TIME Burma

U.N.: 86,000 Rohingya Have Fled Burmese Pogroms by Boat

Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sit on a wooden boat as they wait for transportation to a temporary shelter in Aceh Besar after arriving at Lampulo habour
Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma sit on a wooden boat as they wait for transportation to a temporary shelter in Aceh Besar after arriving at Lampulo habour April 8, 2013. Reuters

Severely restricted access to food, medicine and education forces many Rohingya to seek sanctuary abroad

More than 86,000 people have attempted the treacherous voyage from restive western Burma to perceived safe havens such as Malaysia since the outbreak of sectarian violence in mid-2012, according to the U.N, which said that 615 people are known to have died making the journey in 2013 alone.

As the U.N. released those figures, details emerged Thursday of bloodshed in the Bay of Bengal, with five people killed and at least 151 injured after traffickers opened fire on a boat carrying 330 illegal migrants.

Conflicting reports have emerged over whether the victims were Bangladeshi or Burmese, although they were quite likely Rohingya — a stateless group straddling the border between both nations and shunned by both. The U.N. dubs the Rohingya “one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.”

U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards told a briefing in Geneva Tuesday that “The UNHCR estimates more than 86,000 people have left on boats since June 2012. This includes more than 16,000 people in the second half of 2012, 55,000 in 2013 and nearly 15,000 from January to April this year. The majority are Rohingya, although anecdotally the proportion of Bangladeshis has grown this year.”

The outbreak of pogroms against the Muslim Rohingya has left around 140,000 in squalid displacement camps. The Burmese government denies charges of “crimes against humanity” leveled by human rights groups, based upon its alleged complicity in violence perpetrated by Buddhist mobs.

Nevertheless, severely restricted access to food, medicine and education has forced many Rohingya to seek sanctuary abroad, often braving tempestuous seas in barely seaworthy craft. Upon arrival in new countries, such as Thailand or Indonesia, many get sold to traffickers and used as forced labor, often upon fishing boats.


The Iraqi Government Is Asking for U.S. Airstrikes

Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraq city of Mosul
Children stand next to a burned-out vehicle during clashes between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10. Reuters

A desperate Baghdad is pleading for help as militant groups follow their an assault on major cities in northern Iraq by making their way towards the capital

With Islamist militants marching toward Baghdad, the enfeebled Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expressed a willingness to allow the U.S. to conduct airstrikes on the insurgents.

The U.S. withdrew its last troops from Iraq in December 2011—a “new dawn” for the country, the Prime Minister said at the time. However, many believe the resulting power vacuum has permitted insurgent forces to gain traction in the country. Over the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic fundamentalist groups have seized the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and have displaced more than 500,000 Iraqis, according to a report released on Wednesday by the International Organization for Migration.

The country’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zabari, told CNN the situation was “mortal.” CNN, citing unnamed officials, said Washington was looking to see what further support it could provide Baghdad besides the the $15 billion worth of equipment and training it had already given.

On Thursday, a 17-minute audio recording, purportedly of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, emerged urging fighters to “continue [their] march as the battle is not yet raging.”

“It will rage in Baghdad and Karbala. So be ready for it,” it says.

Washington, however, seems to have little appetite to heed Iraq’s plea for more assistance.

“Ultimately, this is for the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government to deal with,” Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, the spokesperson for the Pentagon, told the New York Times on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, as the insurgents approach Baghdad — Tikrit, the hometown of former despot Saddam Hussein, is less than a hundred miles north of the capital — Washington has warned that Americans in the country “remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.”

Speculation that the State Department is exercising evacuation procedures could not be independently verified. Speaking at around 6 a.m. local time, a spokesperson told TIME that he could neither confirm nor deny that the U.S. embassy would be evacuated.


This Is a Really Bad Time to be a North Korean Weather Forecaster

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Hydro-meteorological Service in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the hydrometeorological service in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on June 10, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

The Brilliant Leader wants accurate weather forecasts, and he wants them now. No pressure, comrades

North Korea’s weather forecasters had a rough day at the office.

The country’s hydrometeorological service received a public telling off by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to state newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Kim criticized the weather service’s methods, saying it produced “incorrect” forecasts, needed to “fundamentally” improve equipment and lacked “modern and scientific” approaches to its work.

