Friday, June 12, 2009

Malaysia calls for calm over border dispute with Indonesia

Malaysia's deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin called for calm Thursday amid reports that Malaysian warships had entered oil-rich waters off northeastern Borneo also claimed by Indonesia.
Indonesia says Malaysian warships entered the disputed Ambalat area in the Sulawesi sea last week and that an Indonesian navy ship came within moments of firing at a Malaysian vessel.
"We want to avoid any form of provocation that can cause unpleasantness. We must handle the matter with caution," Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by Bernama, the Malaysian news agency.
Muhyiddin was also quoted as saying that Malaysia had good relations with Indonesia and that it did not want to cause any problem that could hurt ties.
In Jakarta, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would never back down from a fight but that dialogue was the best way to resolve the dispute.
"The government has never been lenient on the border violations committed by Malaysian warships in Ambalat waters," Yudhoyono said during a talk show on Anteve TV station.
"Although we have to drive intruders away, we don't need to open fire on them unless absolutely necessary," he added.
International borders in the area off Borneo island have yet to be determined, with each country claiming the area as its own.
Malaysia claims the area based on a 1979 maritime chart, while Indonesia bases its claims on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which states the area belongs to Indonesia.
Muhyiddin said the Malaysian security forces patrolling the Ambalat waters had performed their duties responsibly and in accordance with regulations.
"Both parties must avoid any action that can raise controversy," he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's military chief Abdul Aziz Zainal denied that Malaysian warships had entered the waters around Ambalat, adding that he would visit Jakarta Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Outrage over Russian claim that Poland started war

Poland and Russia headed Thursday toward a new row over history following an article on the Russian defence ministry website claiming Poland was responsible for starting World War II.
The extraordinary piece -- which flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the expansionist ambitions of Nazi Germany caused the war -- was published in a historical section of the official ministry website.
"Any person who studies the history of World War II in an impartial manner knows that it started because of Poland's refusal to give into German demands," wrote Sergei Kovalyev, head of historical research for the defence ministry's northwestern branch.
"The German demands were quite moderate," he added, saying the Third Reich in 1939 was merely seeking to annex the Baltic city of Gdansk and construct roads and railways on Polish territory towards East Prussia.
"It is difficult to say that these demands were without foundation," he said.
The Russian daily Vremya Novostei said that the article -- published in a section titled "History: against lies and falsifications" -- was "harmful" for Russia.
Arseny Roginsky, a historian who heads the Memorial rights group said: "This vision of events profoundly disgusts me. The author is simplifying the facts, is deforming them in order to arrive at the desired conclusion."
"The danger is that this was published on the ministry defence website. If people believe that this is the opinion of the ministry, then this is a step towards a dangerous aggravation in international relations" he told AFP.
The Polish foreign ministry said it had demanded an explanation from the Russian ambassador in Warsaw.
Polish foreign ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said that after the request, a Russian official told Warsaw that the piece "does not reflect the Russian federation's position in any way."
The article was no longer seen on the defence ministry's website late Thursday.
The controversy came after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's order to form a commission to defend Russia from historical "falsifications" sparked warnings from historians of a return to Soviet-style propaganda.
Russian defence ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said the articles did not necessarily reflect the ministry's official position, Interfax reported.
"This section publishes various, including controversial, articles on military history and military science. These articles should not be viewed as the defence ministry's official viewpoint," he said.
Russia has had an edgy relationship with Poland in recent years, especially since Poland, a close US ally, joined NATO and agreed to host controversial US missile defence facilities inside the country.
Historical issues also continue to shadow relations between the two countries, often relating to the Soviet Union's initial wartime cooperation with Nazi Germany through the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Russia's high court in January threw out a bid by campaigners to reopen an enquiry into a 1940 massacre of Polish officers by Soviet secret police at Katyn.
In 2004, Russia's military prosecutor shut down an enquiry into the massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers that for decades was blamed by Soviet authorities on Nazi troops but was carried out by Stalin's secret police.

