Spotlight on...

Spotlight on Africa


Farmer moving drought-affected cattle in southern Ethiopia, March 2006 (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories from recent years covering issues such as war in Darfur, drought in Kenya, drugs in Ethiopia, slums in Freetown, starting business in Nairobi, independence in South Sudan.
Spotlight on Burma


Tin Maung Win (pseudonym), a Burmese prisoner of war being held by rebels in Kachin State near the Burma-China border. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, December 2012). A military dictatorship for almost 50 years, Burma's recent reforms have legitimised western business interests as governments remove sanctions. However sectarian and ethnic fighting continues in Kachin, while Buddhist-Muslim tensions have erupted into violence in Arakan in the west and in central Burma.
Spotlight on Cambodia


Landgrabs, corruption, allegations of racism and, as it turned out, claims by the opposition that the vote was flawed, all overshadowed July 2013 elections in Cambodia. Both Hun Sen's long-ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition, led by Sam Rainsy, are claiming victory after a contest notable for the high percentage of young voters, and, it seems, the fading memory of the brutal Khmer Rouge era. Photo – Boeng Kak lake in central Phnom Penh. Sand now occupies the former lake, the landfill serving as the foundation for what will be a hotel/office complex, in what has been possibly Cambodia's best-known landgrab case. Photo taken by Simon Roughneen, Nov. 2012.
Spotligh on Haiti


One of tens of thousands of buildings felled in Port-au-Prince during the Jan.12 2010 earthquake (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Around 220,000 people were killed with 3 million more left homeless. Some reports here from the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Spotlight on India


Men waiting to board train from Bangalore, India's IT hub, to Guwahati, a day's travel away in India's northeast (Photo: Simon Roughneen). India's economy has stalled in the past year or so, with the government slow to reform in key sectors. Hundreds of millions of Indians have seen improved living standards in recent years, but, underlining the challenges of governing this vast country, hundreds of millions more remain poor. Some related stories here.
Spotlight on Kosovo


Posters in Pristina thanking the UK for its role in helping Kosovo break from Serbia (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Serbia and allies such as Russia opposed Kosovo's independence, with protests in Belgrade and Mitrovica right after the Feb. 2008 independence declaration.
Spotlight on Malaysia


After several opposition-backed protests by Malaysians seeking reform of what they see as a rigged electoral system, the May 2013 election saw a narrow win for the Barisan Nasional, who lost the popular vote but retained office via what the opposition said was a gerrymander. Photo – Police fire teargas at protestors seeking changes to the electoral system. Taken by Simon Roughneen, Kuala Lumpur, July 2011.
Spotlight on The Middle East

Middle East

Impact of shelling and gunfire at a Sunni-Alawite interface in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, August 2008). This same street has seen fighting again in early 2013, partly an extension of sectarian clashes in Syria. Here are some stories from Israel, Lebanon and the West Bank from 2008 and 2010.
Spotlight on Pakistan


Stories from Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, and from Sindh after the 2010 floods. These children were left homeless by the 2010 floods and had spent 2 weeks sleeping outdoors on the outskirts of Sukkur, Sindh Province by the time I took this photo.
Spotlight on The Philippines

The Philippines

The Manila metro (Photo: Simon Roughneen). As of mid 2012, The Philippines was growing economically, but relations with China remain thorny. While the country had peaceful and free elections in 2010, issues such as impunity for murders of journalists, corruption, and poverty in urban slum areas persist.
Spotloght on Thailand


Redshirt protestors fire home-made weapons at Thai army positions in Bangkok during 2010 anti-government protests (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories here from Thailand on those protests, 2011 floods, harsh conditions facing Burmese migrants in Thailand, and more.
Spotlight on Timor-Leste


Supporters of opposition party FRETILIN rally prior to East Timor's July 2012 parliamentary elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen). After the departure of International peacekeepers and the last UN mission, Timor-Leste faces the challenge of using gas and oil revenues to boost living standards and create a more diverse economy, before the resources run out.
Spotlight on Vietnam


Traffic in Hanoi (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Vietnam's economy has sputtered in recent years, after a decade of high growth and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment. Recent corruption scandals and whispers of in-fighting among the ruling Communist Party has been accompanied by more jailings of government critics, highlighting the one-party state's intolerance of dissent.

Featured Articles

Letter from Kampar: winning the election, losing Malaysia - Foreign Affairs

KAMPAR, MALAYSIA - He wouldn't give his full name or his age -- except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan's World War II occupation of Malaysia -- but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn't ...

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Syrian refugee Reina's disfigured arm (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Syria's war shadow lengthens over Lebanon - The Edge Review

DALHAMIEH, Lebanon – Rolling up a green dress sleeve, 12-year-old Syrian refugee Reina murmurs “chemical, chemical.” Her arm, what's left of it, is distorted, wrinked and swollen – looking more more like a gnarled and ancient tree root than a human limb.

