Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Beijing's envoy will also discuss financial links and present pandas in historic visit.
By Jonathan Adams
The Christian Science Monitor
November 5, 2008
Taipei, Taiwan - Longtime rivals Taiwan and China inked a new round of economic pacts Tuesday in Taipei, amid rising protests from the island's pro-independence camp.
The two sides closed deals on direct air, shipping, and postal links, further integrating Taiwan with China's booming economy, after on-and-off talks dating back to the early 1990s. But political negotiations have been put off until next year at the earliest.
The progress on trade, but not political, ties reflects the island's ambivalence toward China: Polls show that a majority of Taiwanese see China as "unfriendly" and oppose unification. But a majority also back closer commercial links.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May on the promise of cross-strait detente, after a decade of defiant Taiwan nationalism. Mr. Ma had won with a convincing majority and soon initiated talks with Chinese representatives. By June, the two sides had signed an agreement on charter flights and tourism. But since then Ma's approval ratings have plunged along with Taiwan's stock market, a victim of the global financial crisis. His popularity has also dropped as some fear he's moving too quickly on China.
For its part, China sees self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has threatened war to back up its claim. But since Ma took office, it has responded to efforts to build closer ties.
China's top cross-strait negotiator, Chen Yunlin, arrived in Taipei Monday for a week of talks, the highest level Chinese Communist Party figure ever to visit Taiwan. On Monday night, Chinese and Taiwanese negotiators rubbed shoulders with the island's business elite at Taipei 101, the city's landmark skyscraper.
His delegation is slated to discuss cross-strait finance on Wednesday, and to formally present two pandas to the Taipei Zoo on Thursday as an expression of goodwill. For years Taiwan had rejected the animals because they were considered part of China's efforts at reunification. (China will receive endangered goats and deer in return.)
For many pro-independence Taiwanese, the two sides are getting too close for comfort. They accuse Mr. Ma of selling out Taiwan and eroding its sovereignty. He's already made too many concessions to China, they say, such as removing Taiwan's national flag from sites on Mr. Chen's itinerary to avoid embarrassing him.
But with their numbers in the legislature too small to block Ma's agenda, the pro-independence party can only step up street protests. It mobilized hundreds of thousands in Taipei on Oct. 25, and has planned rallies and activities all week.
"We would rather be poor than be governed by China," said independence supporter Vera Chang, outside the legislature Monday night. "Direct links only help rich businessmen, they don't help most Taiwanese."
Deals will help Taiwan's businesses
Tuesday's agreements scrap cross-strait barriers erected in 1949 by rival Chinese regimes that refused to recognize each other's existence. The deals extend cross-strait passenger flights and shorten travel times. Before, all flights had to go through Hong Kong airspace.
Direct cargo flights will make it easier for Taiwan businesses to ship equipment and components to the mainland. Direct shipping links will remove the previously needed stop at Hong Kong or another intermediate port. "It's going to save a lot of transportation costs for Taiwan businesses," says Wu Chung-shu, dean of the college of management at Taiwan's National Dong Hwa University. "They're happy to see the government have a more open attitude."
Still, cross-strait links may not much blunt the global downturn's impact on Taiwan's export-dependent economy. "Improving cross-strait links will not totally insulate Taiwan from the current downside risks of a US recession," wrote Standard Chartered's Taiwan economist Tony Phoo in a report earlier this year. "Taiwan remains one of the most exposed in the region to a US-led global slowdown."
Chinese envoy: a lightning rod for grievances
Taiwan's government has ramped up security for Chen's visit, deploying thousands of police officers and tightening access to the airport and hotel where Chen is staying. Two weeks earlier protesters had roughed up a Chinese official, Zhang Mingqing, visiting the island. Independence supporters have slammed the security measures as excessive, even a throwback to Taiwan's authoritarian past.
Chen has become a lightning rod for a range of grievances, gossip, and political grandstanding in Taiwan's turbocharged media. Tibet independence supporters shadowed Chen's motorcade from the airport where he landed into Taipei, waving a Tibetan flag from their vehicle.
