Top militants escape from Marawi, Khmer Rouge trial closes and football games in South China Sea

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: June 26, 2017 | Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories – 26 June 2017

Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (L) visiting evacuees from Marawi City at the Iligan City National School of Fisheries in Iligan City, southern Philippines, 20 June 2017. Photo:EPA/Presidential Photographers Division Handout

The Region Today – 26 June 2017

Top IS militants flee from Marawi City amid temporary ceasefire

Isnilon Hapilon and Mahmud Ahmad, two of the most wanted Islamic State (IS) militants in the world, may have escaped Marawi City in the southern Philippines, according to Malaysian authorities.

The news followed reports of an 8-hour ceasefire declared by the Philippine military on Sunday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Last week, Philippine officials said that they hoped to end the conflict by Eid al-Fitr to prevent an influx of reinforcements after the holiday.

“We cannot confirm this but authorities there report that Isnilon Hapilon managed to escape and we believe Mahmud is with him,” said Malaysian police commander Khalid Abu Bakar. [Channel News Asia / The Star]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: How civilians are being dragged into Duterte’s war against Abu Sayyaf

Four arrested in connection to stabbing of Indonesian police officer

Four suspects were arrested for their alleged involvement in the stabbing of an Indonesian police officer at a police station in Medan, which appears to have been an IS-coordinated attack.

A search of one suspect’s home led to an IS flag, and a suspect who was hurt in the attack, Syawaluddin Pakpahan, had travelled to Syria intending to join IS, according to Indonesian authorities.

National police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said Bahrun Naim, a ranking Indonesian IS leader thought to be behind a recent string of attacks in Indonesia, instructed the suspects in how to carry out the attack. [Straits Times]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Can Jakarta’s police chief prevent another terror attack?

Former Khmer Rouge head of state says he was not a murderer

In what may be his final remarks before the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh, the regime’s former head of state Khieu Samphan again denied knowledge of the crimes being perpetrated by the regime and said the court was never intended to provide a fair trial.

Already serving a life sentence for the first part of the trial, which was split into two segments, Samphan said the Khmer Rouge was only beginning its agrarian revolution and that the notion it carried out a genocide was fabricated by Vietnam.

“The leaders of the Communist Party of Kampuchea hoped to transform our country into a modern agricultural country that would gradually develop industries. That is for the people. People would have an abundance of food to eat and to live better and better,” he said.

“That is the truth.” [Cambodia Daily]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: For how much longer can the Khmer Rouge tribunal limp along?

Vietnamese blogger stripped of citizenship, deported to France

In a move described by Human Rights Watch as “unprecedented and shocking,” Vietnamese authorities stripped French-Vietnamese dual citizen and dissident blogger Pham Minh Hoang of his Vietnamese nationality and deported him to France.

Hoang was arrested and sentenced in 2011 for writing articles critical of the government and is a member of Viet Tan, a California-based pro-democracy group that Hanoi has deemed a terrorist organisation.

In Paris, Hoang explained that the police surrounded his home on Friday after he lost a appeal against his deportation and took him away immediately. Despite being allowed to meet French consular officials, he could not see his wife. Human Rights Watch said the action “crosses many human rights red lines”. [BBC]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: New report shows horrors faced by Vietnam’s political prisoners

Philippines and Vietnam join in games on South China Sea island

Amid substantial tension caused by Beijing’s controversial militarisation of the South China Sea, the Vietnamese and Philippine navies have been finding time to play football, volleyball and tug-of-war on Southwest Cay in the disputed Spratly archipelago.

Seen as a sign of growing unity among the relatively small Southeast Asian nations in the face of growing pressure from Beijing, the games were the third event of their kind since 2014.

Four decades ago, the Spratly Islands were controlled by the Philippines, but they are currently under Vietnamese control, although that is contested by Beijing. [Reuters]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Duterte chest-thumping and Chinese patrols near Malaysia latest escalations in South China Sea