During his tour of the facilities, he said the agency was “very important” but needed to “rapidly and kindly provide information about weather’s influence.”

While so-called “field guidance” tours are common for North Korean leaders, government officials are rarely scolded in public.

The BBC reports that Kim’s last reproach came in May 2012, following a visit to a theme park in Pyongyang.


Here’s Why Some Indonesians Are Spooked by This Presidential Contender

Retired general Prabowo Subianto rides a horse at a stadium in Jakarta during a campaign rally of the Gerindra party on March 23, 2014 Kyodo / AP

Prabowo Subianto is vying to become President of the world's most populous Muslim nation. But many feel he has yet to adequately explain rights abuses that took place when he was head of the country's special forces 16 years ago

Some Indonesians refuse to forget. It’s been 16 years since retired general Suharto relinquished power, but relatives of those who perished or disappeared under his oppressive rule continue to stage protests at Freedom Square in the capital Jakarta every Thursday. Maria Katarina Sumarsih has only missed 12 such gatherings over the past eight years. Her son, a humanitarian volunteer during the 1998 student uprising, was shot dead when he attempted to tend to a wounded protester. Sumarsih is still waiting for justice to be meted out to those responsible.

“Indonesia is the third biggest democracy in the world, but I and all my friends here feel we’ve been abandoned,” she says, adding that she’s afraid the situation could get worse. “If Prabowo becomes President, the population should be prepared to become victims of human-rights violations again.”

Indonesia has come a long way since Suharto. The military has been pushed out of the political scene, the freedoms of press and speech have vastly improved, and July 9 will mark the first time the country replaces one directly elected President with another. For human-rights advocates, however, a huge question mark hangs over the head of one of the leading candidates, Prabowo Subianto.

Toward the end of Suharto’s rule, military units abducted and tortured 23 democracy activists, 13 of whom have not been seen since. Riots followed, leading to over a thousand deaths and scores of rapes. One of the men accused of having orchestrated these abuses is Prabowo — then commander of the special forces.

If Indonesia has come far since Suharto’s rule, so has Prabowo. When Suharto fell in May 1998, Prabowo was head of the army strategic-reserve command, but quickly found himself discredited and discharged from the military, upon which he went into self-imposed exile. Today, he’s refashioned himself as a decisive political leader, the champion of rich and poor alike, and a well-oiled campaign has catapulted him to social-media fame, with a Facebook following that trails only the likes of Barack Obama and Narendra Modi. While Prabowo has admitted to abducting nine activists in 1998, he denies wrongdoing, insisting that these individuals were released and that he was only following orders. He has never been officially questioned, and many Indonesians turn a blind eye to the disputed episode.

“Young people just idolize a leader that looks strong and assertive, they don’t even have the imagination to understand what it was like to live under an authoritarian leader,” says Margiyono, a student activist during the Suharto years. Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, has even managed to attract some former abductees to its camp, but for people like Margiyono, the possibility of Prabowo becoming national leader brings back dark memories.

Agitating for East Timorese independence and Indonesian democracy in the 1990s, Margiyono clashed with paramilitaries believed to be under Prabowo’s command on several occasions, and his flatmate was one of the abductees who never returned. Earlier this year, Margiyono left his job in journalism to start a support organization for Prabowo’s presidential rival Joko Widodo, the Jakarta governor popularly known as Jokowi — not because Margiyono is a Jokowi fan, but because he’s afraid of what would happen if Prabowo wins.

“[Prabowo is] Suharto’s son-in-law, they’re ideologically the same,” he says. “The problem is that under Suharto, formal education taught us what it was like to live under [Suharto's autocratic predecessor] Sukarno, but [today's] reform government doesn’t teach us about the democracy situation under Suharto.”

A recent poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute discovered that about 70% of respondents were unaware of the allegations against Prabowo or his discharge from the army. Consequently, he presents to the public those aspects of his military past that suit him. On the campaign trail, he plays the part of the strongman. He has been known to enter a stadium, packed with supporters and uniformed party cadres, in semifascist splendor astride a handsome horse. And he frequently peppers his speeches with anti-Western statements and criticism of multinationals, styling himself as a reborn Sukarno, even dressing like modern Indonesia’s founding father. His supporters sport T-shirts featuring a trendy graphic image of Prabowo wearing Sukarno’s favored peci, or traditional cap.

