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Roundup: International

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Japan takes greater role in self-defence

A US-Japanese agreement announced Saturday is intended to strengthen military cooperation, draw down US Marines from Okinawa and give Tokyo greater responsibility for security in the Pacific.

The interim report, issued after Japan-US ministerial security talks in Washington on realigning US forces in Japan, envisions more integrated cooperation between the Japanese ‘Self-Defense’ forces and US forces.

The planned integration includes better information sharing and joint manoeuvres to boost interoperability.

7,000 US Marines will leave strategically located Okinawa for the US Pacific territory of Guam, a move that is expected to take six years. Okinawans have long complained about the American bases. There are 14,460 Marines in Japan, the largest contingent based overseas, and nearly all are in Okinawa.

Calling the alliance the anchor of regional stability, the agreement gives Japan more responsibility for its own defense and an enhanced security role in the region.

The United States will deploy state-of-the art radar in Japan for ballistic missile defense and coordinate command and control systems with the Japanese, the document says. At the same time, the accord reaffirms the role of US forces in the defense of Japan, which dates back to the end of World War II.

Last week, the two governments agreed to close the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in crowded south Okinawa and move its functions to Camp Schwab in the north.

Delhi bombers’ identity remains uncertain

Questions remained over the identity of bombers who triggered three serial blasts in Indian capital killing 61 and injuring about 210, though a militant group in India-controlled Kashmir has claimed responsibility.

Officials said they had several leads on the group behind the bombs and were checking the obscure Kashmiri militant group’s claim of responsibility.

Analysts say the Islami Inqilabi Mahaz (Islamic Revolutionary Group), which claimed responsibility, is likely a front for the better-known Pakistan-based Islamic radical group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Indo Asian News Agency also reported that the group’s spokesman, Ahmad Yar Gaznavi, had once acted as a spokesman of the hardline Al Badr Mujahideen in January 2003. He had then threatened that his group had formed a suicide squad to target the Kashmir police chief.

According to the police, Inqilab was founded in 1996 but had not been active over the past few years. The militant group, little known before the blasts, called the Kashmir News Service on Sunday in Srinagar, summer capital of India-controlled Kashmir, claiming they triggered the serial blasts.

The Delhi police also carried out an intensive operation to track Pakistani nationals that came to the city illegally. ‘We have people coming in our cities from different countries and we will look into why and when they come,’ said Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil.

New abuse claims in Afghanistan

The US military said it would not tolerate abuse by its soldiers after new claims against American troops in Afghanistan who were this month accused of burning the bodies of Taliban suspects.

The US-led coalition also said two US soldiers had been charged with allegedly assaulting two detainees in their custody in southern Uruzgan province.

‘These alleged offences do not reflect the values of … this command,’ coalition spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts told reporters on Monday. ‘We will not tolerate the kind of behaviour that is alleged.’

He said the US military was conducting three investigations into television footage broadcast this month showing US soldiers burning the bodies of suspected Taliban fighters in contravention of international law and the tenets of Islam, which says the bodies of Muslims must be buried.

The soldiers reportedly used the burning to taunt other Taliban fighters in an attempt to goad them into battle.

Besides a criminal investigation into the claims, the military was looking into how US forces were taught to handle human remains on the battlefield, Yonts said.

It was also investigating psychological operation techniques, doctrine and training - measures used to influence an enemy.

Coalition soldiers in Afghanistan have also been accused of abusing Afghan detainees, at least eight of whom have died in US custody since 2001, when the coalition entered the country to help topple the hardline Taliban government.

India train crash kills 110

Over 110 people were killed when seven coaches of a passenger train fell into a rivulet at Valugodu, around 80 km from Hyderabad in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The Delta Fast passenger train derailed in the early hours on Saturday (29 October) while on its way to Secunderabad. Most of the passengers were asleep at the time of the derailment.

‘While over 100 bodies have been recovered from the site, 20 to 30 passengers are feared to have been washed away in the swirling rivulet,’ State Home Minister K. Jana Reddy said.

Close to 1,100 passgengers had been rescued so far. Nearly 250 military personnel along with locals were involved in rescue operations which stretched on for another day due to heavy rains and breaches on roads.