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Old town of L'Aquila, four years after the earthquake (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

L'Aquila, four years on - The Edge Review

L'AQUILA, Italy – The three bottles of red wine sit corked on the table, exactly where they were that night almost four years ago, when a deadly earthquake hit this mountainside town in central Italy.

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Burmese generals ignore ceasefire order and launch air attacks on Christian rebels – The Times

Burmese generals ignore ceasefire order and launch air attacks on Christian rebels - The Times

LAIZA- He was fixing his car when the shell landed in front of the simple home where he and his family lived as fruit farmers. There was no warning, no chance to escape and nothing that could be done to save him.

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Thais cheer as King Bhumibol Adulyadej appears at Bangkok Royal Plaza on Wednesday Dec. 5 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

King's birthday marks time-out in Thailand's game of thrones - Christian Science Monitor

BANGKOK - The royalist factions who ousted Thaksin in 2006 “cannot be happy that Thaksin’s sister is prime minister,” says Paul Handley, author of “The King Never Smiles,” an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol banned in Thailand. “I think that limits her ability to begin normalizing politics away from palace ...

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MAG scanning for mines near Seksak village (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Castles in the Cambodian sand - Asia Sentinel/RTÉ World Report

Seksak, Battambang Province, Cambodia - As Cambodia''s economy zips along at 7-10 percent growth over much of the last decade, the government insists it is trying to build what it calls a sustainable land policy, including reclaiming terrain lost to landmines and bombs. But others say a corrupt and Chinese-influenced ...

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Scottish independence: Who would get the nukes, and other questions – Christian Science Monitor

Scottish independence: Who would get the nukes, and other questions - Christian Science Monitor

EDINBURGH- As it considers a 2014 referendum on independence from the UK, Scotland still has a litany of issues that must be resolved beforehand, including its role in the EU and NATO.

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Elections mark East Timor’s second major transition since independence – Christian Science Monitor

Elections mark East Timor's second major transition since independence - Christian Science Monitor

DILI, East Timor - FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri on Tuesday repeated a call made before the vote for East Timor's old guard political leaders to forge a grand bargain – regardless of the result – for handing power over to younger politicians. “Sooner or later we have to hand political ...

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After Arakan violence, disquiet on the western front – The Irrawaddy

After Arakan violence, disquiet on the western front - The Irrawaddy

SITTWE, Arakan State, Burma - “Most Arakanese people are quite angry at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Shwe Maung, a teacher in Sittwe and central committee member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which has 16 representatives in Burma’s national-level parliament houses. He was referring to the National ...

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For Kolkata’s brickmakers, small steps matter – Christian Science Monitor

For Kolkata's brickmakers, small steps matter - Christian Science Monitor

KOLKATA, INDIA - On the outskirts of India's third-largest city, 5,000 partly blackened chimneys stand 100 feet high, belching smoke into the sky over millions of reddened bricks below. Some of the bricks are stacked neatly into huge square-cornered stacks, and still more, innumerable, are piled roughly – some broken, ...

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Latest Articles

Indonesian court rejects challenge to presidential election results – Los Angeles Times

August 21st, 2014


At police barricade five hundred yards from Indonesia's Constitutional Court (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

At police barricade five hundred yards from Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to results in last month’s presidential election, validating the victory of Joko Widodo.

Prabowo Subianto, a former head of Indonesia’s special forces, had refused to acknowledge the official results of the July 9 election showing him the loser. Subianto questioned the voting at more than 50,000 polling stations involving about 20 million ballots.

The court decision appeared to clear the way for Widodo to succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general who won a second five-year term in office in 2009. (more…)

Holding a line in the forest – The Edge Review

August 21st, 2014


Indonesia’s oil palm plantations need land to expand, putting forests and old lifestyles at risk – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Mardiana Deren speaking on Bali in early August (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Mardiana Deren speaking on Bali in early August (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

UBUD – Every morning, Mardiana Deren wakes up before dawn. After a quick breakfast, she allots an hour or so to tapping rubber trees near her home, before giving hours to the ill and the injured as part of her day job as a nurse.

Only then can she turn to the vocation that has made her a target for assassination.

“Evening time is activism time,” she said, describing her typical day to a group of like-minded women – and a smattering of men – who convened on the Indonesian island of Bali recently for a “Summit on Women and Climate.” The event was organised by the Global Greengrants Fund, which finances organizations, often small, that are trying to protect habitats in remote areas.

Mardiana is a Dayak from Borneo, a vast and jungle-covered island, most of which is part of Indonesia. In recent years, she has been in the thick of clashes between local peoples – including some of the estimated 2-4 million Dayak – and companies hoping to grow palm oil.

