Sunday, June 30, 2019

Trump makes history as first sitting US president to step into North Korea, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Trump makes history as first sitting US president to step into North Korea, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Trump makes history as first sitting US president to step into North Korea

SEOUL - Donald Trump has made history by becoming the first sitting United States President to step into North Korea, in an impromptu meeting with the regime's leader Kim Jong Un which experts say demonstrated their strong rapport and injected fresh impetus into stalled nuclear talks.

Anticipation had been building since Saturday morning when Mr Trump tweeted an invitation to meet at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas.

But he was unsure whether Mr Kim could make it at such short notice, due to security and logistical issues.

"I never expected to see you here," a grinning Mr Kim told Mr Trump as they shook hands on Sunday (June 30) across the Military Demarcation Line (DML) in the truce village of Panmunjom.

Mr Trump later told the media he asked if Mr Kim would like him to cross the line – to which the North Korean leader replied: "I would be so honoured."

The two leaders then walked a few steps across the North Korean border and posed for photos. 

"This is a historic moment, the fact that we're meeting," said Mr Trump. "I want to thank Chairman Kim for something else... if he doesn't show up the press was going to make us look very bad, so you made us both look good."

Mr Kim, in return, called the short walk a "very courageous and determined" act by the US President.

The third meeting between the two leaders – after Singapore in June last year and Vietnam in February – unfolded after Mr Trump sent a Twitter message asking Mr Kim to meet him at the DMZ to shake hands and say hello.

The US President was in Seoul for a two-day visit to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in, while returning home from the Group of 20 leaders' summit in Osaka.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim ended up talking for nearly an hour, after which Mr Trump revealed that stalled working-level talks will be resumed in the weeks to come. 

He said US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will lead the US team with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while the North Korea's chief negotiator will be "someone we like".

Communication between the two sides has been minimal since their leaders failed to agree in Hanoi on how to move beyond the agreement inked in Singapore to build new ties and work towards complete denuclearisation.

Mr Kim offered to dismantle the North's main Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for the early easing of sanctions, but Mr Trump demanded more.

Both sides have since urged each other to come up with new proposals, while reiterating their commitment to dialogue.

Observers say the DMZ meeting is a move steeped in symbolism and historical significance, as the heavily guarded border remains a reminder of post-war pain and lingering tension.

Mr Kim agreed as much, saying that it marks a "historic shift from division to peace".

Another significant moment was the first trilateral meeting between Mr Trump, Mr Kim, and Mr Moon, also at the DMZ. But Mr Moon, who accompanied Mr Trump there, was careful to underplay the event, telling reporters that the focus should be on Trump and Kim.

The South Korean leader also lauded Mr Trump's "bold and creative" approach towards North Korea, adding that the two countries made "significant progress" by agreeing to resume working-level negotiations.

Dr Bong Young-shik of Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies told The Straits Times that the DMZ meeting was a win-win situation, allowing the two leaders to save face and bask in the optics while flaunting their personal connection.

"Trump's personal approach that helps to alleviate deep-seated anxiety might be more effective than any security assurance or normal diplomacy," said Dr Bong. "But sanctions remain in place, ouch."

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Leaving Jakarta: Indonesia accelerates plans for 'green, smart' capital in the middle of Borneo wilderness - CNA

Leaving Jakarta: Indonesia accelerates plans for 'green, smart' capital in the middle of Borneo wilderness - CNA

Leaving Jakarta: Indonesia accelerates plans for 'green, smart' capital in the middle of Borneo wilderness

Bukit Soeharto
The forests of Bukit Soeharto could within years be home to hundreds of thousands of Indonesia's public servants. (Photo: Jack Board)
(Updated: )


SAMARINDA, Indonesia: In the late 1970s, it is told, Indonesian president Suharto embarked on a journey along the coast of East Kalimantan, a lush flank of land stretching up the island of Borneo.

From a picturesque hill, he admired the natural surroundings, a stop on what is remembered by locals as an arduous journey between the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda. He might never have believed that a few decades later, those stretches of lush forest could become home to Indonesia's capital city.

READ: Study on relocating Indonesia's capital more than 90% completed: Planning minister

READ: Commentary - Indonesia's plans to move its capital out of Java may not solve underlying issues

In commemoration of the president's visit, the forest was named in his honour, and in 1991 it became a conservation area - a "great forest park".