However, pressure is mounting on Prabowo to clarify his role in the troubles of 1998. A leaked document is currently circulating on the Internet, saying that Prabowo was discharged, among other things, for insubordination after ordering special-forces units to arrest and detain activists. Separately, a group of human-rights advocates has launched a court challenge aimed at bringing Prabowo and others to trial. A former major general, Kivlan Zen, has also come forward, stating that he knew who abducted the missing activists, as well as where they are buried, but he has yet to be officially questioned.

“This new fact gives a political opportunity for us human-rights activists,” says Rafendi Djamin, director of the Human Rights Working Group. “There should be action from the relevant state institutions.”

Worryingly, in 2009 the Indonesian parliament voted in favor of setting up an extraordinary court to deal with the allegations against Prabowo, but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has yet to sign off on the proposal.

“It’s a serious issue that Prabowo has been recognized as a presidential candidate before settling these allegations of crimes against humanity,” says Rafendi. “There is a need to clarify this as soon as possible, not only for the relatives of the victims, but for the whole country, to make sure this kind of crime doesn’t happen again.”

Dodi Ambardi, executive director of the Indonesian Survey Institute, believes chances of such clarification are slim. His institute conducted a survey of people who know about the allegations against Prabowo, and found that the majority were willing to forgive him.

“To a large extent, the human-rights allegations are a middle-class issue,” says Dodi. “Prabowo attracts many voters locally because he’s seen as the candidate of the Islamic community and because he presents himself as a national hero.”

The Gerindra party’s savvy campaigning has managed to secure a diverse voter base. Coalition building with Islamic parties has won it the religious nod. The co-opting of nationalist symbols, like the mythical garuda bird, ticks nationalist boxes, as does Prabowo’s military and his claims to an aristocratic lineage. A video made by party supporters to Pharrell Williams’ viral hit “Happy” gave his image a modern gloss, as did his appearance on the recent final of Indonesian Idol to hand out prizes.

Fadli Zon, the deputy chairman of Gerindra, says the allegations of rights abuses are outdated.

“These human-rights cases aimed at defaming Prabowo are continuously recycled,” he tells TIME. “But people are smart, so it will have no influence on our campaign.”

Campaign managers are even happy to play off the accusations. Gerindra has published a book called Kidnapped by Prabowo, describing it as “a story based on real events,” and featuring a striking cover of a frightened man being grabbed from behind. When readers open the book, however, they learn that this is not an account of activist abductions but a parable of how an ordinary man is brought into Prabowo’s life, and gets to see the great man from behind the scenes.

Noudhy Valdryno, the head of Gerindra’s social-media team, says he relishes the opportunity to explain to Indonesia’s digital-savvy youth that in 1998 Prabowo was a military leader defending the security interests of his country. “If they start arguing with us, we get the chance to explain more, so it’s a win-win situation for us,” he says.

As a result of this clever and aggressive campaigning, Jokowi’s once gaping lead has been reduced to 10% with only a month left to go, and Prabowo’s repeated assertions of his innocence could further narrow that gap. On Monday night, as the two presidential candidates squared off in their first televised debate, the notoriously temperamental Prabowo got emotional when answering a question on his human-rights position from Jusuf Kalla, Jokowi’s running mate.

“I understand where you’re going with this: whether I would be able to protect human rights because I am a human-rights violator,” said Prabowo. “Is that what you’re getting at, sir? Mr. Jusuf Kalla, I take responsibility, and my conscience is clear: I am the strongest defender of human rights in this republic.”

Many Indonesians believe him.


China’s Appetite for Pangolin Is Threatening the Creature’s Existence

China seizes 956 smuggled pangolin carcasses
Chinese paramilitary policemen inspect pangolins seized for destruction at a plant in Zhuhai city, in southern China's Guangdong province, in May 2014 Stringer—Imaginechina

Unlike the rhino or the elephant, this shy, nocturnal creature enjoys few international safeguards

If anything dramatizes the plight of the pangolin — a small, scaly, insect-eating mammal found in Asia and Africa — it is the seizure, on May 13, of 956 carcasses in a van in China’s Guangdong province. The bust was among the biggest ever recorded in China, the world’s largest market for the creature.