Palm oils are indigenous to West Africa, but have flourished in the tropical environs of Southeast Asia. Nowadays, Indonesia and Malaysia together produce what is the world’s cheapest vegetable oil, which is used in a vast array of household goods such as soap, cosmetics and many food products. (more…)

A cliff in the distance – The Edge Review

August 20th, 2014


Long-term prospects for Brunei’s economy are grim, unless changes are made – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Night in Bandar Seri Bagawan, the main town in Brunei (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Night in Bandar Seri Bagawan, the main town in Brunei (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – In the short term, the outlook for the economy of Brunei-Darussalam is positive, with annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) expected to approach 6 per cent for 2014, after contracting last year. Longer term, however, the outlook for the US$16 billion economy is murky, at best.

Everyone and anyone with an interest in Borneo’s state-funded comfort zone warns that the country’s economy remains over reliant on gas and oil. Hydrocarbons account for 60 per cent of GDP and 90 per cent of exports, but a study by oil giant BP from 2012 estimated that the country’s oil reserves could run out in less than 20 years, with gas reserves given perhaps 10-15 years longer.

In a July report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) counselled that “over the longer-term, careful fiscal planning and diversification away from hydrocarbons, while fostering private sector development, are key to employment creation and long-term sustainable growth.” (more…)

Jokowi reels, as Prabowo appeals – The Edge Review

August 14th, 2014


Indonesian presidential winner and loser have had a bumpy week – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Inside Indonesia's Constitutional Court as Prabowo Subianto appeals election result (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Inside Indonesia’s Constitutional Court as Prabowo Subianto appeals election result (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – After a winning campaign jazzed up by a hopeful vibe not seen since Indonesians ousted longtime dictator Suharto in 1998, ushering in a democratic era, some of Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo’s more idealistic supporters had a bucket of political ice water sloshed over them last week.

Joko’s “transition team” – a brain trust of politicians and business leaders given a temporary office in Menteng, a posh neighbourhood in central Jakarta, in order to plan the new administration – included none other than a former intelligence chief linked to the 2004 murder of human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib – allegations the ex-spook has always denied.

The appointment of AM Hendripriyono is jarring, given that Joko, commonly referred to by his nickname “Jokowi,” ran on a record based on clean government in his roles as mayor of Solo and Jakarta Governor. His much-touted lack of Suharto-era New Order baggage – a unique selling point for a would-be president – was a keynote of his campaign. (more…)

‘Mama Aleta’ defends west Timor’s natural habitat – The Christian Science Monitor

August 8th, 2014


reposted on Yahoo! News -

Aleta Baun received threats to her life when she sought to protect the natural habitat in her part of Indonesia. 'I had to leave my house for a year,' she says (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Aleta Baun received threats to her life when she sought to protect the natural habitat in her part of Indonesia. ‘I had to leave my house for a year,’ she says (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BALI, INDONESIA — Pointing to the blue, purple, and yellow scarf wrapped ornately around her forehead and temples, Aleta Baun says that her vivid garb will be a regular sight inside the East Nusa Tenggara regional parliament in eastern Indonesia. The first-time lawmaker won a seat in elections last April.

“I will be adhering to the mandate of the indigenous communities who have asked me to represent them in parliament. And part of that means showing that the indigenous culture is important to us,” explains the woman known popularly as “Mama Aleta.”

After more than a decade of unyielding and sometimes perilous protesting against marble mining in her eastern region of Indonesia, this flag-bearer for the rights of the Mollo people will try to weave her way through the formalities of the country’s 16-year-old democratic system – often described as the freest in Southeast Asia – to protect the land and culture of the place she calls home. (more…)

Aceh’s sharia code a hurdle, minority businessmen say – The Edge Review

August 7th, 2014


But others say the laws reflect popular local feeling

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

BANDA ACEH – It was just after 7 pm on a Saturday evening, and the manager of the new King’O coffee and doughnuts outlet in Banda Aceh was lamenting a slow night’s trade.

Henry, who would only give one name, said he opened the shop on May 17 this year in response to what he called a gap in the market.

“Any time I fly back to Banda Aceh from Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, I see people bringing big boxes of doughnuts – Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, local brands,” he said.

With no such outlet in Aceh’s regional capital, Henry and some fellow Chinese-Indonesians set about filling a niche.

“Business was great for the first few weeks, every evening the place was full,” he said, rattling his knuckles on the top of a gleaming new Italian coffee machine.

