News Wrap


India's Union Information and Broadcasting ministry has decided to set up a social media hub, for monitoring on-line content and data. On 13 July 2018, the Supreme Court asked whether the government wanted to snoop on social media platforms, and create a "surveillance state". The government has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) in the matter, calling for tenders, for a software to monitor all social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and track e-mail contents. Monitoring social media content with the help of a social media hub, violates various fundamental rights, including right to privacy under Articles 16, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. The proposed "Social Media Communication Hub (SMCH) would collect and analyse digital and social media content. In May 2018, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a public sector company under the Union I and B ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.

Hambantota Airport
The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) is a $210 million facility, 241 km south-east of Colombo and dubbed the "World's Emptiest Airport", due to lack of flights. The Mattala airport, named after former president Mahindra Rajapaksa, was one of the major infrastructure projects of Rajapaksa's nearly decade-long rule. The project was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport was officially opened in March 2013. The only international flight operating from there was halted in May 2018, due to current losses and flight safety issues. The sea port built in Hambantota, another Rajapaksa pet project, has been leased by Sri Lanka to China, to set Chinese loans as equity. India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to operate the country's loss making airport in Hambantota. The final terms of agreement remains to be worked out. The Chinese control of Hambantota port, which was handed over after Sri Lanka could not repay the debt incurred in its development, was seen as a "creeping acquisition" in India's backyard.

Explosions near Al-Tanf
Since 21 June 2018, "explosions had been heard in the desert near al-Tank, a fortified garrison in south Syria, used by US and British special forces to train a Syrian rebel group fighting ISIS. The RAF bombed pro-Syrian regime forces, after a desert battle erupted near a British SAS training base. A thphoon fighter jet dropped a 500 lb laser-guided bomb, during a fire fight in June 2018, near the intersection of Syria's border, with Iraq and Jordan. A Syrian army officer was killed and seven others were wounded. The attack is the first time British armed services have hit forces allied to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, since taking part in a barrage of airstrikes in April 2018. Control of the descent border area is with Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias, since 2017. They have on several occasions come under fire from coalition war planes, to stop them advancing on the al-Tanf base. The US-led coalition advised them to stay out of a 34-mile "deconfliction zone", around the base, where Maghawir al-Thovora (MaT) fighters are being trained. On 21 June 2018, a group of MaT fighters and coalition "advisers", within the zone were fired upon by an "unidentified force" just outside it. The British defence ministry believes that the firing came from an area not believed to be held by ISIS. RAF Typhoons, as an act of collective self-defence, dropped a single Paveway IV on the enemy position, which successfully removed the threat to coalition partners. A £44 million transport aircraft, C130J Hercules, is believed to have been seriously damaged after a heavy landing, during a special operations mission.

Global Refugee crisis
South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia have continued violent conflicts, and humanity on the move. Refugees from these countries are flooding into Europe and the United States at record rates. Anxieties have driven western governments to tighten borders, and slash refugee resettlement. The vast majority of the world's refugees are largely living in neighbouring countries. The report from the United Nations refugee agency stipulates that 68.5 million people worldwide were classified in 2017, as having been flexibly displaced because of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the end of World War II. Among them are 25.4 million refugees, those who have fled to another country to escape war or persecution in their own country, and who receive special protection under international law. Syria was the top refugee producing country in 2017. At least 5.6 million people fled Syria since 2011, most arriving in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. An additional 6.3 million remained internally displaced. Afghanistan's refugee population grew by 2.6%, making Afghans the largest refugee population in Asia. Despite Afghanistan's instability, Pakistan and other countries have been returning Afghan asylum seekers. 1.4 million refugees are in Uganda, from a handful of conflicts in neighbouring countries. Every day, hundreds of South Sudanese refugees cross the border into neighbouring Uganda, escaping armed conflicts, hunger crisis and acute malnutrition. The flood of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, poured across the border into Bangladesh, doubling their number from less than half a million at the start of 2017, to 1.2 million by end 2017. Most are hosted by Bangladesh, in poorly planned and over-crowded camps. Fleeing civil war, Shabab extremists and Al-Qaeda, most Somali refugees live in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.

Vol. 51, No.13, Sep 30 - Oct 6, 2018