In this landscape the foundations of a city for one million people could soon be laid.

Indonesia explores new capital

The Indonesian government has almost finished a long awaited feasibility study into the relocation of the country's administrative core away from Jakarta. The chosen site for the new city will be announced this year, Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro confirmed with CNA.

"If we can do that, then sometime in 2020 we can do all the preparation, including the masterplan and a detailed design of the new capital," he said.

"Then in 2021, all the construction activities will be started with the expectation that by 2024, we can start the first steps of the movement of the capital."

Indonesia new capital 8
Large swathes of Bukit Soeharto has been taken over by palm oil plantations and mining operations. (Photo: Jack Board)

In shifting away from the urban density of Jakarta, the government will delve into the wilderness. The Bukit Soeharto area in East Kalimantan is a leading contender in what has become a bidding war between neighbouring provinces.

Despite a historically poor track record of environmental preservation, the Indonesian government wants to change the way it is perceived and showcase nature by constructing a city right among the trees.

"If this location is very close to the forest area in Kalimantan then the design of the city will be like a forest city. The city will actually revitalise the protected forest," Bambang said.

"The motto of the city will be Smart, Green and Beautiful. A green city will be at the heart of our plan."

President Joko Widodo has made massive infrastructure the signature priority of his leadership, investing billions in projects nationwide. But this represents a challenge with a different magnitude.

The ambitious timeline that has been proposed would giveJokowi a red-tape cutting moment in the eleventh hour of his presidency. It could coincide with the last year of his second and final term as the nation's leader.

But there are many hurdles ahead, with plenty of critics who remain sceptical about the government's ability and motivation to pull it off.  

Indonesia new capital
Jakarta suffers from serious congestion. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)


A move now is more than just economics - there is symbolism encircling the decision. Java - with Jakarta its beating heart - has been the centre of everything in a sprawling nation that spans wider than western Europe or the North American continent.

Now it needs to be saved from itself, says Bambang. The proposed new capital will be located in Kalimantan, he confirmed, the geographic heart of the country that is deemed safe from Indonesia's risk of natural disasters. It is also a nod to the forgotten lands and people of the archipelago.

READ: Indonesia to make moratorium on new forest clearance permanent: Minister

READ: Indonesia to tighten waste import rules after paper scrap smuggling controversy

Bambang Prodjonegoro
Minister Bambang Prodjonegoro told CNA the government will announce the outcome of its feasiblility study later this year. (Photo: Jack Board)

"Moving the capital is part of the strategy of reducing inequality, especially inequality between Java and outside Java. The burden of Java is too big so now we understand that we also need to save Java," Bambang said.

"We want to diversify. We want to create new sources of growth."

Jakarta has a pressing range of problems expected to imperil the liveability of the city in the coming decades. The megalopolis is known to be sinking, while issues of overcrowding, congestion and poverty have added to its citizens' woes.

Elisa Sutanudjaja, the executive director of Rujak Center for Urban Studies doubts that shifting the capital from Jakarta will lead to any major improvements for its residents, given the number affected is just a small fraction of the 30 million plus population.

READ: Jakarta takes first step on journey to end traffic nightmare with new MRT

READ: Bleak future for Jakarta cyclists as cars dominate the city's roads

In fact, she does not believe the plan will happen at all.

"It takes too much effort, from law revision to ensuring that the budget is there. For me, it's just a bad example of land speculation," she said.

"Despite moving the capital, the national government still has to overcome Jakarta's problems, because many of those problems are produced and created by the impact of national government's policies."

Indonesia new capital 3
A massive toll road is near completion to connect to Balikpapan and Samarinda. (Photo: Jack Board)

Ben Bland, research fellow and director of the Southeast Asia project at the Lowy Institute, an international policy think tank, says the strategy appears to be earnest, but more progress and information needs to be shown before Indonesians will be convinced.

The details of the feasibility study remain secretive and there has been little public discussion or oversight.

"Given that this has issue has been discussed for so long without progress, investors and civil servants are unlikely to take the government seriously until there are concrete moves to make this happen," Bland said.

There are lessons to be learnt from the experiences - good and bad - of other nations who have undertaken, or are attempting, the mammoth task of moving their capital, from Brazil to Myanmar, Malaysia and Egypt.

