thin Yu Mon. To the AA: Cease all activities which continue to violate international human rights and humanitarian law, and the continued disregard for the safety of civilians in Chin State. To the Indian Government: Observe customary international legal obligations under the principle of non refoulment and ensure the security and well being of the Chin refugees.

To the Myanmar Authorities: Take measures to facilitate a secure environment for voluntary and safe return of Chin refugees and IDP’s in this area of Paletwa.

Media Contact (English and Burmese)
Mai Thin Yu Mon,
Country Programme Coordinator,
Chin Human Rights Organization


* This Press Release was sent to e-pao.net by Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) who can be contacted at info(AT)chro(DOT)ca
This Press Release was posted on May 27 2017