memos highlight Myanmar nuclear fears
(AFP) - Washington has suspected for years that Myanmar has
a secret nuclear programme supported by North Korea, with
witnesses reporting suspicious activity as far back as 2004,
leaked memos show.
One cable from the US embassy in Yangon, dated August of
that year and released by the anti-secrecy website
WikiLeaks, quoted an unidentified source as saying he saw
about 300 North Koreans working at an underground site.
“The North Koreans, aided by Burmese workers, are
constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility that
is ‘500ft from the top of the cave to the top of the hill
above’,” according to the cable.
“The North Koreans are said to be assembling missiles of
unknown origin,” it said, adding that the report alone
should not been taken as definitive proof or evidence of
sizeable North Korean military involvement with the Myanmar
Another memo, also dated 2004, quoted a foreign businessman
as saying that he had seen a reinforced steel bar, larger
than for just a factory project, being unloaded from a barge
in the same area in west-central Magway Division.
The cable said the source had volunteered to an US Embassy
Officer that he had heard rumours that a nuclear reactor was
being built near the town of Minbu.
It said that while there was no direct evidence of
cooperation between Myanmar’s generals and Pyongyang, there
were increasing reports of alleged sightings of North Korean
“technicians” inside the Southeast Asian nation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned in July 2009
about possible nuclear links between Myanmar and North
Korea, and earlier this year she said a ship from Pyongyang
had delivered military equipment to Myanmar.
Myanmar’s junta -- which recently held a widely criticised
election seen as prolonging military rule -- has dismissed
reports of its nuclear intentions and brushed aside Western
concerns about possible cooperation with North Korea.
A UN report released last month alleged North Korea is
supplying banned nuclear and ballistic equipment to Myanmar
as well as Iran and Syria.
And a June documentary by the Norwegian-based news group
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) said Myanmar was trying to
develop nuclear weapons, citing a senior army defector and
years of “top secret material.”
|Mobile ‘revolution’ eases poverty
|SYDNEY (AFP) - From the rugged highlands of Papua New
Guinea to the remote islands of Tonga, a telecommunications
revolution in the Pacific is helping ease poverty and
isolation in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In just a few years, a wave of market liberalisation has put
mobiles and laptops into the hands of millions in the
region, with deep implications for business, health and
education, and for avoiding earthquakes and tsunamis.
Farmers can now call ahead to check prices in local markets,
villagers with no experience of banking can remit money
using mobile services, and text alerts warn of giant waves
whipped up by the region’s frequent earth tremors.
“They don’t have roads, they still don’t have, in a lot of
cases, power, and all of a sudden they’ve got mobile
telephones,” said Gavin Murray, of the International Finance
Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private-sector arm.
“And anecdotally, it’s having a huge impact on society. It
really doesn’t matter who you talk to, in most of these
places they are all saying the access to mobile telephony
has completely changed their lives.”
The sweeping change has been spearheaded by Irish company
Digicel Pacific, backed by some 120 million US dollars in
IFC loans, which has ventured into six of the island
countries since 2006, with startling results.
Murray said in two-and-a-half years, impoverished Papua New
Guinea went from 100,000 mobile subscribers to nearly three
million, while the central bank estimated the newly
liberalised industry added more than half-a-percent to GDP.
Digicel Pacific CEO Vanessa Slowey said call prices dropped
by 60 percent almost overnight in Samoa, the company’s first
regional destination, where coverage leapt from just a third
to more than 90 percent of the island nation.
Tiny Nauru, where Digicel launched last year, went from
virtually zero communications to 95 percent mobile coverage,
prompting more than half of the 10,000-strong population to
sign up in the first month.
|Hariri in ‘Shakespearean’ dilemma on
|BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri faces
a “Shakespearean” dilemma over a UN probe into his father’s
murder whose pursuit of the assassins could wreak havoc on
his country, analysts say.
“He is being asked to choose between the truth on the blood
of his father and the stability of the country. He’s not at
all in an enviable position,” said Fadia Kiwane, head of
political sciences at Saint Joseph University.
Hariri was thrust into the limelight as a political novice
after the February 2005 assassination of his father,
five-time premier Rafiq Hariri, in a Beirut bomb blast.
“He is in a tight spot because, ever since the
assassination, he has been mobilising the whole world to set
up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Now, people want him to
call off the process,” said Kiwane.
Hezbollah, the most powerful armed movement in Lebanon, says
its members are about to be fingered by the tribunal which
the United Nations set up in 2007.
Fired ‘bad Santa’ lands new job
|SAN FRANCISCO - A San Francisco Santa Claus who found
himself out of the job after telling too many naughty jokes
has a new gig.
John Toomey, who played Santa at the Union Square store for
20 years, was told Saturday that his “ho-ho-hoeing” days are
over because an adult couple complained about his jokes, the
San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The 68-year-old Toomey says he asks older people who sit on
his lap if they’ve been good. When they answer yes, he
replies: “Gee, that’s too bad.”