Some have been successful in decentralising crowded capitals, but other projects have been left as white elephants, with ghost cities having to be endured by public servants.

Thus, a well rounded choice of location in such an expansive nation is critical, explained Bambang.

"We are trying to avoid the location that can be categorised as the middle of nowhere."


The concept of breaking ground for a new capital city is not new. In fact, proposals to move from Jakarta have dotted Indonesia's modern history.

It was the founding president himself Sukarno that put a relocation on the agenda back in the 1950s in the early years of Indonesia's independence. President Suharto also wanted to shift the capital in the 1990s to a nearby city in Java, a plan shafted when he resigned.

READ: Grow more durians Jokowi tells struggling palm oil producers, with rural votes in balance

READ: Slow replanting of palm a blow to Indonesia's efforts on environment

The legacies of both former leaders hang over critical choices being made now about Indonesia's future.

Indonesia new capital 5
The legacy of former president Sukharno still holds sway over Kalimantan. (Photo: Jack Board)

The people of Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan believe there is a destiny in their city becoming capital. From its inception, it was modelled on Washington DC with a large traffic circle, mall and wide avenues, engineered by Russians.

"Sukarno wished to build a new city like Washington DC, a new type of city to be a model for Indonesia. His ambition was to realise it in Palangkaraya," said Central Kalimantan Governor Sugianto Sabran. 

That vision will be complicated by contemporary challenges of land ownership and availability. Palangkaraya is far from a bustling city, but with a population of about 250,000 people, it cannot simply be supplanted. 

"Most of the land is already owned by people and occupied. And the area itself mostly is swamp or peatland. It is more natural if they build a new city," said Wijanarka, local architect and university lecturer.

An area north of the city has been proposed that straddles three local regencies, dubbed the "Palangkaraya Triangle". There is ample room for the construction of a large city, which would be flanked by two major rivers. It is an area being properly examined by the planning ministry.

It has the support of many Palangkaraya residents, excited about the prospect of the hum of economic activity and investment in their area. "Palangkaraya is safe, there are no protests, no rallies and it's peaceful. We locals are ready," long term resident Dwi Subagyo boasted.

Indonesia new capital 7
Palangkaraya was designed with similar features to Washington DC, in preparation for it to become capital. (Photo: Jack Board)

Yet, despite the keenness, history and nostalgia connected to Palangkaraya, there are obvious weaknesses to the bid, such as a lack of significant infrastructure and access to a seaport - both key criteria in the central government's feasibility study. The city is inland, meaning the construction of hundreds of kilometres of major roads to the coast would be needed.

"We are trying to utilise economies of scale by locating the new capital not too far from functional cities, functional areas and of course the availability of infrastructure," Bambang said.

"We do not expect to build a new big airport, a new seaport or big road networks like a toll road for the capital."

These measures tilt the candidacy favour back towards East Kalimantan and the sweeping hills of Bukit Soeharto.

Indonesia new capital 2
Residents of Palangkaraya believe it is destiny that their city will become capital. (Photo: Jack Board)


The area lies in the middle of two major, coastal cities - Balikpapan and Samarinda, which are currently having their connectivity improved by a multi-lane toll road due for completion soon. Both cities boast working ports, modern airports and tourism sites that could be further developed.

"We hope the president will choose East Kalimantan as we already have infrastructure which does not really need much improvement," said acting East Kalimantan province secretary Muhammad Sabani. 

Still, it is not these types of infrastructure that have environmentalists worried, rather the need to build an entire city from scratch over thousands of hectares.

"If the new capital city is going to be built there, the function of the forest will change. The development of hotels and shopping centres will need extensive land clearing. We actually reject the plan," said Hafidz Prasetyo, advocacy and campaign department head for environmental NGO Walhi in East Kalimantan. 

"As a conservation area, it should be a home for sun bears, local birds and other kinds of animals as well as teak woods, bengkirai woods and those should be preserved," he said. "It's better for the government to rethink the plan. Please consider the condition and future of the forest park, which later will affect other areas."

Bukit Soeharto has gone through plenty of iterations during the past decades. In a former generation, the area became a production timber forest. It has been reclassified several times but principally has been set aside for conservation in recent times. It is land owned and controlled by the state.

Indonesia new capital 6
Orangutans live in a pristine wildlife sanctuary just a few kilometres from the proposed site of the new capital in Bukit Soeharto.