NATO endorses drawdown of Kosovo force

NATO defence ministers on Thursday endorsed a plan for thousands of peacekeepers to leave Kosovo if security conditions can be assured, a decade after the air war against Serbia.
The plan, NATO diplomats say, would see the KFOR mission cut to 10,000 troops from the current 13,800 by January, and fall to some 2,500 personnel over two years if a series of benchmarks are met.
"Ministers decided today that the political and security conditions are right for a move towards a gradual adjustment of KFOR's force posture," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters.
He said the contingent would move to a "deterrence presence", stepping back from the front-line security role it has held in Kosovo since 1999 to allow local forces to take the lead, backed by a European Union mission.
Scheffer said the reduction, for which he declined to set any timeframe, will happen "in a gradual and phased manner, and each step will be decided by the North Atlantic Council (of NATO nations) based on military advice."
The first cut "will be to around 10,000" troops, he said, and KFOR would in future be "a smaller force, relying more on flexibility and intelligence."
As security concerns in Kosovo ease, and pressure mounts on the 28-member alliance to deploy to places like Afghanistan while faced with an economic crisis biting into budgets, nations have called for KFOR to be scaled back.
But members remain deeply concerned about a possible rise in tensions in Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in February last year, and NATO officials insist that they are not going to abandon it.
"We will have at all times the manoeuvre forces and reserves at all times when we need them," Scheffer told reporters after chairing a working-lunch with the defence ministers.
Danish Defence Minister Soren Gade also underlined that "there will still be a NATO presence and that's very important."
NATO has been tasked by UN Security Council resolution 1244 to provide security since it launched a 78-day air war in 1999 -- a decade ago as of Wednesday -- to stop a Serbian crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
Albanian-majority Kosovo's independence is recognised by some 60 countries including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU nations. Serbia, backed by Russia, opposes the move, which they consider a breach of international law.
One hurdle NATO faces is the fact that Belgrade and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo do not appreciate the 2,000-strong EU law-enforcement presence there: EULEX.
The EULEX contingent is made up of more than 2,000 personnel, with legal, police and customs expertise.
Spain, Britain and Lithuania have recently announced troop cuts in Kosovo.
Denmark followed suit Thursday, announcing it would cut its presence from 354 soldiers to between 150 and 200 soldiers after February 2010.
Madrid has not recognised Pristina's independence concerned that the precedent might encourage some of Spain's separatist-minded regions.
NATO and particularly the United States continue to hold strong symbolic significance for the ethnic Albanians.
"We owe gratitude to the officers and soldiers of the biggest military alliance, NATO, who by entering villages and towns of Kosovo 10 years ago, saved people's lives," Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu said in Pristina.
"Therefore, the uniform of KFOR's soldiers is loved and respected by all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo regardless of ethnicity," he said, in an address marking NATO's deployment a decade ago.
The NATO ministers, meeting over two days, will focus Friday on the alliance's troubled mission in Afghanistan, where troops from more than 40 nations are battling a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency.

