- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

INDIA

Navy boosts air fleet in $1.5 billion deal

NEW DELHI | India’s navy has started a $1.5 billion overhaul of its aging Soviet-era fleet of aircraft, seeking to boost its air power in an Indian Ocean region where a developing China is threatening its traditional dominance.

The investment is one of the biggest the Indian navy has made in recent years. It reflects New Delhi’s urgency to modernize its military, a move that rival Pakistan says could spark an arms buildup and destabilize an already roiled South Asia.

India plans to buy 16 new MiG-29 fighter jets, half a dozen light combat aircraft, unmanned patrol planes and multi-role helicopters. Tenders for these will be floated soon, Indian officials said.

The Indian navy is also upgrading its Sea Harrier fighter jets and IL-38 maritime anti-submarine warfare planes, and acquiring five Kamov KA-31 patrol helicopters.

PAKISTAN

Missile said to kill Filipino militant

DERA ISMAIL KHAN | A Filipino militant wanted by the United States is believed to have been killed in an American drone strike close to the Afghan border earlier this month, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

If confirmed, the death of Abdul Basit Usman would represent another success for the U.S. covert missile program on targets in Pakistan. There have been an unprecedented number of attacks this month since a deadly Dec. 30 militant assault on a CIA base in Afghanistan.

Two military intelligence officers in northwestern Pakistan said Usman was believed killed on Jan. 14 on the border of Pakistan’s South and North Waziristan tribal regions. Another 11 militants were also killed in the strike on a militant compound. Authorities have previously said the attack had targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud.

There had been no previous indication Usman was in Pakistan. If the reports of his death in Pakistan are true, it may indicate stronger ties between al Qaeda and Southeast Asian terrorist groups than previously thought.

NEPAL

U.N. mission to go by middle of May

UNITED NATIONS | The Security Council on Thursday extended the mandate of the U.N. mission in Nepal until May so it can finish monitoring the Himalayan state’s peace process, but said it should prepare to then leave.

Under a 2006 deal that ended a decade-long civil war between Nepal’s government and Maoist rebels, the United Nations has supervised compliance by the former combatants with an agreement on their arms and armies.

The 250-member U.N. mission, known as UNMIN, has arms monitors based at camps for former Maoist fighters where weapons are stored and at a weapons storage site in a Nepal army barracks.

The Security Council had hoped to wind up UNMIN this month, but a political crisis since the Maoists quit the government in May in a dispute over their attempt to fire the country’s army chief delayed the discharge of fighters from the camps.

VIETNAM

Rights groups hit dissident jailings

HANOI | Human rights campaigners and Western governments strongly criticized communist Vietnam on Thursday for jailing four dissidents, as an appeals court upheld sentences against six more activists.

At a one-day trial in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday, the four were given sentences of between five and 16 years for “activities aimed at subverting the people’s administration.” This prompted swift diplomatic reaction.

“The trial and verdicts are a major and regrettable step backwards for Vietnam,” the European Union delegation to Vietnam said.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak expressed concern “about the apparent lack of due process in the conduct of the trials.” The convictions “raise serious questions about Vietnam’s commitment to rule of law and reform,” he said.

Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was sentenced to 16 years in prison while blogger Nguyen Tien Trung received seven years. Human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh and Le Thang Long were each given five years.

The discharge got under way earlier this month when former Maoist child soldiers began to leave, in a move considered crucial for peace in Nepal, which is trying to write a new constitution after abolishing the monarchy in 2008.

Thursday’s council resolution extended UNMIN’s mandate until May 15, as requested by the Nepalese government.

The next step in emptying the U.N.-monitored camps across the country is the integration and rehabilitation of more than 19,000 adult Maoist ex-combatants still in them.

The Security Council welcomed a recent understanding between the Nepalese government and the Maoists on having a firm schedule to do that by mid-May. The new constitution is meant to be promulgated by May 28.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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