Today, it is far from pristine terrain, though in parts the forest is still dense and unyielding. Humans have left deep scars here already, particularly in the last ten years, locals say. Small scale coal mines and smatterings of palm oil plants have been allowed to intrude into what is a designated protected area. Illegal deforestation and frequent forest burning have further degraded the quality of the land.

Just a few kilometres from the proposed site of the new capital, a sanctuary exists for rescued orangutans and sun bears showcases the differing fates between public and private land.

The hundreds of individual animals living at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation enjoy a life of protection away from their natural habitats ravished by human activity throughout the region.

For Hafidz, the government's strategy of transforming a forest into a city is representative of the country's cavalier attitude towards the environment. "Bukit Soeharto looks pristine but there are plenty of forest encroachers. So what's the difference between them and the government?"

Still, for the locals in the area, there is a building excitement about the potential announcement. It would be transformative for their lives, even if it results in their likely eviction from the area.

"When Pak Jokowi visited this area, we lined up outside to see him. It was so exciting," said Putri Ayu, one of about 15,000 people living inside the bounds of Bukit Soeharto. "I also know that East Kalimantan is one of the candidates for the new capital and I support it," Suryana agreed.

In their favour, the president appeared to show an enthusiastic interest in the area during a recent tour of various relocation sites. "Here, I see that everything is supportive," President Jokowi was reported as saying by local media.

If he can make it happen, he will have achieved something that has eluded all of this forebears. Even if his time in office elapses long before the city truly takes root.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Engineer's deceit in PIE viaduct collapse case could have caused unimaginable number of casualties, Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Engineer's deceit in PIE viaduct collapse case could have caused unimaginable number of casualties, Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Engineer's deceit in PIE viaduct collapse case could have caused unimaginable number of casualties

SINGAPORE - Permanent structures used in the construction of a Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) viaduct near Upper Changi were so inadequate, they could have collapsed under the weight of a full traffic load and caused an unimaginable number of casualties.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang told the court on Monday (June 24) that 61-year-old engineer Leong Sow Hon, who was appointed by the Land Transport Authority as an accredited checker, had failed to go through the detailed plans and design calculations for permanent corbels or support structures.

Permanent corbels are reinforced concrete structures, critical in the stability of a viaduct. They allow the load on a flyover to be transferred to columns.

Leong's deceit could have resulted in "high potential harm", said DPP Yang.

"Investigations have revealed that the permanent corbels were inadequately designed... Out of the 10 permanent corbels, eight of them were inadequately designed for the total load, including traffic, upon completion of the viaduct."

Of the eight, five of the corbels were unable to support the weight they were supposed to be designed for. The remaining three, said DPP Yang, would have shown significant cracks with a full traffic load, leading to a collapse.

"If the viaduct collapsed after it had been constructed and opened to traffic, the casualties caused would be unimaginable," the DPP added.

Leong, the managing director of Calibre Consulting Singapore, pleaded guilty on Monday to failing to check the detailed structural plans and design calculations of the viaduct building works in accordance with regulations under the Building Control Act.

One count of falsely certifying that he had carried out the required checks will be taken into consideration during sentencing.

Leong is so far the only person involved in the case to plead guilty.

His crime was discovered only after temporary structures at the incomplete viaduct gave way on July 14, 2017.

The collapse resulted in the death of 31-year-old Chinese worker Chen Yinchuan. Ten other workers were injured in the incident.

As the final checker, Leong's job was to go through the detailed plans and design calculations for the permanent corbels.

But he admitted to not evaluating, analysing or reviewing the structural design in the plans and failing to perform original calculations for all permanent corbels.

Although he had initially claimed he had performed the original calculations for the corbels and found them to be adequate, Leong was unable to provide evidence.

In fact, no calculations were performed for both permanent and temporary corbels during the submissions stage of building works.

The cases involving the main contractor, Or Kim Peow Contractors, and four other men allegedly linked to the incident are still pending.

They are: the qualified person from subcontractor CPG Consultants, Robert Arianto Tjandra, 46; project engineer Wong Kiew Hai, 31; and project director Allen Yee, 49 - both from Or Kim Peow Contractors - as well as its group managing director Or Toh Wat, 51.

On Monday, DPP Yang urged District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim to sentence Leong to at least nine months' jail. 