One hard-line Taiwan independence group has offered an NT$10,000 (US$300) reward to anyone who can hit Chen in the face with an egg.
And Taiwan's media have focused on Chen's "airplane head," or bouffant hairdo – with some hinting darkly that he deliberately gave it extra lift in order to tower over his Taiwanese counterpart.
Meanwhile, ex-President Chen Shui-bian has been whipping up anti-China and anti-Ma sentiment, though some observers say his efforts may be a cynical ploy to deflect attention from his legal woes. Mr. Chen is under investigation on suspicion of embezzling and laundering millions in public funds while president.
A Taiwanese official said Tuesday morning that the next round of cross-strait talks may be held next spring in Xiamen, China. As with the current round, the agenda will be strictly economic, possibly including deals on cross-strait banking and protection for Taiwan businesses in the mainland.
"The two sides still need some time to resolve differences in the economic field first," says Li Peng, assistant director of the Taiwan Research Institute at China's Xiamen University. "Then we can go to the political field."
The Indonesian men who were convicted of killing 202 nightclubgoers have called for revenge attacks against Westerners.
By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
November 3, 2008
With the execution of three of the Bali bombers imminent, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and the US have issued warnings to their citizens against travel to Indonesia.
The execution by firing squad of the three men convicted of bombing two Bali nightclubs in 2002 had been expected as early as Monday, but it was unclear whether Indonesia's Supreme Court had formally rejected an 11th-hour appeal from the bombers' lawyers.
Regardless, some Western governments worry revenge attacks may follow the terrorists' execution. All three were condemned to death for their involvement in the bombing of a popular resort area of Bali that killed 202 civilians – mostly Australian tourists.
Far from showing remorse, the three members of the militant Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah have in their final days called for more attacks on Westerners.
TheDailyTelegraph (London) reports that several countries have issued travel warnings.
Amid fears of revenge attacks, Australia has advised its citizens against all travel to the south-east Asian country. In London, the Foreign Office said that British citizens should exercise caution and be vigilant for political protests or any sign of violence. The United States warned its citizens to "maintain a low profile".
But The Jakarta Post reports that the alerts haven't fazed foreign beachgoers at some of Indonesia's most popular vacation spots. And the BBC quoted an expert on Indonesia and terrorism as saying a bomb attack after the executions was unlikely.
The Australian reported Monday that an Indonesian district court granted a request for another appeal to the Supreme Court, as the bombers' family members waited to make a final visit to the condemned.
But the paper said "the reprieve could be short lived, with the higher court already adamant it has no further interest in the matter."
The report noted that the Indonesian authorities might be reluctant to execute the men Tuesday or Wednesday, indicating a possible delay of several days if they were not put to death later Monday.
The Associated Press later Monday quoted a Supreme Court judge saying the last-minute legal challenge from the bombers' lawyers "will not change or delay the execution."
In a report partially credited to Agence France-Presse, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Saturday that the three men – Imam Samudra, Mukhlas, and Amrozi – have written letters posted on the Islamic website Amrozi, calling for revenge attacks.
Samudra directed his letter to people in the West, suggesting they should not be surprised "if America, the so-called superpower, is beaten, almost dying," and it would lose "the war against the mujahideen." "You, the little people, will be easy to 'smack down' by the mujahideen."
The same report quoted the mother of two of the bombers as saying her sons were right to "kill infidels."
Seventy-year-old Tariem was speaking in Tenggulun, East Java.
"I don't cry. I leave it all to God," she said as Amrozi and Mukhlas, two of her 13 children, waited for the firing squad. "I feel that killing infidels isn't a mistake because they don't pray."
The Herald Sun of Australia traveled to the home village of two of the bombers, Mukhlas and his younger brother Amrozi. The report described how the two came "under the spell" of a radical cleric while at an Islamic boarding school in central Java.
The village chief, Abu Sholeh, said he doubted whether Amrozi's mechanical skills were good enough to build the massive bomb used in the Bali attack. He said he believed a "bigger power" was the mastermind.
The village chief becomes angry when he reflects on the shame the two brothers have brought on his humble community. "Do not get the wrong impression that the whole village is like them, they are just two men," he said.