But during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting season, King’O was forced to close during fasting hours, along with all other restaurants in town. In previous years, cafes and food stalls could stay open during the month, although business was much reduced given that the majority of people in this staunchly Islamic region on the northern tip of Sumatra were fasting. (more…)

Despite court appeal, Widodo confident of becoming Indonesia’s next president – Nikkei Asian Review

July 29th, 2014


Trade unionists, who backed Prabowo Subianto's Presidential bid, await the arrival of Subianto outside Indonesia's Constitutional Court last Friday July 25 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Trade unionists, who backed Prabowo Subianto’s Presidential bid, await the arrival of Subianto outside Indonesia’s Constitutional Court last Friday July 25 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A confident Joko Widodo is pushing ahead with plans to be Indonesia’s president, apparently unfazed by the opposition’s bid to overturn the July 9 election result.

     On Monday, which was the festival of Eid al-Fitr and the end of the annual Muslim fasting season, Widodo said at a prayer meeting at Jakarta City Hall that he would soon resign as the city’s governor to prepare for his October inauguration as Indonesia’s president. Last week, he launched a crowd-pleasing online poll for Indonesians to nominate members of his cabinet, continuing a style of public outreach that made him popular as mayor of Solo and as Jakarta’s governor.

     Since he was officially declared the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election on July 22, Widodo and the vice president-elect, Jusuf Kalla, have talked up the need for consensus.

     “Indonesia should be united again as a huge nation. We are all brothers and sisters,” Widodo said Monday.

     Anies Baswedan, Widodo’s campaign spokesman, told the Nikkei Asian Review that he was confident that the Constitutional Court would rule on Aug. 21 that Widodo won with 53.15% of the vote.

“We are fully confident that the outcome will show that we won the election,” said Basdewan, who is also President of Jakarta’s Paramadina University.  (more…)

Prabowo contra mundum – The Edge Review

July 24th, 2014


Losing Indonesian presidential candidate defies election outcome

Prabowo Subianto listens to political allies speak at Jakarta's Proclamation Monument  on July 14 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Prabowo Subianto listens to political allies speak at Jakarta’s Proclamation Monument on July 14 (Photo: Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

JAKARTA – Just after 9 pm Jakarta time on Tuesday, the world was told that Joko Widodo will be Indonesia’s next president.

The official announcement, showing Joko and running mate Jusuf Kalla winning with 53.15 per cent of the vote, tallied closely with projections available since voting day on July 9. Heads of government in neighbouring countries such as Australia, Malaysia and Singapore quickly issued their congratulations to Joko, the governor of Jakarta, as did U.S. President Barack Obama, apparently speaking Indonesian over the phone to Joko early Wednesday.

One man who wasn’t buying it, however, was defeated candidate Prabowo Subianto, once head of Indonesia’s feared Kopassus, a praetorian guard for the late former dictator Suharto, who was father of Prabowo’s former wife.

“The 2014 presidential election overseen by KPU [the Election Commission] was riddled with problems. It was undemocratic and went against the 1945 Constitution,” Prabowo said on Tuesday afternoon, even before the result, which showed Joko winning by an 8 million-vote margin, was declared.  (more…)

Loser of Indonesia presidential election alleges cheating – Los Angeles Times

July 23rd, 2014


Joko Widodo at Indonesia's election commission on Tuesday night, minutes before being officially annoucecd President-elect (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Joko Widodo at Indonesia’s election commission on Tuesday night, minutes before being officially announced President-elect (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – The loser of Indonesia’s presidential election alleged cheating Wednesday and said he would challenge the results that gave a six-percentage-point victory to former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo.

Representatives of the runner-up, Prabowo Subianto, said that “an estimated 52,000 polling stations have reported irregularities, putting an estimated 21 million votes in question” out of 133 million cast.

Widodo won by more than 8 million votes. Experts said the move by Subianto, a former general, was unlikely to alter the outcome, but the legal challenge could prolong the uncertainty surrounding the July 9 election, the closest presidential contest since Indonesia made the transition from dictatorship to democracy less than two decades ago. (more…)

Widodo wins Indonesian presidential amid cheating claims from Subianto – Nikkei Asian Review

July 22nd, 2014


Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia's President and Vice-President elect, at Indonesia's Election Commission on Tuesday evening (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia’s President and Vice-President elect, at Indonesia’s Election Commission on Tuesday evening (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Joko Widodo was declared the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election on Tuesday evening, after a day of high drama that saw rival candidate Prabowo Subianto reject the counting process, alleging he had been cheated of victory.

     Widodo, who made his political name as mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta, won the July 9 election with 53.15% of the vote, according to Indonesia’s National Election Commission.

     Speaking at the election commission after the official announcement, Jusuf Kalla, vice president-elect, told the Nikkei Asian Review that he and Widodo “feel fine, feel great” after being declared winners. “I look forward to being back in office,” said Kalla, who was vice president from 2004 to 2009, during the first term of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

     But Subianto, who won 46.85% of the vote, withdrew his representatives from the final results announcement after giving a bellicose media conference at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.

     Subianto contended that the vote – the third free presidential election since the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998 – was marred by “massive cheating that is structured and systematic.” (more…)

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