He added: "The seriousness of the harm risked, the likelihood of that harm arising, and the number of people likely to be exposed to the risk of that harm, are all high."

Defence lawyer, Lim Lian Kee pleaded for his client to be fined $25,000, adding that a jail sentence was "not justified".
Mr Lim also told the judge that the collapse in 2017 was caused by the temporary corbels, not the permanent ones.

Or Kim Peow Contractors has been replaced by Hwa Seng Builder, which clinched the deal to complete the stalled project for $95.6 million last year. 

The viaduct was supposed to be completed by the first quarter of next year, but is now expected to be ready by the first half of 2022.

Leong's case has been adjourned to July 5.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

One year after Thai cave rescue, grieving wife of dead diver struggles to move on - CNA

One year after Thai cave rescue, grieving wife of dead diver struggles to move on - CNA

One year after Thai cave rescue, grieving wife of dead diver struggles to move on

Saman's wife
"I want back the happiest embrace," Valepon Gunan, 37, the wife of the late Thai diver Saman Gunan, wrote on her Instagram following his death. Saman lost his life during the Tham Luang cave complex rescue operation on Jul 6, 2018. (Photo: Valepon Gunan)
(Updated: )


BANGKOK: Precisely one year ago, 12 schoolboys and their football coach went missing in a Thai cave. Like the rest of the country and much of the rest of the world, Valepon Gunan was gripped by the fear and uncertainty of the rescue operation unfolding in northern Thailand

She did not expect that it would soon be her own husband who would be lost in the darkness as he tried to save the lives of the boys. His death - 13 days into the rescue operation - was a crushing blow that Valepon has struggled to recover from.

READ: Thai cave rescue: From despair to delight - and new concerns about the boys

INTERACTIVE SPECIAL: A closer look at the unprecedented rescue operation

Saman 'Sam' Gunan - a former Thai Navy SEAL and avid triathlete - lost his life trying to save 13 people he had never met from the flooded cave complex in Chiang Rai. 

The volunteer diver was on his way back from supplying air tanks along the rescue route when his breathing device fell from his mouth. The water was freezing. The visibility was nearly zero. Saman could not find his equipment in the cold, murky darkness and ran out of air.

Saman Gunan Thai seal
Saman Gunan was one of some 10,000 people who took part in a multinational rescue operation at the Tham Luang cave complex. (Photo: Thai Navy SEAL)

He has been gone for nearly a year now, and life has become a constant struggle for his widowed wife. She knows he will never come home, but total surrender to that reality makes the pain too much to bear. So Valepon tries to find some consolation to protect her broken heart.

"I feel he has never left. We just can't talk to each other, that's all. He's with me all the time," she said in tears.

Whenever I see his photos at work, I'll smile at him. I tell myself it's all right, we come to work together and go home together in the evening. It's good that he always comes to work with me, everywhere I go.

Saman's death keeps her on the verge of emotional collapse. A look at his Instagram photos, old Facebook posts or his favourite food often brings her a moment of joy before the realisation kicks in and drags her back to sorrow. Every day she fights to move on, distracting herself with hard work, a master's degree course and a language class.

Her job with the Airports of Thailand takes up 9-15 hours a day. In the evening, more hours are spent on learning English. At weekends, she goes to the University of Rangsit for a course in innovation and entrepreneurship.

By the time she gets home, Valepon is burnt out. Exhaustion is what needs, she says, to stop herself from rekindling happy memories of Saman and drifting back into a pool of lost love and inconsolable grief.

"That's why I study a lot. I won't be able to keep my head on straight if I'm at home," she told CNA. "So I use society and work to rid myself of free time. But whenever I'm alone, I still miss him."

Valepon Gunan
"I feel he has never left," said Valepon Gunan, the wife of volunteer diver Saman Gunan who lost his life during the Tham Luang cave complex rescue operation.


Valepon first met her husband in Nakhon Phanom, where her family lives. The young navy officer came to compete in a triathlon before chancing on 23-year-old Valepon at a local park. He asked for her number, and love began to blossom. The couple got married after Saman took a job with the Airports of Thailand in Bangkok.

