War games stoke fears in Balkans

Simcoe Reformer - - NEWS - Liudas Dapkus Be­laru­sian tanks are seen pre­par­ing for war games at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Be­larus. Rus­sia and Be­larus are hold­ing war games near the bor­ders of Poland, Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia. Malaysian Fire and Res­cue per­son­nel stand out­side th

VIL­NIUS, Lithua­nia — Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia are watch­ing with con­cern the lat­est round of Rus­sian mil­i­tary drills that some an­a­lysts think might be the largest of their kind since the Cold War.

Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite, who of­ten crit­i­cizes Rus­sian lead­ers, said the war games get­ting un­der­way in Be­larus on Thurs­day are a sign the Krem­lin is pre­par­ing for con­flict with NATO .

“We are anx­ious about this drill ... it is an open prepa­ra­tion for war with the West,” Gry­bauskaite told re­porters.

Sol­diers, tanks and weapons have ar­rived in Be­larus, ac­cord­ing to Lithua­nia’s mil­i­tary. Lead­ers and de­fence an­a­lysts in the Baltic states fear some of the equip­ment could re­main in Be­larus once the drills are done.

“Leav­ing weapons in Be­larus means the Rus­sian army could pre­pare bases for a sud­den broad at­tack ... right at the NATO bor­der,” Lithua­nian of­fi­cer Dar­ius An­tanaitis said.

Rus­sia and Be­larus say the exer- cises sched­uled to run un­til Sept. 20 in­volve 5,500 Rus­sian and 7,200 Be­laru­sian troops. Es­to­nian De­fence Min­is­ter Juri Liuk has said Moscow could de­ploy up to 100,000 troops.

While Liuk doesn’t be­lieve the drills rep­re­sent a “prepara­tory move” against NATO , he said “there is rea­son for con­cern, be­cause Rus­sian in­tents are of­ten un­clear.”

The 29- mem­ber al­liance, of which the Baltic states are mem­bers, has boosted its own mil­i­tary pres­ence in eastern Europe. The U.S. last month sent ad­di­tional F-15 fighter jets to pa­trol the Baltic Sea re­gion.

“Rus­sia has al­ready used sim­i­lar ex­er­cises to launch mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions to other coun­tries like Ge­or­gia or Ukraine,” Ner­i­jus Mal­iuke­vi­cius, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at Vil­nius Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, said.

Th­ese viewed are echoed on the streets of Tallinn, the medieval cap­i­tal of Es­to­nia.

“I do not feel very good hav­ing th­ese mil­i­tary ex­er­cises very close to Es­to­nia, but again we are part of NATO ,” res­i­dent Piret Veigel said. “That gives me some com­fort.”

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A fire that blocked the only exit to an Is­lamic school dor­mi­tory killed 23 peo­ple, mostly teenagers, on the out­skirts of Malaysia’s largest city early Thurs­day, of­fi­cials said. A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said a wall sep­a­rat­ing the vic­tims from a sec­ond exit “shouldn’t have been there.”

Fire­fight­ers and wit­nesses de­scribed scenes of hor­ror — first of boys scream­ing for help be­hind barred win­dows as neigh­bours watched help­lessly, and later of burned bod­ies hud­dled in cor­ners of the room. Is­lamic teacher Arif Mawardy said he woke up to what he thought was a thun­der­storm, only to re­al­ize it was the sound of peo­ple scream­ing.

Fire­fight­ers rushed to the scene af­ter re­ceiv­ing a dis­tress call at 5:41 a.m. lo­cal time and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-storey build­ing, Kuala Lumpur po­lice chief Amar Singh said.

Singh said 23 bod­ies were re­cov­ered — 21 boys be­tween the ages of 13 and 17 and two teach­ers.

“We be­lieve (they died of ) suf­fo­ca­tion ... the bod­ies were to­tally burnt,” he said. Singh said 14 other stu­dents and four teach­ers were res­cued.

Health Min­is­ter S. Subra­ma­niam said six other stu­dents and a res­i­dent who went to help were hos­pi­tal­ized, with four of them in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. He said the 23 bod­ies were wait­ing to be iden­ti­fied through DNA.

The fire broke out near the only door to the boys’ dor­mi­tory, trap­ping the vic­tims be­cause the win­dows were barred, fire depart­ment se­nior of­fi­cial Abu Obai­dat Mo­hamad Saithal­i­mat said. He said the cause was be­lieved to be an elec­tri­cal short-cir­cuit, though Singh said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­tin­u­ing.

An­other fire depart­ment of­fi­cial, Soiman Jahid, said fire­fight­ers heard shouts for help when they ar­rived at the school. He said they found a pile of bod­ies in the right cor­ner of the dorm and an­other pile in the left cor­ner.

A res­i­dent, Nurhay­ati Ab­dul Halim, was quoted as say­ing that she saw the boys cry­ing and scream­ing for help.

“I saw their lit­tle hands out of the grilled win­dows; cry­ing for help. ... I heard their screams and cries but I could not do any­thing. The fire was too strong for me to do any­thing,” she said. She added that the school had been op­er­at­ing in the area for the past year.

The as­so­ci­ated press

Sadiq asyraf/ Gett y Im­ages

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