Two weeks later, Hong Kong customs intercepted a shipment from South Africa, labeled “plastic pet,” that turned out to be 1,000 kg of pangolin scales — worth $645,000 on the black market. If you go by the same rule of thumb as Interpol, which figures that contraband seizures in general represent no more than 20% of actual volume, then the trade in pangolins is out of hand. With almost 23,400 smuggled pangolins intercepted from 2011 to 2013, the real figure must be in the hundreds of thousands — and that only includes reported seizures of dead or live pangolins, not their scales.

Demand for this nocturnal, ant-eating creature comes mostly from China, where its flesh is sought after as a delicacy and its scales — made from keratin, like human fingernails and hair — are used in traditional medicine, which are said to cure skin disease and asthma and promote lactation. There are eight pangolin species found in Asia and Africa and, much as with ivory and rhino horn, pangolin smuggling has increased in tandem with China’s expanding middle class and the country’s growing presence in Africa. A 2006 study found that as a result of China’s greater buying power, the pangolin population in Laos “crashed more than 90% in the last 10 years.” The following year, hunters in three Vietnamese nature reserves told researchers that “populations had massively declined in the last few decades, but particularly since about 1990 when the commercial trade in pangolins began to escalate.”

When Asian stocks of pangolin became scarce, traders looked to Africa for additional supply — in the way that they did when supplies of Asian rhino horn were curtailed. “Demand is now swinging toward Africa because air routes have opened up between the continents, and you’ve got more Asian workers on the ground here,” says Lisa Hywood, CEO and founder of the Tikki Hywood Trust, a Zimbabwe-based endangered-species-conservation organization. “We often find that ivory seizures have got pangolin scales and carcasses alongside — and it’s a lot easier to transport pangolin, so much of the time they go undetected.”

But the pangolin-poaching pandemic is nowhere near as publicized as the plight of elephants, rhinos and tigers. And this lack of notoriety is the shy and vulnerable creature’s real woe, since it results in inadequate legal support and lackluster enforcement.

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to dramatize the decline of the pangolin without access to hard numbers. The animal is solitary and nocturnal, and its habitat is vast (in Asia, it ranges from China to Sri Lanka, in Africa from Ivory Coast to South Africa). But, since adult pangolins only have one offspring a year, it is plain that the species is being traded at unsustainable levels.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the widely respected endangered-species Red List, there have been suspected population declines of 50% for the Asian pangolin subspecies over the past 15 years — meaning that they could easily be extinct in another 15. African subspecies, meanwhile, have undergone a decline in the region of 20% to 25% over the past 15 years, according to the IUCN. Little is being done to stop it.

“Africa’s population, police and magistrates are very aware that the world is pointing fingers at rhino and elephant poaching, but nobody is really — nationally or internationally — pointing fingers for pangolin smuggling,” says Hywood.

This is reflected at an international level, with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listing all pangolin species under Appendix II. This allows regulated trade of the endangered animal, unlike Appendix I, which constitutes an outright ban. The legislation is complicated by the fact that the trade quota for the four Asian pangolin species is set to zero, effectively banning the trade, while no quotas have been set for African pangolins, leaving a gray area for smugglers to operate.

“The reality is that Appendix II leaves loopholes wide open for wildlife traffickers and legal exploitation. A CITES Appendix I classification, however, would close most of these,” says Rhishja Cota-Larson, executive director of Annamiticus, a U.S.-based organization working to stop the economic exploitation of endangered species.

Annamiticus and the Tikki Hywood Trust are among the groups hoping to push for an elevated protection status for pangolins at CITES 17th conference in South Africa in 2016. If they’re successful, there might still be time to preserve this charming, curious creature. But don’t bank on it. Chinese middle-class pockets, these days, are deep.

TIME Pakistan

Cannibal Brothers in Pakistan Sentenced to 12 years in Prison

Mohammad Arif sits in a police custody at a police station, in the town of Darya Khan
Mohammad Arif Ali, 35, right, sits in custody at a police station in the town of Darya Khan in Bhakkar district, Pakistan's Punjab province, on April 14, 2014. Reuters

They dug up a small child and cooked him in a curry

Two Pakistani brothers have been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after the skull of a young boy they exhumed and devoured was discovered in their home.

An antiterrorism court in the state of Punjab found Mohammad Farman Ali, 30, and Mohammad Arif Ali, 35, guilty of defiling a grave, destroying property and disseminating fear. No laws specifically against cannibalism currently exist in the country. The brothers will be able to file an appeal at the Punjab high court, the BBC reports.