If they ask why Santa’s so jolly, Toomey says it’s because
he knows where all the naughty boys and girls live.
Toomey said he doesn’t tell such jokes when he is with kids
and he had asked Macy’s to reconsider, but there’s light at
the end of the tunnel for this Kris Kringle: he has landed a
gig with San Francisco restaurant Lefty O’Doul’s to hand out
presents at the landmark eatery’s annual toy drive,
according to the Chronicle.
Macy’s spokeswoman Betsy Nelson tells the Examiner that the
store can’t comment on personnel matters.
Protestors stage noisy rally at summit
‘Hands off medicine’
|BRUSSELS (AFP) - Protestors wearing white medical coats
staged a noisy protest outside an India-EU summit to demand
continued access to cheap medicine for hundreds of thousands
of HIV sufferers in poor countries.
“I’ve seen too many people die! We need to have these
medicines,” said doctor Tido Von Schoen Angarer, of the
international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders
“Hands off our medicine, the EU must listen,” he said.
The protest was staged as India and the 27-nation bloc
continue long-stalled negotiations to strike a Free Trade
Agreement, which the doctors fear could threaten India’s
ability to provide affordable generic medicines.
The protestors say cheap generic drugs from India are vital
to lives, particularly to the 33 million people living with
HIV in developing countries.
Generics from India have pushed prices down 99 percent, from
10,000 dollars a year per patient in 2000 to 70 dollars
currently. MSF itself buys 80 percent of its AIDS drugs from
India, and says it is currently keeping 160,000 people alive
on the treatment.
“India is the pharmacy of the developing world,” an MSF
India’s government spokesman Vishnu Prakash said drugs
produced in the country cost two percent of those produced
by the world’s pharmaceutical giants.
India became a key supplier of affordable medicines because
until 2005 it did not grant patents, enabling generic
versions to be produced freely.
Since 2005 however the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS
agreement has forced India to patent drugs, though in a
unique law the country calls for patents only in the case of
drugs that show an improved therapeutic effect on existing
Novartis took the Indian government to court over the patent
law and lost the case in 2007 but has appealed.
Groups such as MSF now fear that new provisions written into
trade deals such as the FTA with the EU -- due to be
finalised in the next few months -- will undermine future
supplies of cheap generics.
A particular concern is a provision called “data
exclusivity”, which would prevent generic manufacturers from
relying on existing clinical trial data to register generic
drugs for periods of up to 10 years.
Couple caned over extramarital kiss
|JANTHO, Indonesia (AFP) - Two people were caned in
Indonesia’s Aceh province after being caught having an
extramarital kiss, a prosecutor said.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch as Anis Saputra, 24,
and Kiki Hanafilia, 17, received eight lashes each at a
mosque in the city of Jantho, southeast of the provincial
capital Banda Aceh.
“Both were married to other people. The people caught them
kissing each other in Aceh Besar district’s forest in
October. They were yet to have sexual intercourse when they
were caught,” prosecutor Deby Rinaldi said.
“Anis’s wife, who was seven-month pregnant, was away at the
time. The woman, Kiki, was already married for two years,”
Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is one of
several areas in Indonesia where sharia laws have been
In October, two women were caned in Aceh for selling food
during the fasting hours of Ramadan.
Sony and Sharp launch e-readers
|TOKYO (AFP) - Sony and Sharp upped the rivalry stakes in
the heated e-reader and tablet market with the head-to-head
launch of their latest devices in Japan, along with tens of
thousands of e-book titles.
Sony, battling Amazon and Apple in the electronic book
reader race, on Friday launched its Reader range in Japan
along with a dedicated virtual library, after launching in
13 other countries including the US.
The move marked a return to Japan for the electronic giant’s
e-reader business since it left in 2007 after seeing low
demand at a time when Japanese consumers were focused on
mobile phone books.
Sharp meanwhile launched its multifunctional Galapagos
tablet computer in a bid to rival Apple’s iPad. The device
allows users to read e-books, as well as major newspapers
and popular magazines, delivered at designated times.
The name is a pun on the term “Galapagos Syndrome” -- in
reference to the isolated islands that helped Charles Darwin
form his theory of evolution -- and its association with
Japan’s tendency to be less influenced by global trends.
Earlier Japanese mobile phones made by the likes of Sharp or
Fujitsu were years ahead of their time in terms of offering
Internet access, and provided cameras and mobile payment
options before others as well as live television.
But smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S and Apple’s
iPhone are providing stronger competition with third
generation handsets sold in Europe or the United States now
working in Japan.
Sharp’s new brand represents a shift for the company from
conventional one-off sales of stand-alone products to
devices that will continue to “evolve” through software
updates, it says.