Archive for July 15th, 2011

July 15, 2011

3 ships arrive in Vietnam for joint training

The seven-day exercises will take place against a backdrop of regional tensions.

By Margie Mason – The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Jul 15, 2011 7:14:09 EDT

A Vietnamese fishing boat passes the guided missile destroyer Chung-Hoon in Danang, Vietnam, on Friday.

DANANG, Vietnam — Three Navy ships were welcomed Friday by former foe Vietnam for joint training, despite China’s irritation following weeks of fiery exchanges between the communist neighbors over disputed areas of the South China Sea.

U.S. and Vietnamese officials have stressed that the seven-day ship visit and naval training are part of routine exchanges planned long before tensions began flaring between China and Vietnam in late May. China has criticized the port call as inappropriate, saying it should have been rescheduled due to the ongoing squabble.

The U.S. visit, however, did send a message that the Navy remains a formidable maritime force in the region and is determined to build stronger military ties with smaller Southeast Asian countries.

“We’ve had a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea for 50 to 60 years, even going back before World War II,” Rear Adm. Tom Carney, who’s leading the naval exchange, told reporters. “We will maintain a presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea as we have for decades, and we have no intention of departing from that kind of activity.”

He spoke on the pier in central Danang, once home to a bustling U.S. military base during the Vietnam War, in front of the diving and salvage ship Safeguard. American and Vietnamese flags flapped in the steamy air from the ship, and two guided missile destroyers — Chung-Hoon and Preble — were visible off the coast.

The two navies will hold exchanges involving navigation and damage control along with dive and salvage training. No live-fire drills will be conducted.

Vietnam and China last month both announced their navies held such maneuvers individually in the South China Sea after relations hit a low point when Hanoi twice accused Beijing of hindering oil exploration within Vietnam’s economic exclusive zone.

China responded that Vietnamese boats had endangered Chinese fishermen in a different area near the contested resource-rich Spratly islands, claimed all or in part by both nations and several others.

Tempers appeared to be cooling after Chinese and Vietnamese officials met last month and announced they would work to negotiate a peaceful resolution. But Vietnamese state-run media and a border official on Wednesday accused armed Chinese soldiers of attacking and chasing a Vietnamese fishing boat near the disputed Paracel islands claimed by both countries.

The Philippines has also recently sparred with China, alleging similar interference with its energy exploration efforts in the South China Sea. The U.S. last month conducted similar joint naval exercises that included live-fire drills with the Philippines, a treaty ally.

On Monday in Beijing, top Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde criticized his U.S. counterpart for going forward with the exercises in Vietnam and the Philippines, calling it bad timing in light of the ongoing spats. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the decision saying the exchanges were pre-planned.

“I don’t know when an appropriate time would be for these kind of activities, which are designed to promote friendship and cooperation,” Carney said from the Vietnam pier. “But I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to do those kind of activities.”

Washington has said that the South China Sea, home to major shipping lanes, is in its national interest. China, which has an expanding maritime influence, has designated the area as a core interest — essentially something it could go to war over. Worried smaller neighboring countries have looked to the U.S. to maintain a strong presence in the region.

“The U.S. has made its point and will continue to do so if pressed, but does not appear to be looking for a fight with Beijing on this issue,” said Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii-based think tank. “It is not likely to heed or back down as a result of Chinese ‘warnings,’ however, which will likely make Washington feel more compelled to respond.”

The current U.S. visit to Vietnam involves about 700 sailors and builds on the first postwar port call in 2003 made to the former Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. Since then, military relations have continued to grow with high-level defense visits and exchanges.

The two sides recently began working together to clean up dioxin contamination from the defoliant Agent Orange. It was mixed and stored at the U.S. air base in Danang and remains one of the lasting legacies of the Vietnam War that killed some 58,000 Americans and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.

The war ended in 1975 when U.S.-backed South Vietnam fell to northern communist forces and the country was reunified. The U.S. and Vietnam shook hands in 1995 and established diplomatic relations, signing a landmark trade deal six years later.

Today, the U.S. is Vietnam’s top export market, while Americans are among the country’s leading foreign investors.

July 15, 2011

US-Vietnam naval drill begins against China’s wish

DANANG, Vietnam — Former enemies Vietnam and the United States began a joint naval drill on Friday, despite Chinese objections after weeks of escalating tension in the disputed South China Sea.

US officials described the week-long exercises off Vietnam’s central coast as “non-combatant events”, focused on areas such as navigation and maintenance, in a statement from the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City.

