Militants seize Philippine school, Myanmar rebels fracture, Palm oil pledge

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: June 21, 2017 | Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories – 21 June 2017

Philippine troops conduct house to house searches as fighting between Islamist militants and government forces continues in Marawi City, Mindanao Island, southern Philippines, 07 June 2017.
Philippine troops conduct house to house searches as fighting between Islamist militants and government forces continues in Marawi City, Mindanao Island, southern Philippines, 07 June 2017. Photo: EPA/Merlyn Manos

The Region Today – 21 June 2017

Islamic State-linked combatants storm Philippine school far from Marawi City

Islamic State (IS)-linked combatants have stormed a school and taken an unknown number of students hostage in the Philippine town of Pigcawayan almost 200 km away from the ongoing conflict in Marawi City on the island of Mindanao, according to police.

The attack was orchestrated by roughly 300 armed men, some of whom are confirmed members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), according to a police report. BIFF combatants, along with other militant Islamist groups, are also fighting the military in Marawi City where more than 300 civilians and fighters have been confirmed dead.

“We can confirm that they occupied a school and there were civilians trapped. We are in the process of determining how many were trapped and their identities,” said Pigcawayan police chief inspector Realan Mamon. [Reuters]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Philippines deploys tanks and helicopters in attempt to reclaim southern city

Myanmar rebel militias splitting from ethnic armed umbrella organisation

Three armed ethnic militias in Myanmar have requested to leave the United Nationalities Federal Council, the umbrella organisation holding armed combatants to the standing national ceasefire agreement while peace talks continue.

The request for an official split comes after the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Kachin Independence Army were excluded from participating in the last round of the Panglong Peace Talks after failing to agree to the national ceasefire agreement. The three militias, who were instead invited to attend the conference as observers, remain locked in a fierce separatist conflict with the Myanmar armed forces.

Myanmar remains plagued by armed conflict drawn on ethnic lines, despite leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to push forward the peace process. [Radio Free Asia]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: In pictures: the struggle to survive in Myanmar’s war-torn border regions

Singapore not immune from terror threat, says PM Lee

Citing a “steady trickle of cases” of Singaporean residents who have become radicalised in recent years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Singapore is not immune to the threat of terrorism.

Just yesterday, two Singaporean police officers were arrested for terrorism-related offences, sparking anxiety throughout both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, whom Lee sought to reassure.

“The answer is simple: Stand shoulder to shoulder with the government. The government does not want the Muslim community to be viewed with distrust,” said Lee, who also this week apologized for the distrust in government sewn by online statements from his siblings claiming that he was abusing his power and preparing his son for succession. [Straits Times]

Chinese Authorities Freeze Bank Accounts Owned by Myanmar Traders

Chinese authorities have frozen 132 Myanmar-owned bank accounts holding an estimated $28.8 million, according to Eleven Myanmar media group, allegedly for being linked to illegal drugs and gambling activities.

The abrupt action comes as a surprise to many who were unaware of the freezing until trying to withdraw money from their accounts. “We are in trouble and business could be delayed,” said a woman surnamed Phyu whose business was among those with frozen funds. [Radio Free Asia]

Palm oil companies join effort to save 10,000 Borneo orangutans

NGOs have teamed up with some of the largest palm oil firms in the world to launch an initiative to combat the impending extinction of orangutans, which is being expedited by the aggressive expansion of the palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Calling themselves the The Palm Oil & NGO Alliance, the group seeks to save 10,000 orangutans who face endangerment in Borneo, where their population has been cut by more than half in the last 50 years.

“They’re an iconic species – and they’ve been the face of the palm oil industry’s evils,” said Carolyn Lim, corporate communications manager at Musim Mas, which owns one of the world’s largest palm oil refineries. [Eco-Business]