By Jonathan Adams
(a version of this appeared in the October 2008 issue of Silk Road, Dragonair's inflight magazine)
As Taiwan’s prime seaside resort, Kenting's beaches loom large in the island’s imagination. But Kenting's nearby forest recreation areas are overlooked gems, rich with wildlife and stunning views.
“Kenting” actually refers to the entire 18,000-hectare at the southern tip of Taiwan. The area combines beach relaxation and nighttime fun with raised coral forests, windswept grasslands, rugged rocky coastline and one of Asia’s top bird sanctuaries.
April through November is most suitable for tourism. The peak season for Taiwanese is July and August, but locals say early fall is the best time for a visit – it’s usually still warm enough to swim then, but without the intense heat and crowds of summer.
Most of the top resorts are clustered on the main coastal road near Little Bay (小灣). That and (南灣) are the most popular beaches, with swimming areas, jet ski rentals and other water activities. Little Bay is also the place to arrange scuba, boating, and other activities, try an agent like Hai Zhong Tian (海中天, No. 27 Kenting Road, (886) 8-886-2015-6).
At nighttime, the stretch of road near Little Bay turns into a noisy carnival. Vendors hawk seafood, barbecue, trinkets and games as Taiwanese crowds pack the main drag's shoulders. The nightlife here includes dance clubs, dance shows and roadside massages.
This part of the coastline includes Frog Rock – so named because it looks like a frog set to leap into the ocean – and the Kenting Youth Activity Center, with its restored, traditional Fujian-style courthouse homes (No. 17, Kenting Road, 886-8-886-1221-4).
But the best of the area’s daytime sights are a short car or scooter ride away. Renting wheels is essential to fully appreciate the area (see car and scooter rental information below). A good first stop is the Kenting National Park headquarters (No. 596 Kenting Rd, (886)-8-886-1321). Here you'll find exhibits on the area’s environment and history. Kenting was once home to a Japanese whaling base, and is the homeland of the Paiwan Aborigines.
Between the park headquarters and Little Bay is the entrance for the road up to the Kenting Forest Recreation Area. This features forest hiking paths, an observation tower and a stalagtite-rich “Fairy Cave.” The coral forests here were thrust high above sea level by powerful tectonic plate collisions.
Just to the east is Sheding Nature Park, one of Kenting’s highlights. The wild boar and muntjac deer the Paiwan Aborigines used to hunt still roam the slopes. Trails wind up to scenic viewing pavilions, and Formosan rock monkeys clamber down cliff faces overgrown with wind-bent trees.
In the fall, Sheding is one of the prime viewing points for watching migratory birds of prey, including the gray-faced buzzard and the Chinese goshawk. May and June are ideal for viewing butterflies and insect life, and yellow crabs clamber down from these hills in April and late fall to lay their eggs on the beach (thus the occasional “Crab Crossing” road signs).
A road winds from Sheding back down to the coast near Sail Rock or “Nixon Rock” – so named because of its likeness to the former US president in profile. This area is a great spot for snorkeling, and also includes several budget bed-and-breakfasts.
The scenic coast road continues around Eluanbi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan, and passes its lighthouse. Then it winds back up the east coast into grasslands with spectacular ocean views, before dipping down toward cliffs and dunes. Stop at Fangchueisha, a popular photo-taking spot.
In the other direction from Little Bay, to the northwest, lies Longluan Lake, a favorite spot for bird-watchers. From September to April, migratory birds like tufted ducks and egrets stop here. The area’s most pristine and relaxing beach is nearby White Sand (Baisha) beach, which has several campsites.
About a 15 minute drive up the scenic west coast road from there is Taiwan’s National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium (2 Houwan Rd, Checheng, 886-8-882-5678) This massive, state-of-the-art museum boasts a whaleshark (the ocean's largest fish, at up to 12 meters long), beluga whales and penguins.