READ: 'You'll always be with me': Thai cave diver's widow mourns death on social media

READ: 'We won't let his life be in vain': Tributes pour in for Thai diver who died trying to save boys in cave

Their life went on smoothly until June 23, 2018. Twelve boys aged 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old football coach from the Wild Boar Academy went on an expedition that took a disastrous turn

After a rehearsal match, the group biked to the Tham Luang cave complex in Mae Sai district near Myanmar. They parked their bicycles at the entrance, left their mobile phones and football boots, and went in to explore the 7km cave complex without knowing a heavy monsoon rain would fall.

By the time they wanted to leave, water had filled the chambers and blocked their exit. Their disappearance triggered a search and rescue operation that snowballed into one of the most complex multinational missions the world has ever witnessed.

It involved more than 10,000 officers from the Thai Army, Navy and Air Force, police personnel, medics, cave diving experts, engineers, geologists, volunteers and many more - both from Thailand and abroad. One of them was retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Saman Gunan.

Portrait of a former Thai navy diver, Samarn Kunan, who died during the rescue mission for the 12 b
Portrait of a former Thai navy diver, Saman Gunan, who died during the rescue mission for the Wild Boar Academy football team at the Tham Luang cave complex, is seen in the funeral in Chiang Rai. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

On June 30, 2018, Saman flew to Chiang Rai. He told his wife he would deliver something at the Tham Luang cave complex. Not much information was given, and Valepon thought he would return the next day.

"See you this evening in Chiang Rai. May luck be on our side and bring the boys home," Saman said in a video he shot with his mobile phone before departure. He was seen wearing sunglasses and standing in front of a military plane on the runway. On his left hand he wore his wedding ring.

Valepon told CNA she had no idea her husband would volunteer to dive in the dark, water-clogged cavern, whose complex network of winding passages and underground chambers made the world's most experienced cave divers uneasy. Still, she was worried. There was a feeling of dread he was up to something dangerous.

READ: 'It's a miracle': Thai boys relive ordeal in broadcast

READ: Grit, daring and beating terror: Stories of how Thailand's cave boys were rescued

"He was stubborn. I asked him every single day when he would come home and he would tell me there was no flight or asked to spend one more night with his brothers. On the day he arrived there, he said they had to race against time because it was raining, damp and wet," she said.

Saman was an active social media user. From the day he arrived at the Tham Luang caves, he shared many photographs and videos with friends and family on various platforms. After finishing work on the rescue efforts - usually in the early hours - he would reply to his wife's messages, telling her what he was up to, where he was going and when he might be able to see her.

Tham Luang caves
Pitch black, cold and dangerous, a photo taken from inside the Tham Luang cave complex, where a junior football team was trapped. (Photo: Thai Navy SEAL)

On Jul 5, Saman sent her a photo of wild boars he had spotted and jokingly said, "Here they are! The 'Wild Boars' have been found!" Then he went quiet.

Valephon knew he had entered the caves but did not realise her husband was swimming for the last time. He did not answer her calls or reply to her messages. When she checked her phone the next morning, her questions were still unread: 

What are you doing? Why didn't you answer the phone? Have you left already? Where are you?

Saman died at about 2am that day. A lack of oxygen made him fall unconscious. His diving partner tried to revive him but did not succeed. He was brought to one of the chambers where first aid was administered. He was then rescued from the caves and taken to hospital, but nothing could be done. 

Valepon would see her husband one last time - but just his body in a coffin. She managed to say just a few words to the man she loved.

"Come home."


The news of Saman's death circulated quickly. People around the world joined Thais in their grief for the fallen hero. Outside the caves, Thai Navy SEAL commander Apakorn Yookongkaew was emotional in a press conference where he told reporters the herculean mission they had to complete.

"We're planning to carry oxygen through a pipe to the children and their coach. To reach them, however, it takes us five to six hours, and about the same amount of time on our way back. So, in total, we have to remain submerged for 12 hours," he said. "We've never experienced anything like this before."

But we won't let our colleague die for nothing. We will soldier on.

Rescuers worked through the night to try to reach a young football team and their coach who have
Rescuers worked round the clock to try to reach a young football team and their coach who were trapped inside a Thai cave. AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA

Not long after Saman died, the Wild Boar footballers were rescued. Dozens of cave divers from around the world spent three days extracting them from the flooded caves. The operation was highly risky. All of the boys were sedated and fitted with a full-face mask before being carried out by cave divers. Every one of them made it to safety.

