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These are the top stories making the front pages of major newspapers from across Southeast Asia today.

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Over $8.9m lost to scammers in first two weeks of April; 381 suspects under probe

More than $8.9 million were lost to the scammers rounded up in a 2½-week operation conducted by the police between March 29 and Thursday (April 14).

A total of 254 men and 127 women, aged between 16 and 84, are now being investigated for their involvement in scamming or as money mules.

The suspects are believed to be involved in more than 990 cases of scams, which are mainly Internet love scams, and scams involving e-commerce, China/government officials impersonations, investments, jobs and loans.

They are being investigated for allegedly cheating, money laundering or providing payment services without a licence.

Those convicted of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

Convicted money launderers can be jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to $500,000 or both.

Those found guilty of providing unlicensed payment services can be fined a maximum of $125,000, jailed for up to three years, or both.

The police said they take a serious stance against any person who may be involved in scams, and perpetrators will be dealt with according to the law. – Straits Times 

Rising interest in electric vehicles in Malaysia

Electric vehicles (EVs) are trending, with many on social media posting photos and talking about their happiness and pride at owning one.

According to Malaysian Electric Vehicle Owners Club (MyEVOC) president, Datuk Shahrol Halmi, there are an estimated 500 EVs on the road today, with more people intending to buy one for several reasons.

“There’s a bright future for EVs in Malaysia, with many expressing an interest in owning one because it is smoother and quieter than a conventional car,” he said.

There’s also a wide selection of EVs in the market to suit your budget, needs and brand preference, said Shahrol. “The current trend in Malaysia is high-end EVs from Porsche, BMW, Hyundai, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, and now, Tesla, MG and Audi have entered the market, too. Buyers are spoilt for choice,” he said.

“The Malaysian government encourages EV use, providing an exemption on import duty and more. They are better for the environment and don’t emit carbon dioxide which pollutes the air.

“It is in accordance with the government’s 2021-2030 Low Carbon Mobility Blueprint, as well,” Shahrol said.

However, there are still some weaknesses that need to be corrected to ensure the EV ecosystem is on par with other countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

“They are more actively working on becoming leaders in the EV field and are continuously improving their ecosystem to enable their people to use EVs with ease,” he said. – New Straits Times

Revellers flout splash ban

The government is urging full compliance with Covid-19 control measures outlined by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), including the ban on water-splashing during the Songkran holidays, to help prevent cases from spiralling out of control after the long break.

The plea followed reports of Songkran revellers, foreign tourists in particular, getting caught flouting the ban while celebrating the Thai New Year festival on Wednesday.

“The government and the CCSA would like to ask for the full cooperation of locals and tourists instead of strictly enforcing the ban as we do not want to ruin the festive spirit,” said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana on Thursday.

“We hope to not see anyone splashing water along Khao San Road and any other public spaces [over the long weekend]. Mr Thanakorn said the government expressed similar wishes for all other public spaces while the pandemic persists.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as director of the CCSA, is concerned about the risk of new infection clusters as a result of such violations, the spokesman added.

As such, he said the PM also asked the Interior Ministry and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to ramp up their efforts to ensure compliance. Business operators on Khao San Road in particular are now being urged to tell tourists in the area that Songkran water play is not allowed as part of the CCSA’s disease control measures, he said. – Bangkok Post

822 barangays receive poverty reduction, livelihood programs

Some 50,000 individuals from conflict-cleared barangays nationwide benefitted from the government’s free livelihood and skills training programs through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), to date.

Under the NTF-ELCAC’s Poverty Reduction, Livelihood and Employment Cluster (PRLEC), chaired by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the government has already conducted more than 4,500 livelihood and skills training nationwide.

The PRLEC has so far reached 822 villages, higher than its targeted 802 priority conflict-affected barangays and geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs).

Among these skills training and livelihood projects include the establishment of organic farms, production sites, and trading centres for agricultural products; setting up community poultry, vegetable production, and processing centres; as well as the implementation of Tubig Kalikasan para sa Barangay (TUKABA), Project iPEACE for the indigenous communities, and Photovoltaic Systems Installation NC II (Project TALA) – wherein communities also benefitted from installations of solar lighting and charging systems.

TESDA deputy director-general Gabriel Quisumbing said the efforts also became essential to the agricultural sector as it has helped in promoting food security amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Apart from lifting the lives of former rebels and their communities, Quisumbing said the government’s livelihood and skills training programs have also helped individuals hit hard by the global health crisis, particularly those returning overseas Filipino workers and those that have returned to their respective home provinces.

The PRLEC targets to push “self-reliant, productive, resilient and sustainable communities” in the countryside through a whole-of-nation convergence and good governance approach. – Philippine News Agency

Deputy foreign minister arrested in bribery case involving repatriation flights

Deputy foreign minister To Anh Dung has been arrested over allegations he received bribes when organising repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Investigation Security Agency under the Ministry of Public Security on Thursday launched an investigation into the senior government official.