Analysis: U.S. pulls back troops in Iraq

U.S. forces are steadily closing or transitioning bases around the country and repositioning manpower to meet a pullback deadline set by the new Strategic Framework Agreement governing continued American presence in the country.
In mainly rural Diyala province, north of Baghdad, only about five of 14 facilities in use at the beginning of the year will remain under U.S. authority come July 1. Gone are bases and outposts such as Hatoon and Tahrir in Baquba, the provincial capital. Remaining are Forward Operating Base War Horse outside Baquba; FOB Normandy, near the major market town of Muqdadiyah; Caldwell, in the eastern portion of the province towards the Iranian border; and Cobra, which is located in an area rife with Arab-Kurd ethnic tension.
In the City of Baghdad about 33 FOBS, COPS (combat operating posts) and Joint Security Stations have been formally handed over to Iraqi Security Forces in recent months, according to the 1st Cavalry Division, the main U.S. force in the Baghdad qada (super country).
Among them: Ford, Shaab and Callahan, which played key roles in last year's battles in and around Sadr City against anti-American Shiite militias and Iranian-backed Special Groups.
Seven more facilities will be handed over to Iraqis by the June 30 deadline.
The exact number of U.S. facilities in Iraq is not immediately available, but there were far more than 200 bases early last year, including Camp Liberty by Baghdad's international airport, which is not being closed or transferred to Iraqi authority.
"It's all part of the security agreement," said Sameer Alhaddad, an official in the Receivership Secretariat in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "It means Iraqi Security Forces are capable of taking responsibility for the (security of) the whole country."
Under the Strategic Framework hammered out last year in tough negotiations between Washington and Baghdad, U.S. combat forces must pull back from cities, towns and villages in the country by midnight June 30.
U.S. troops will continue to conduct routine operations, but with few exceptions they will be mounted from facilities outside the populated areas and with the advance approval of Iraqi authorities. Those operations must also be conducted in concert with Iraqi Security Forces, which will play the lead role in them.
In the Baghdad qada, the switch out of about 24,000 American troops to bases in what could be called outer suburbs and communities means security in the city itself will be the primary responsibility of 100,000 Iraqi Security Force personnel, which includes paramilitary police, while U.S. troops will guard and control approaches to the city of 6 million.
"Think of it (greater Baghdad) as a doughnut," said 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs officer Maj. Davic Shoupe. "They will be responsible for the doughnut hole and we'll be responsible for the rest."
The transfer process is far from simple, U.S. officers said. After deciding in consultation with Iraqi authorities on which facilities should be closed or transferred, site inspections take place and inventories are made of equipment and site fixtures to take or leave for the new Iraqi owners. Environmental studies are then conducted and problems encountered -- from oil and chemical spills to sanitation concerns -- are corrected.
"We give it back to them in the condition we'd like to receive it," said Maj. Kevin Wallace, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Wallace's battalion is in charge of the greater Adhamiyah District of Northeast Baghdad, which features both Sunni and Shiite communities. Within its map markings are sectors that featured prominently during the 2007-2008 U.S. surge of forces. Bases such as Ford and Callahan were the "hold" portion of the "clear-hold-rebuild" counterinsurgency strategy. By establishing a permanent presence in communities, terrorists driven out would find it difficult to return and residents would gain a sense of increasing security and stability.
The strategy has apparently worked.
According to U.S. figures, significant acts of violence in greater Baghdad now number about five or six a day. Exact figures for a comparable timeframe last year were not immediately available, but U.S. authorities say the new figures represent a major drop.
In the Adhamiyah District the number of significant acts is one every other day on average, said 1-5's commander, Lt. Col. Scott Jackson.
In Iraq as a whole, significant acts of violence last year totaled 3,258 compared with more than 6,000 the year before.
Jackson said terror and insurgent group cells -- al-Qaida, 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, Jaish al-Mehdi and Special Groups -- remain in his sector but have been severely degraded as the current sigact tally indicates.
He and other American officers, however, believe there may be an uptick -- at least temporarily -- in attacks immediately following the June 30 pullback date as the cells try to challenge government forces, embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and shake public confidence.
"On the Iraq side of the house (the challenge is) the transition -- the perception of security. Â… If there is an increase (in attacks) people are going to blame it on the transition, and we have to assume there will be some kind of increase," Jackson said.
U.S. and Iraqi military commanders express confidence that any challenges from gunmen can and will be dealt with. Iraqis on the street spoken to by this reporter expressed confidence in the new abilities of their U.S.-mentored security forces, but they are also anxious of Baghdad without a highly visible U.S. footprint.
"I tell them (Iraqis) that the bottom line is that our desire is that you still have Americans on the street," said Jackson. "The changes of 30 June are that the frequency (of U.S. forces on the streets) would decrease and the size of our patrols would decrease.
"Instead of an entire patrol of Americans, now you will see a patrol of Iraqis with some of our soldiers. Our desire is not to abandon our partnership with the government, not to abandon our partnership with the Iraqi forces, not to abandon our partnership with the people."
Under terms of the security agreement, which governs continued U.S. presence in the country and the transition of security responsibilities, all U.S. troops must leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. President Barack Obama, in a separate decision, says all combat troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next August, leaving only advisers and other key support personnel in the country until the date certain specified in the bilateral pact.