Further north are the Shuchungshi Hot Springs, and the Shihmen Historical Battlefield. In the 1870s, the Paiwan Aborigines killed a group of shipwrecked Okinawan fishermen. In retribution, Japan sent 4,000 troops and wiped out a Paiwan army at Shimen. Now, every year in late May, descendants of the Okinawan fishermen and the Paiwan gather for a ritual feast of reconciliation.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Kenting area boasts five high-end resorts. Three – the Chateau, the Caesar Park and the Howard Plaza (886-8-886-2324) – are just off the main coast road near Little Bay. The Yoho Beach Club and Spa is further up the west coast, and the newest entry – the Leofoo Resort – is in Haikou Village, off the Kaohsiung-Kenting road (886-8-882-5765).
: The pick of the litter is the Chateau Beach Resort (886-8-886-2345, 451 Kenting Road, ) with its prime, beachfront location. Rooms start at NT$6,000 (HKD1,540) in high season (July and August), with discounts up to 30% other times of year. Included in that price are access to a range of activities – sailing, sea kayaking, bodyboarding, snorkeling, archery, croquet and mini-golf. No motor-powered boats are allowed on this part of the beach, which makes for a more relaxing atmosphere. There's an , kid's pool, Jacuzzi and spa.
: This was Kenting’s first upscale resort and still gets high marks. Rooms start at NT$9,000 (HKD2,310) in the high season (July and August) but can be as little as half that in other months and weekdays. For a bit extra the hotel boasts "Jacuzzi villas" with their own garden entrance (NT$11,000 or HKD2,825 in high season). The hotel manages a beach across the road, and provides beach umbrellas, chairs and a bar for guests. A footpath runs from the hotel, along a creek under Kenting Road, and out to the beach. There's also a large outdoor pool. (6 Kenting Road, 886-8-886-1888)
Yoho Spa and Resort: This more remote option is away from the hustle and bustle of Little Bay. But it’s convenient for the Aquarium, and near the calmer White Sand beach. For those who want personalized attention, this resort offers “Yoho Buddies” who can accompany you on outings. Rooms start at NT$6,200 (HKD1,590) on weekends in the July and August high season, NT$3,666 (HKD940) other times of year. (27-8, Wan-li Road, 86-8-886-9999).
EATING AND DRINKING:
The best dining options are at the resorts themselves. Standouts include the beach barbecue with live music at the Chateau and the Yoho Beach Resort and Spa – note that the Chateau's barbecue is available to guests only.
There are also many casual dining options on or near the main drag at Little Bay. Some include:
Warang Didi. This Kenting standby serves up spicy pan-Asian food. Try the fiery Thai-style chicken with basil and pepper, or Sichuan-style kung pao shrimp. (No. 26, Wenhua Lane, Kenting Rd, 886-8-886-1835).
Ocean Blue offers pan-Asian fare and local specialties. Try the chicken with bamboo shoots or ginger shrimp, washed down with the "Kenting Blue" cocktail of Curacao liqueur, rum and pineapple juice. (111 Kenting Road, (886) 8-886-2600, ).
Fresh seafood options are plentiful in Kenting. Try the lobster -- served up fried or steamed with garlic – at the Lunan . (No. 193 Kenting Rd, (886) 8-886-1036, ).
The nearest major hub is Kaohsiung. You can rent a car at the Zuoying high-speed rail station outside Kaohsiung or at ; it's about a two-hour drive to Kenting. Rental agencies include Car Plus and Heyun Car Rental (High-speed rail station location 886-7-346-1515, airport location 886-7-807-0333).
Buses run from the high-speed rail station and the airport to Kenting (two to three hours, about NT$320).
Scooters (NT$500 or less per day) or bicycles can be arranged by your hotel, or rented from one of the many outlets in Little Bay.
Damascus lashed out at Washington over charges that American forces killed at least eight civilians when US helicopters were on a mission to shut down insurgent "rat lines."
by Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 2008
Terrorism and Security Update
Syria has issued strong protests after accusing the US military of conducting a deadly cross-border raid from Iraq that left at least eight civilians dead.
Syrian state media reported that four US helicopters entered Syrian airspace around 4:45 p.m. Sunday and struck a construction site in the al-Boukamal region.
An unnamed US military official quoted by the Associated Press (AP) confirmed the attack, saying the US was trying to shut down "rat lines" sending Al Qaeda-linked insurgents and other foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria.
