- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


Troops seize rebel airstrip

COLOMBO | Sri Lankan troops advancing toward the Tamil Tigers‘ final redoubt seized a fifth rebel airstrip and more than 400 people fled battles across a rapidly shrinking war zone, the military said Thursday.

The military is gunning for Mullaittivu port, the only major town still held by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northeast of the Indian Ocean island.

Analysts are predicting a rapid end to the ground war, after which the military expects the Tigers’ hard-core guerrillas to go underground and carry out hit-and-run attacks.

Soldiers captured a half-mile-long airstrip surrounded by bunkers, booby traps and trenches, but found none of the Tigers’ single-engine planes, the military said.

The airstrip was found near Iranamadu reservoir, east of Kilinochchi, the town the LTTE had declared its capital. Soldiers captured it on Jan. 2 in a crushing blow to the Tigers’ separatist plans, at the heart of a 25-year war that is one of Asia’s longest-running.


5 Australians jailed for flight into Papua

JAYAPURA | Five Australians who flew to Papua, Indonesia, in a small plane, were sentenced to between two and three years in prison for entering the country illegally, a judge told a court in Merauke, Papua, on Thursday.

The five Australians, who said that they were tourists, landed in Merauke, in the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, in September 2008 without a flight permit or visas. Their attorney said they wanted to visit a national park in the area.

The government is particularly sensitive about Papua, where independence activists have waged a campaign for nearly 40 years to break away from Indonesia.

The pilot of the small plane, William Scott Bloxam, was sentenced to three years and ordered to pay 50 million rupiah ($4,484) for flying a small plane into Indonesia without permission, Judge Desbenneri Sinaga told the court.

Four passengers - Vera Scott Bloxam, Keith Ronald Mortimer, Karen Burke and Hubert Hufer - were each sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay 25 million rupiah.


Dung count shows large elephant count

BANGKOK | A count of elephant dung revealed a surprisingly large endangered elephant population - more than 600 - in Malaysia’s biggest national park, researchers said Thursday.

The number of endangered Asian elephants had always been a mystery as researchers tried to visually count every one of the frequently shifting crowd in the dense jungle.

But the new method of counting dung piles came up with an estimate of 631 animals living in Taman Negara National Park, said the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and Malaysia Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

The protected rain forest jungle, known simply as the “Green Heart” by Malaysians, spans about 1,676 square miles - about the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The space is crucial. Asian elephants are endangered due to habitat loss and poaching; between 30,000 and 50,000 may remain in 13 Asian countries, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Floods, landslides displace 300,000

MANILA | Floods and landslides caused by almost a week of unseasonably heavy rains have killed 20 people and displaced 300,000 in the eastern and southern Philippines, officials said Thursday.

Wide areas on the southern island of Mindanao and in the eastern part of the archipelago from the Bicol region to Samar and Leyte islands were inundated, said Glenn Rabonza, head of the government’s disaster agency.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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