Upon learning about Saman's death, the Tham Luang survivors wept inside the hospital ward where they were recovering. They wrote farewell messages on his portrait, thanked him and promised to be good persons.

"It's like we get to live a new life. We're healthy, getting better each day, and back in the embrace of our families again. It's like a miracle. This miracle would never have happened without the determination and sacrifice of many people, and an important person in this mission is 'Brother Sam'," the team said in a statement.

Brother Sam has left us forever but his kindness towards us and our families will forever remain in our hearts. We would like to thank you for your dedication, sacrifice, will and determination that helped us. May your soul rest in heaven forever.

The global response to the incredible rescue was overwhelming. Since they were released from hospital, the boys and their coach have appeared in talk shows and events around the world. They were offered scholarships and, for the previously stateless team members, granted Thai citizenship. Netflix is currently working with them to produce a miniseries.

For Valepon, she was given a permanent job with the Airports of Thailand, where she replaced her husband. She also received a number of trophies and certificates in honour of his sacrifice.

In life or in death, Saman is her pillar of strength. Whenever she feels like giving in, Valepon speaks to his photographs. Her mobile phone is full of them, precious memories held close to her heart.

"I'm fine looking at his photos, but whenever I write something about them, I always cry," she told CNA.

"I smile when I'm with other people. But when I get home, I'm a mess. So, I have to build the strength for myself and distract myself by doing many things. When I don't have free time, I can't think about it over and over again."

Saman Gunan SEAL
"Saman, your intention and determination will always remain in our hearts, your fellow divers. Rest in peace. We'll accomplish this mission as you wished. Hooyah! Hooya! Hooyah!" said Thai SEAL in its message to the late diver. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Besides work and studies, Valepon also tells herself that Saman died for a great cause. He died to save 13 lives. The rescue to which he gave his life has transformed the backwater district of Mae Sai, which now sees throngs of tourists visit from around the world.

"He made me proud," she said. 

"I believe he'll be remembered. History has already been written. I don't think people will forget him."

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Friday, June 21, 2019

1 dead, 2 injured in fire at LPG facility in Jurong, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

1 dead, 2 injured in fire at LPG facility in Jurong, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

1 dead, 2 injured in fire at LPG facility in Jurong

SINGAPORE - A massive fire in a Jurong industrial area raged for more than two hours and triggered loud explosions on Friday (June 21), killing one and leaving two people injured.

The fire at 43 Jalan Buroh, which involved hundreds of highly flammable liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders of various sizes, was described by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) as the largest LPG fire it had to combat.

The fire spread rapidly across the facility which was about the size of two football fields, triggering loud explosions. It took around 120 firefighters, who were alerted just after 5pm, to bring the blaze under control by 7.30pm and ensure that it did not spread to larger LPG storage tanks nearby. 

The facility is occupied by Summit Gas Systems, a subsidiary of Union Energy Corporation, which distributes LPG cylinders to residential and commercial customers. 

Colonel Anthony Toh, commander of the 4th SCDF Division, described the blaze as "raging and intense" when SCDF arrived. 

"Our priority when we arrived was to contain the fire and prevent further spread, and to protect the two long LPG bullet tanks, each about 60 tonnes in size," Col Toh said. 

Thirty-five emergency vehicles were deployed and, at the height of the firefighting operations, seven water jets, including an unmanned firefighting machine, were put into operation.

According to the SCDF, a man was found and pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic. He was 43, police said. Two other men, aged 29 and 45, were conscious when taken to Singapore General Hospital. Both had burn injuries. 

The cause of the fire is being investigated. When contacted, Union Energy declined to comment. 

The scene at 43 Jalan Buroh at around 7.30pm on June 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SGSecure mobile app users within the immediate vicinity of the fire would have received an advisory message urging them to stay away, said SCDF.

Boon Lay resident Linda Cheng, who is unemployed, told The Straits Times that she heard several loud explosions from her home around 5.20pm.

The 29-year-old took several videos of the area from which the sounds were heard, which showed thick smoke coming from a building in the distance.

There was also a strong burning smell in the area, she said.

"We thought the loud explosions were thunder, until we saw the thick smoke," Ms Cheng said.

The scene at 43 Jalan Buroh at around 8pm on June 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Mr Anthony Tai, who works in the logistics sector, said he was at home in Yuan Ching Road, about 4km away, when he heard multiple loud explosions shortly after 5pm. "I could see large, dark smoke from my window on the 10th floor," said the 63-year-old. 