The arrest is the latest development in the investigation into bribery accusations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department and other authorities. 

Two other men were also arrested for their alleged involvement in the case. They are Pham Trung Kien, an officer of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Medical Equipment and Projects, and Vu Anh Tuan, a former official of the Ministry of Public Security’s Department of Immigration.

In January, the Investigation Security Agency launched an official investigation into the bribery case. It issued documents to start criminal proceedings against and detain four other officials of the Consular Department for “taking bribes” in line with Article 354 of the Penal Code.

They are Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, head of the Consular Department; Do Hoang Tung, deputy head of the department; Le Tuan Anh, chief of the department’s office; and Luu Tuan Dung, deputy head of the citizen protection desk at the department.

Further details of their crimes have not yet been made available by police, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when Viet Nam enforced stringent border closures and only let in a very limited number of flights, including special repatriation flights (so-called rescue flights) for Vietnamese stranded overseas, many people complained of exorbitant prices and procedure hassles for those few slots back home. – Vietnam News

Masks, vaccination campaign must continue to avoid Covid surge after KNY, says Prime Minister Hun Sen

On the second day of Khmer New Year, Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded people to wear face masks and get vaccinated or a booster shot to avoid a potential surge in Covid cases during and after the New Year. In a voice message released this morning on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “I am concerned that after Khmer New Year, the confirmed cases of Covid-19 will surge due to people neglecting to follow health measures.”

He added that some provinces had the requirement for wearing masks lifted. However, except for those four provinces, wearing face masks is still necessary. He noted that he had seen most people neglecting to wear face masks.

The provinces where the requirement to wear face masks was lifted are Preah Vihear, Stueng Treng, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri.

“For those who haven’t received basic doses or booster shots, please go and get one if you are heading to any resorts. It will protect you from becoming severely ill. Meanwhile, I have also seen that vaccination places are very quiet,” he noted.

The Premier said that the 3 dos and 3 don’ts must be strictly followed while self-testing is a priority if anybody suspects they have Covid-19 symptoms. – Khmer Times

Junta forces and Arakan Army clash in northern Rakhine State

A brief clash took place between the junta and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State’s Myebon Township on Tuesday afternoon, according to local sources including a former lawmaker.

Pe Than, who once was Myebon’s elected Lower House parliamentarian from the Arakan National Party, told Myanmar Now on Tuesday evening that the fighting took place that afternoon around a quarter-mile from the road connecting Myebon with Minbya township, both in Mrauk-U District. 

The junta column involved had been stationed in the 800-household Wet Gaung village, some six miles north of Myebon’s administrative centre, he said. 

“The clash lasted for only five minutes and I don’t think they got to fight at close range,” Pe Than said. “I don’t know which side initiated the attack. The villagers said that they heard five to six artillery shells being fired and 10 to 20 gunshots.”

A resident of Wet Gaung confirmed that the clash took place, and that a unit of Myanmar army troops had been occupying a former makeshift hospital south of the village for days. 

“The AA and the village administrator went to the hospital and told the junta column to leave as they wanted to avoid local youth having problems with the junta during the Thingyan celebrations,” the villager explained, referring to the mid-April festival taking place at the time of reporting. 

“The junta column submitted the request to the higher authorities and headed towards the hill located west of the hospital. However, the AA did not want to let them go there either,” he added.

Fighting started after members of the military opened fire from the base of the hill, the local man said. – Myanmar NOW

Indonesia has potential to be world’s best halal centre: Amin

Indonesia has the strength and opportunity to be the best halal production centre in the world, Vice President Ma’ruf Amin said at the 2022 Adinata Syariah Talkshow and Award here on Thursday.

“Observing the prospects of economic growth in Indonesia in a global condition that must be anticipated, I underline some strengths to realize Indonesia’s vision as the world’s best halal production centre,” he added.

According to the Vice President, the first strength is the national sharia economy and finance that has been proven to have supported Indonesia during the pandemic, even to have inclusively involved all communities through empowerment efforts.

He highlighted that Bank Indonesia has said that the share or potential of the halal value chain can support the national economy by 25 percent.

“Agriculture, which ranked first, contributes about 51 percent, the halal food sector 27 percent, Muslim-friendly tourism 16 percent, and Muslim fashion 6 percent,” Amin said.

Second is the high demand for halal products, he noted. The halal lifestyle has become popular in Indonesia, thus it could potentially increase the growth of halal products, he pointed out.

According to Amin, for Muslims themselves, consuming halal products is not only a matter of faith but is also related to the health and safety aspects of products.

“Another important challenge is to ensure the halalness of the product, so through halal certification, these products can be accepted, both in the domestic and the global market, especially in Muslim countries,” he said.

Third, the sharia finance sector must be able to synergize to develop the halal product industry sector by providing support through financing, he said.

The State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2022 has ranked Indonesia fourth in Islamic economy development, second in the halal food sector, and third in the Muslim fashion sector. – AntaraNews.Com

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