The pair had previously served two years in prison after being convicted of digging up and eating more than 150 bodies from a nearby cemetery in 2011. After they were released in May 2013, they quietly resumed their lives until neighbors in their small village of Khwawar Kalan complained to police about the potent smell of rotting flesh wafting from their home.

A police search on April 14 revealed the head of a 2-year-old boy who had been buried in a nearby grave. The brothers later admitted to digging up the corpse of a child and cooking him in a curry.

TIME Military

The Significance of Bergdahl’s ‘Washing Out’ of the Coast Guard

This is our office
Recruits at the Coast Guard's boot camp in Cape May, N.J., do pushups on the beach. Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska / Coast Guard

If he couldn’t tend to the coasts, why’d the Army think he could handle the Taliban?

The U.S. government confirmed Wednesday that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was discharged early from the Coast Guard, after only 26 days in boot camp, two years before he tried to enlist in the Army.

The fact raises questions on a third front that has nothing to do with how Bergdahl came to be captured by the Taliban, or how much the Obama Administration did to win his freedom May 31 in an exchange for five senior Taliban leaders: why did the Army let a failed Coast Guardsman join its ranks?

Friends of Bergdahl told the Washington Post that the Coast Guard discharged him for psychological reasons, but neither the Coast Guard nor the Army has specified why Bergdahl left the Coast Guard’s boot camp in Cape May, N.J., in early 2006. The Coast Guard described the action as an “uncharacterized discharge,” which is typical for someone who leaves the service without completing basic training.

Generally such an event is a red flag that would have required a waiver from the Army before allowing such a prospective recruit to enlist. A wide variety of bars to enlistment—including legal problems and health concerns—require waivers because the Pentagon believes such recruits won’t do as well in uniform as those without such warning signs.

In 2008, the year Bergdahl joined the Army, the service granted waivers for about 20% of its recruits, usually for illicit drug use or other legal problems. Such waivers spiked as the popular support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sagged and it became more difficult to entice young Americans to serve in uniform.

Bergdahl’s aborted Coast Guard service is the latest twist in a strange series of events about the case. It began as a joyous Rose Garden celebration at the White House with his parents to announce his freedom. Within days, it soured into bitter comments from fellow soldiers who declared that Bergdahl had deserted his post in a war zone, leading to hunts for him that they say played a role in the combat deaths of at least six U.S. troops (the Pentagon says it has no evidence of direct links between the deaths and the manhunt).

Now it has become a darker tale about a seemingly-confused young man whose woes the Army may have been willing to overlook to gain a willing recruit for the war in Afghanistan.


TIME Canada

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Rob Ford The Musical

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts on the podium during his campaign launch party in Toronto
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts on the podium during his campaign launch party in Toronto in this file photo taken April 17, 2014. Mark Blinch —Reuters

Producers are holding a casting call in Toronto

Call it Crack Rock of Ages, perhaps.

Rob Ford the Musical: The Birth of a Ford Nation, about the inebriate Canadian politician, is holding an open casting call in Toronto next Monday, according to the production’s website.

Toronto’s mayor earned notoriety after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine last fall, with the somewhat self-defeating explanation, “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine… Probably in one of my drunken stupors.” Ford is currently taking a leave of absence, and has checked into rehab, but still plans to run for a second term as mayor.

In other words: His life story is crying out to be paired with song and dance.

Brett McCaig, P. Joseph Regan and Anthony Bastianon penned the book and lyrics. Bastianon has worked as a composer in Canada previously, and McCaig penned Nursery School Musical, though according to his LinkedIn page, he is also in real estate.

The auditions are being held at the resident performance space of famed comedy group Second City in Toronto, but a spokesperson for Second City told TIME that the improv group has nothing to do with the play—they are just renting out the audition space.

According to the casting call, the auditions will be “color blind,” so no resemblance to the robust mayor is necessary. The producers will cast the parts of Rob Ford, the mayor’s brother Doug Ford, as well as a character called “Tranny.” (Rob Ford once made offensive comments about transgender people.) The audition announcement boasts, “The media, the police chief and the city itself are not off limits.”

The musical is slated to open at Toronto’s Factory Theater on Sept. 16.

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