A reader, who declined to be named, took several videos of the fire from 47 Jalan Buroh, which is located across the road.

There were people running out of the warehouse building when the fire started, he said.

Another eyewitness, who only wanted to be known as Mr Poh, told ST that he noticed the fire around 5pm.

"I heard about 10 to 20 loud explosions," he said, adding that the explosions stopped after a while.

The fire involved hundreds of highly flammable liquified petroleum gas cylinders of various sizes in an LPG facility. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
The scene at 43 Jalan Buroh at 10.20pm on June 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

Photos circulating online showed the smoke could be seen from as far away as Jurong East, about 7km away.

Additional reporting by Zhaki Abdullah and Shintaro Tay

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lawyer allegedly linked to missing $33 million had stolen Malaysian passport , Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Lawyer allegedly linked to missing $33 million had stolen Malaysian passport , Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Lawyer allegedly linked to missing $33 million had stolen Malaysian passport

SINGAPORE - The lawyer who vanished after more than $33 million parked at his firm went missing had left Singapore for Malaysia in a private-hire car on May 13, a district court heard on Thursday (June 20).

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Khoo said police investigations also showed that Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, the managing partner of law firm JLC Advisors, also disposed of his Singapore mobile phone when he reached Malaysia.

The 41-year-old Singaporean lawyer was later found with a stolen Malaysian passport which had been actually issued to a 43-year-old man whose photograph bore some resemblance to Ong.

The lawyer was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why he had the passport with him. As such, police believe he has the knowledge and means to abscond, said DPP Khoo.

On Thursday, defence lawyer Jennifer Sia asked the court to release Ong on bail, stressing that he has a young son. Ong is currently in remand.

However, DPP Khoo highlighted the police findings and urged District Judge Luke Tan to not grant Ong bail as he poses a "high flight risk". The judge agreed with the DPP and Ong was not offered one.

The Straits Times had earlier reported that the monies, which was held in escrow by JLC Advisors for its client Allied Technologies, went missing last month. Ong became uncontactable soon after.

Escrow is an essential service in capital markets that supports transactions such as mergers and acquisitions.

Police investigations showed Ong had left for Malaysia after he was pressed into accounting for unauthorised withdrawals of clients' monies by the partners in his law firm.

Ong then left Singapore in a private-hire car after making arrangements with a friend known only as Nicholas. Apart from his wife, Ong did not inform anyone else of his plans to travel to Malaysia, the court heard.

In Malaysia, he met with one Dennis, a friend of Nicholas. Dennis initially brought Ong to his office and the lawyer stayed there for two or three days, police investigations revealed. 

The accused then moved to a hotel in Cheras, Vivatel Kuala Lumpur. Ong became uncontactable on May 16 after he got rid of his mobile phone and asked Dennis to provide him with another.

Police found that Ong then inserted a China SIM card into the phone Dennis gave him and used it for telecommunications while he was in Malaysia.

The court heard that Ong stayed at the hotel until officers from the Royal Malaysia Police arrested him on May 29. Ong was found to be in possession of the stolen Malaysian passport which he had obtained from another friend known only as Calvin. The lawyer was brought back to Singapore on May 30.

He was charged with eight counts of forgery and one count of cheating earlier this month. Ong was in court on Thursday to face 13 more charges of forgery for the purpose of cheating.

He is now accused of creating false documents on March 27 to dupe one Chan Yi Zhang into believing that more than US$4.8million (about S$6.5million) held in escrow by JLC Advisors were present and unused in its bank account.

The lawyer is said to have fraudulently created bank statements for most months between October 2017 to February this year.

According to court documents, the money was linked to a settlement involving two firms – trading company Airtrust Singapore and Wrangwell. A search on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) website revealed that Airtrust Singapore is a 'live' company based in Raffles Quay. Nothing was found on Wrangwell on the Acra portal.

Court documents did not reveal how or if Airtrust Singapore and Wrangwell were linked to Allied Technologies. Ong's case has been adjourned to July 11.

Offenders convicted of forgery for the purpose of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge.

Following the incident, the Law Society said it may consider introducing rules and guidelines for operating escrow accounts after it completes its probe into JLC Advisors.

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