The raid appears to be straining already tense US-Syrian relations, even as Syria has reached out to the Iraqi government and Lebanon, entered into indirect talks with Israel, and held talks with the European Union.
SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency, quoting an unnamed "official media source," said the helicopters attacked a civilian site about five miles inside Syria, "leading to the martyrdom of eight citizens," including the building guard and his wife.
Citing an "official source," SANA said the Syrian government had summoned the top American diplomat in Damascus to condemn and complain about the "dangerous aggression." The Iraq chargé d'affaires was also summoned, the report said.
Agence France-Presse quoted a commentary in the Syrian government newspaper Tishrin Monday: "The American forces from Iraq committed cold-blooded murder.... They committed a war crime in killing eight Syrian civilians in a quiet village."
AP reported Monday that clergy were preparing the dead for burial as angry Syrian villagers chanted, "May God's wrath fall on them." The report quoted Jumaa Ahmad al-Hamad – a nephew of one of the dead – who saw the helicopters open fire on the building.
The New York Times reported Monday that Iraqi police in Anbar Province, which borders Syria, "did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place," raising some question about the details of the incident. It also noted that Iran joined Syria in lashing out at the Americans, according to AP, calling the apparent attack a "violation of the territorial integrity" of Syria.
AP cited an unnamed US military official as saying the raid targeted "elements of a robust foreign fighter logistics network." The official said the US had taken action because Syria has not stopped the flow of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq.
While U.S. forces have had considerable success in shutting down the "rat lines" in Iraq with help from Iraq and governments in North Africa, the Syrian part of the network has been out of reach, he said.
"The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria," the official said. "We are taking matters into our own hands."
Ninety percent of the foreign fighters [in Iraq] enter through Syria, and foreign fighters toting cash have been Al Qaeda in Iraq's chief source of income, according to U.S. intelligence.
Bloomberg noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month said that Syria had reduced the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but that US-Syria relations still had "a long way to go."
The Guardian reported that while Syria-US relations remain prickly, Damascus has been taking a more moderate tack in its ties with Lebanon, Israel, and the EU.
Late last year the then US commander, General David Petraeus, praised Syria's cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq. But Syria has since refused to restart intelligence sharing with the US until Washington recognizes its assistance by returning an ambassador to Damascus....
In recent months Syria has established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and held several rounds of indirect talks with Israel, with Turkey acting as broker. In July, President [Bashar] Assad was invited to an EU summit in Paris.
On a Los Angeles Times blog, Tony Perry wrote that the US raid occurred just a few miles from a former American military base. The US turned over the base to the Iraqis this month.
Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike?
Writing in The Times, a UK daily, James Hider said the raid may have been in part a warning to Damascus.
While it is a secular regime, Syria has allowed extreme Islamist groups to operate from its territory, using them both as an internal political pressure valve and to tie down US forces inside Iraq....
US commanders may have calculated that a cross-border raid was tactically necessary to tackle Islamist extremists using Syrian territory, [and] the attack also sent a tough strategic message to Syria that it is not inviolate and must choose carefully whom it supports.
Josh Landis, codirector of the Center for Middle East Studies University of Oklahoma, wrote on his blog Syria Comment that with the raid, the Bush administration may have been giving Syria a parting shot for its unwillingness to comply with intelligence-sharing and other US demands.
The Bush administration seems to be ratcheting up action against Syria during its last days in power….
White House analysts may assume that it can have a 'freebee' – taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price. Damascus may just have to write it off as a good bye salute from its friends in Washington.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Sri Lankan war roils Indian politics
Tamil parties threaten to withdraw from India's Parliament, but some see this as an attempt to wrest more seats in upcoming elections.
By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 22, 2008
Terrorism and Security update
As Sri Lanka's military presses toward the Tamil Tiger rebels' last stronghold, the conflict has begun to send political shock waves through neighboring India.