The home minister said the flash floods caused breaches on the single track between Ramannapet and Valugodu Railway stations resulting in collapse of the bridge.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy and Federal Minister of State for Railways L. Velu visited the site and announced ex gratia of 100,000 rupees to each bereaved family.

Employment to one member each of the families which had lost their breadwinners would be given in railways, officials said.

CIA seeks exemption on cruelty

The White House wants the CIA to be exempted from a proposed ban on the abusive treatment of terrorism suspects being held in United States custody.

The Senate defied a threatened presidential veto three weeks ago and passed legislation that would outlaw the ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ of anyone held by the US.

But the Washington Post and the New York Times, both quoting anonymous officials, said Vie-president Dick Cheney, proposed a change so that the law would not apply to counter-terrorism operations abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element’ of the US government other than the defence department.

Although most detainees in US custody in the war on terrorism are held by the US military, former intelligence officers say the CIA is holding several dozen detainees of particular intelligence interest at locations overseas, including senior al-Qaida figures, the Post said.

Human rights groups said creating parallel sets of rules for military personnel and intelligence agents was impractical in the war on terror, where soldiers and spies often work together and share techniques.

‘You can’t tell soldiers that inhumane treatment is always morally wrong if they see with their own eyes that CIA personnel are allowed to engage in it,’ Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told the New York Times.

Northern Ireland group stands down

A pro-British paramilitary group in Northern Ireland said Sunday it had ordered its armed units to stand down after rival guerrillas opposed to British rule scrapped their weapons earlier this year.

In a statement, the outlawed Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) said the move was in response to the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) decision to give up the weapons that had sustained its campaign against British rule in the divided province.

The IRA’s decision to disarm removed one of the biggest hurdles to a political settlement in the province, where 3,600 people died in 30 years of violence.

Last month an independent arms watchdog said the IRA had scrapped its entire arsenal of illegal weapons.

‘This decision is taken as a direct response to recent IRA actions and statements. While we remain skeptical about their intent ... we believe there is sufficient evidence to allow for the exploration of a peaceful process within Northern Ireland.’

Pressure has mounted on pro-British Protestant loyalists - so-called because of their fierce allegiance to the British crown - to lay down their arms since the IRA said it was ending its campaign.

Ceasefires in the 1990s and a 1998 peace accord largely ended sectarian violence but pro-British and pro-Irish militants had been reluctant to give up arms they said are needed as much to protect their communities as to fight.(Reuters)

US rebuffs call for Iran’s expulsion

The United States declined last week to support Israel’s call for expelling Iran from the United Nations for advocating Israel’s destruction.

‘Iran is a member of the United Nations,’ State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. ‘What I think we would encourage instead is Iran to start behaving in a responsible manner as a member of the international community.’

McCormack said Iran should stop seeking development of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program, end support of terrorism, and stop oppressing its own people.

‘Our concern is with Iran’s having the know-how, the technology and the capability to enrich or reprocess on its territory,’ he said.

While other nations express shock and disapproval of the Iranian president’s call for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map,’ Israel’s call for expulsion from the United Nations did not draw support.

In a speech Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced Israel and said a new wave of Palestinian attacks ‘will wipe this stigma from the face of the Islamic world.’

Citing the words of the founder of Iran’s Islamic revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad said: ‘Israel must be wiped off the map.’(AP)

Gorbachev: No security amid poverty

Curbing poverty and building stronger international alliances are key to maintaining security and spreading democracy, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said last Wednesday.

‘It is hard to imagine a calm, safe and secure world’ where so many people live in poverty, Gorbachev said through an interpreter at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacremento, California.

‘If people’s lives are not becoming better, people begin to change their minds and say democracy is worthless,’ he said during a question-and-answer session before an audience of about 400.

Gorbachev has been touring the United States since last week, celebrating the 20th anniversary of ‘perestroika’ — the government reforms he led in the former Soviet Union.

The reforms were accompanied by the fall of communism, the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev also criticized the lack of cooperation from governments, particularly the United States, in facing environmental issues. The failure of the U.S. to adopt collaborative agreements, such as the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, shows ‘there is a gap between words and deeds,’ he said.

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