US envoy hopeful for diplomacy with NKorea

The US envoy on North Korea voiced hope Thursday for a diplomatic solution with the communist state and predicted it would eventually return to the table despite an escalating nuclear showdown.
Special envoy Stephen Bosworth said the United States was committed to diplomacy even as the UN Security Council moved to expand sanctions on impoverished North Korea over its nuclear test last month.
Bosworth told a Senate hearing that the United States was using a variety of tools with North Korea, ranging from sanctions to diplomatic engagement -- "if North Korea shows seriousness of purpose."
"The United States and our allies and partners in the region will need to take the necessary steps to assure our security in the face of this growing threat," Bosworth told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But he added: "In the interest of all concerned, we very much hope that North Korea will choose the path of diplomacy rather than confrontation," he said.
He said the United States had no hostility toward North Korea -- as is frequently charged by Pyongyang to justify building its "nuclear deterrent."
"As we have stated repeatedly, the United States has no hostile intent toward the people of North Korea nor are we threatening to change the North Korean regime through force," he said.
Bosworth said the ultimate goal of President Barack Obama's administration was the "verifiable denuclearization" of North Korea. He renewed US insistence not to recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state.
North Korea last month tested a nuclear bomb, heightening a showdown after in April testing a long-range missile and withdrawing from a US-backed six-nation denuclearization deal.
But Bosworth said he was hopeful for a resumption of the six-party talks, which involved China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.
"There is no evidence they are prepared to do that now but I believe they will eventually come back to the table," Bosworth said.
Bosworth said the United States eventually hoped to negotiate denuclearization measures with North Korea that are "more irreversible," saying that previous agreements were too easy to undo.
Former president George W. Bush had held out hope into his last days of office for a breakthrough with Pyongyang.
Despite criticism from Japan some conservatives in his Republican Party, Bush removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a longtime demand of Pyongyang because it paves the way for US aid and loans from multilateral lenders.
Bosworth hinted that the Obama administration was not looking to put North Korea back on the list.
"The secretary of state is only authorized to make a designation based on a determination that the government of a given country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism," Bosworth said.
"Now, I can say, unequivocally, we will follow the provisions of that law completely," he said.
He was facing questions from Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who said that putting North Korea back on the list was one of the few ways to pressure it.
"It makes absolutely no sense to continue with this, and I think it basically amplifies a growing sense that Americans are a paper tiger, full of talk and no action," DeMint said.

Russia warns of obstacles to missile shield agreement with US

Russia said on Thursday that the United States must halt its plans to deploy a missile shield in eastern Europe before the two countries can start a full-fledged dialogue on missile defence.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, also insisted that Moscow would not cooperate in the Pentagon's plans to site an anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.
"We cannot agree to cooperate on the creation of sites which in their essence are designed to oppose Russia's strategic deterrent forces. No one will do something that harms himself," Nesterenko said.
"Only a US withdrawal from plans to place the so-called third position area of strategic missile defence in Europe can allow full-fledged dialogue to start on issues of cooperation in the reaction to probable missile threats."
The term "third position area" refers to the US plans in eastern Europe. The previous two areas of the planned multibillion-dollar missile shield are in the US states of Alaska and California.
However Nesterenko also voiced hope that a deal could eventually be reached: "We expect that on matters of missile defence, in the end it will be possible to find a common denominator and reach a mutually agreeable decision."
Nesterenko's comments on Thursday were in response to Russian media reports that the two countries had made progress on the issue and that the United States might even situate elements of its missile shield in Russia.
The reports, which appeared in multiple Russian newspapers, were based on testimony by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates this week before US senators.
But a spokesperson for Gates told AFP that the Pentagon chief's comments had been misconstrued and that the reported plans to put US missile-shield facilities in Russia were a misinterpretation.
Moscow has reacted angrily to the US missile defence plans, saying they are a threat to Russian security, although Washington says they are not directed against Russia and are meant to protect against "rogue states" like Iran.
Former US president George W. Bush strongly backed the missile shield, but the new administration of President Barack Obama has slowed down implementation of the project.