But China’s top military officer General Chen Bingde said Monday that the timing of US naval exercises in the area was “inappropriate”, after talks with his American counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen aimed at cooling the tensions.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan all have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits and home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.

Vietnam and the Philippines have in recent months accused Beijing of taking increasingly aggressive actions in staking its claims in the sea.

Tensions flared in May when Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship.

Since then, a series of anti-China protests have been held in Vietnam, where rallies are rare, with the latest on Sunday being forcibly dispersed by local police. At least 10 people, including journalists, were briefly arrested.

During talks on June 25, Beijing and Hanoi promised to resolve the issue peacefully, and China has warned Washington not to get involved in regional maritime disputes, according to state media.

The US and Vietnam, former wartime enemies, normalised relations in 1995 and have been rapidly building relations across a wide range of areas, including military affairs.

“This exchange helps our respective sailors gain a greater understanding of one another and builds important relationships between our navies for the future,” Rear Admiral Tom Carney said of the latest drill.

The Philippine and US navies also recently held 11 days of military exercises close to the South China Sea, war games that have been seen as aimed at recent Chinese provocations.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

July 15, 2011

LAOS: “Unprecedented” drug trafficking heightens risk to youth

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Photo: Contributor/IRIN. Yabaa is sold in tablet form

VIENTIANE, 15 July 2011 (IRIN) – An upsurge in drug trafficking in Laos is fuelling the potential for drug abuse among the youth, the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) warns.

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Country Representative to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Leik Boonwaat, told IRIN the Lao People’s Republic was facing “an unprecedented increase in trafficking of methamphetamine”, with rising use of the highly addictive drug.

Methamphetamine seizures in the country soared from one million tablets in 2008 to more than 24 million in 2010, according to UNODC. The agency’s June 2011 World Drugs Report said 95 percent of those seeking drug treatment in Laos in 2009 had methamphetamine problems.

Phanthavy Bounmany was 17 when he first used methamphetamine, known as yabaa, or “crazy drug” in Lao and Thai. “I got addicted, but not seriously at first. I would use it once every couple of weeks,” he said. “But it became much more serious over time.”

Phanthavy broke his habit through repeated stays at Somsanga Treatment Centre on the outskirts of the Lao capital, Vientiane, where he now works to help other addicts.

“I was brought [to Somsanga] by my family. Many people helped me, and I decided that I had to fight the drug with them,” he said.

Somsanga is the largest of Laos’ eight drug treatment centres, and registered 600 new patients in the first six months of 2011, against 300 over the same period in 2010 according to UNODC.

Photo: Contributor/IRIN Young people are at risk

“The number of young Lao [yabaa] users is increasing because of social pressures. If people use yabaa in the area where you stay, they will pressure you to use it, and then you will pressure your friends,” said Phanthavy.

Of Somsanga’s 1,300 residents, just 40 are female, pointing to an acute vulnerability among young men to exposure and addiction to drugs. “Yabaa is more than 80 percent a problem for male youth,” said Phanthavy.

Flooded market

Yabaa’s low price in Laos, US$4 to $6 per tablet, or less if bought in bulk or from a regular dealer, and ready availability because of large-scale trafficking, are also contributing to rising use.

Although there is no evidence of domestic manufacturing of yabaa, Laos’s proximity to known production centres in neighbouring countries, particularly Myanmar, coupled with a lack of law enforcement resources and 5,000km of borders, have made the land-locked country a conveyor belt for moving the drug to other large Asian markets, such as Thailand, Vietnam and China.

“Any law enforcement officer will tell you that each seizure represents only one-tenth of the total illicit goods that are being trafficked. We estimate that the total street value of drugs seized [in Laos] since 2010 could be as high as $100 million,” UNODC’s Leik told IRIN.

“Social evil”

On 24 June the Lao government marked International Day Against Drugs by burning about a ton of seized drugs in Vientiane, including 1.2 million yabaa tablets, and launched a national drug prevention campaign fronted by local celebrities.

LCDC Chairman Soubanh Srithirath said at the event that “Laos seems to bear the brunt [of trafficking], as most production occurs outside our borders”, adding that the Lao government was “seriously committed to fighting this social evil”.

Leik pointed out that the trade in yabaa differed fundamentally from the country’s battle with opium in that youth were targeted, and more than 50 percent of the Lao population is under 20 years of age, many of whom lack employment and education opportunities.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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