Look back 2018: Year of hope and despair for South-east Asia

Rohingya Muslim Kalim Ullah, his wife Taiyeba Begum and their children are taking shelter in their relatives' tent at a camp in Bangladesh to avoid forced repatriation to Myanmar.
Rohingya Muslim Kalim Ullah, his wife Taiyeba Begum and their children are taking shelter in their relatives' tent at a camp in Bangladesh to avoid forced repatriation to Myanmar. PHOTO: REUTERS
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Malaysia's seventh prime minister after the May 9 general election.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Malaysia's seventh prime minister after the May 9 general election. PHOTO: REUTERS
A rescue team searching among the debris in the earthquake-hit village of Petobo in Central Sulawesi.
A rescue team searching among the debris in the earthquake-hit village of Petobo in Central Sulawesi. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee official with debris from Lion Air Flight JT610 in Jakarta last month.
An Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee official with debris from Lion Air Flight JT610 in Jakarta last month. PHOTO: REUTERS
Rescuers evacuating one of the boys. The 12 boys and their coach had been trapped in the cave by rising flood waters.
Rescuers evacuating one of the boys. The 12 boys and their coach had been trapped in the cave by rising flood waters. PHOTO: ROYAL THAI NAVY

There were overwhelming tears of happiness and of extreme sadness, in a year filled with dramatic ups and downs. From soaring hope in Malaysia's polls and for rescuers in Thai cave pools, to deep despair with quakes, tsunamis and an air crash in Indonesia. In Boracay, the Philippine government did what was needed, but in Rakhine state, the Myanmar government failed to do so. The Straits Times looks at eight things that made the news.

1. TERROR ATTACKS BY FAMILIES HIT SURABAYA

On Sunday, May 13, Dita Oeprianto, his wife Puji, and their two sons and two daughters, attacked three churches in Indonesia's second biggest city, Surabaya. Eighteen people were killed, including the family of six.

The father attacked one church, the mother and two daughters, aged nine and 12, targeted another, and the two sons, who were 16 and 18, bombed a third church.

The attacks were the first time children were involved in a suicide bombing in Indonesia, and also the first successful local suicide bombing involving a woman.

The next day, another family of a couple and their daughter and two sons carried out a suicide bombing at Surabaya's police headquarters.

Ten people were wounded while all the attackers were killed, except for the daughter, Aisyah, eight.

The fathers from the two families were involved with Indonesia's terror network Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, which is affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group.

In October, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. But the plan has been opposed by the Rohingya and the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups, fearing for their safety.

2. BORACAY REOPENS AFTER CLEAN-UP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the shutdown of the Philippines' famous holiday island of Boracay in April for six months, saying it had become a cesspool, tainted by sewage dumped directly into the sea by hotels, restaurants and businesses.

The island brought in tourism revenue of some 56 billion pesos (S$1.46 billion) last year.

The holiday island was reopened in October with promises of cleaner waters and beaches.

3. NOOSE TIGHTENS AROUND 1MDB EMBEZZLEMENT

The biggest scandal in the region is over state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a name now synonymous around the world with high-level corruption and embezzlement.

With the shock fall of the Barisan Nasional government, the wrongdoing has been actively pursued by the new Mahathir administration, snagging former premier Najib Razak. Lorryloads of cash, luxury bags and jewellery were hauled from apartments linked to him, in probes into whether these were linked to the scandal.

The Malaysian government also seized the 91.5m-long yacht Equaminity, bought by its owners for US$250 million (S$343 million), with help from Indonesia, and moved it to Port Klang, where it was later put up for auction.

Najib currently faces 32 charges in Malaysia's court, including those linked to missing 1MDB funds.

4. BARISAN NASIONAL LOSES IN SHOCK DEFEAT

Malaysians changed their government for the first time in the country's modern history, voting out Barisan Nasional, which had ruled for 61 years, in a shock result at the May 9 general election.

The new Pakatan Harapan government made then 92-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad the country's seventh prime minister. It was his second stint as premier after an absence of 15 years.

Pakatan Harapan's victory was helped by a scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), with some US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) allegedly embezzled, and voter anger over a consumption tax.

5. FEARING FOR THEIR LIVES, ROHINGYA REFUSE REPATRIATION

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled a sweeping army crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state last year. Many now live in cramped conditions in camps in Bangladesh.

In October, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees. But the plan has been opposed by the Rohingya and the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups, fearing for their safety. The repatriation planned for November stalled amid protests at the refugee camps.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi - once a global human rights icon - has been criticised heavily for the crackdown, with many groups withdrawing honours they had awarded her.

In October, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.

But the plan has been opposed by the Rohingya and the United Nations refugee agency and aid groups, fearing for their safety.

6. EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS KILL THOUSANDS

Thousands fell victim to natural disasters. In July and August, a series of earthquakes hit Lombok, east of Bali, killing more than 500. In September, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi province killed more than 2,000 people. And a tsunami hit the Sunda Strait last Saturday.

Earlier, in September, Typhoon Mangkhut tore through the Philippines en route to China. More than five million people were affected.

7. TRAGEDY AS LION AIR CRASH KILLS ALL ON BOARD

Lion Air Flight JT610 ran into trouble just after take-off from Jakarta on Oct 29, with witnesses saying it crashed at high speed into the Java Sea. All 189 on board were killed in one of the worst air disasters in Indonesia.

The plane was headed for Pangkal Pinang, capital of Bangka Belitung Islands province.

Lion Air was using Boeing's new 737 Max 8 aircraft.

The plane had been dogged by problems on several earlier flights, including its penultimate flight the night before the crash.

8. DARING CAVE RESCUE OF YOUNG THAI SOCCER TEAM

The world watched with bated breath as Thai navy and international cave divers carried out a daring and dangerous rescue of a youth soccer team.

The 12 boys and their coach had entered the Tham Luang cave network in northern Thailand on June 23, but were trapped by rising flood waters. Three weeks passed before they were found.

They were evacuated one by one, with the last person brought out on July 10. The boys and coach were praised for their bravery throughout their ordeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'S-E ASIA: Year of hope & despair'. Print Edition | Subscribe