Ethnic Tamil parties in India disrupted Parliament Tuesday with calls for New Delhi to intervene to stop what some called "genocide against Tamils" in the northern Sri Lankan war zone. The Tamil parties have threatened to withdraw from India's ruling coalition unless Delhi helps put a stop to the fighting or intervenes directly.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military claimed on Tuesday that it had at last broken through a key Tiger trench line in heavy fighting under monsoon rains, reports Reuters. But the military admitted suffering scores of casualties in the process, and a suicide attack on merchant vessels off the northeastern coast Wednesday showed the Tamil Tigers aren't yet a spent force.
Tuesday saw "unruly" scenes in India's Parliament, according to the New Delhi-based Khabrein.info news website, with Tamil MPs interrupting proceedings with shouting, banner-carrying, and walkouts.
The Rajya Sabha [the upper house of Parliament] had to be adjourned till noon after it witnessed angry scenes. Chairman Hamid Ansari's repeated requests to allow proceedings did not make any impact on members. While DMK [a prominent Tamil party] members were shouting slogans and carrying banners reading "Save the Tamils" and "Stop Genocide in Sri Lanka," Left parties members were hitting at Centre for "mortgaging" country's autonomy in the form of nuclear deal with the US.
The Tamil parties have given Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration until early next month to take action – after which they will quit his coalition, according to Reuters.
Some observers see cynical politics at work. Writing in Rediff News, columnist TVR Shenoy notes that Parliament is set to be dissolved soon anyway, with national elections due in the next six months, and that Tamil politicians and other coalition allies are raising a fuss to shore up their base and wrest concessions from the ruling Congress party.
Why then are these esteemed gentlemen piling on the pressure on Dr. Manmohan Singh and his party? Very simply, it is a bargaining tactic to wrest more seats out of the Congress in the general election.
The [ruling Congress party's coalition allies] would like the Congress to give something in return if they "sacrifice" their demands. The Congress – and the Indian electorate at large – is expected to politely ignore the fact that the demands are a load of unrealistic bunk that never had a prayer of being realized.
Call it whatever you want, a 'bargaining tactic' or, less politely, 'blackmail'. Let us just hope that the Congress does not take the demands from its "allies" too seriously.
The Tamil Tigers have been waging an insurgency for 25 years to create an independent ethnic Tamil state in northern and eastern provinces in Sri Lanka.
India, the US, and the European Union put the Tigers on their respective terrorist lists. But many among India's Tamil population – particularly in Tamil Nadu state – support or sympathize with the rebels. Others condemn the Tigers, but worry about civilian Tamils in northern Sri Lanka who have been displaced or caught in the crossfire.
Singh has responded to the pressure from his Tamil coalition partners, but only moderately. Last week he urged a political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka and expressed concern for the estimated 230,000 displaced civilians. But analysts don't expect him to do much more, reports the Associated Press.
India has generally been reluctant to become directly involved in Sri Lanka's internal affairs after a disastrous military intervention in the 1980s that led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.
Strategic concerns are also restraining India, according to a commentary in the Daily Mirror, an independent English-language daily in Sri Lanka. While India quietly provides Sri Lanka with equipment and low-key support, rivals China and Pakistan are providing arms for the fight against the Tigers.
For India, too, several geopolitical concerns have prevented it from exerting undue pressure on Sri Lanka. India knows too well that the more it distances from the Sri Lankan government, Sri Lanka would veer towards China, Pakistan, and Iran. Growing Chinese influence in many spheres including infrastructure development, power generation and many development activities in Sri Lanka would no doubt have raised alarm in India.
In a commentary in Frontline, an Indian magazine produced by publishers of The Hindu daily newspaper, B. Muralidhar Reddy writes that the clash between New Delhi's strategic concerns and pressure from Tamil politicians put it in a tight spot.
It is indeed a delicate moment for India. With general elections a few months away and a growing clamor in Tamil Nadu for a more active role by New Delhi to alleviate the sufferings of innocent Tamil citizens, India has to do a balancing act. Colombo understands the Indian predicament and does not want to add to its discomfiture by any rash talk....
The Sri Lankan government, responding to Singh's comments last week, said its fight was solely with the Tamil Tigers, not Tamil civilians. It said its concern for the welfare of Tamil civilians in the north was slowing its military campaign, according to the Agence France-Presse.