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Drone Crash Sparks Fire At Russian Oil Refinery; North Korea Promises To Put Satellite Into Orbit Soon; U.S. House Approves Debt Limit Deal And The Bill Now Goes To Senate; Decades Of Bitter Disputes Mar Serbia-Kosovo Relations; NASA To Release Report On Unidentified Phenomena In July; NASA to Release Report on Unidentified Phenomena; Ethnic Muslims Defy Beijing to Defend Mosque; Four Dead on Capsized Boat in Italy. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired June 01, 2023 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. No letup in Russian airstrikes, three dead, more than a dozen wounded in the fourth overnight missile attack on the Ukrainian Capitol this week.

No Boundaries, how strained relations between Washington and Beijing are allowing North Korea to violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And no default, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress vote to raise the federal government's debt ceiling.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: Wherever you are around the world, thank you for joining us. We begin in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv which has been rocked by a fourth night of deadly Russian airstrikes.

According to the city's mayor, at least three people including two children are dead, while debris from one missile hit a healthcare clinic blowing out windows of a residential building.

This follows days of attacks just across Ukraine's border inside Russia. The governor of the Belgorod region says four people were injured Wednesday, hundreds of civilians are now being evacuated after days of intense artillery fire.

Emergency crews in southern Russia had extinguished an oil refinery fire that was started by a drone crash not far from Russian occupied Crimea.

Russia also blames Ukraine for a series of drone strikes on Moscow Tuesday that caused minor damage but sparked major fear in the capital, Kyiv denies direct involvement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KIRBY, PRESS SECRETARY, PENTAGON: We don't tell them where to strike. We don't tell them -- you know, we're not the striker. We don't tell them how to conduct their operations. All that said, we have been very clear with the Ukrainians privately. We certainly have been clear publicly that we do not support attacks inside Russia.


VAUSE: But those attacks marked a turning point in this 15-month long conflict with the war now increasingly coming home to the Russian people.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley has our report from eastern Ukraine.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ukraine's not claiming responsibility for these attacks inside Russia. But if Kyiv gets blamed, that's just fine. There's more to come.

MYKHAILO PODOLYAK, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER (through translator): The number of incidents is constantly increasing, not only in the border areas, but also in the depths of Russia. It's already happening. The scale will be exponential.

KILEY: (voice over): Here, an oil refinery in Russia's far south is set a flame while along Ukraine's northern border with its invader, civilian areas are hit by shelling, apartments riddled with shrapnel, commonplace in Ukraine, a new experience for Russians.

Ukraine's new strategy is taking shape inside Russia. Drone and artillery attacks have hit Russian targets in an arc along its Ukrainian border provinces of Bryansk, Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh and Krasnodar and Moscow has not been spared either.

On the deck of a Royal Navy warship, key Ukrainian ally, the United Kingdom gave Kyiv a green light to attack Russia.

JAMES CLEVERLY, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Legitimate military targets beyond its own border are part of Ukraine's self-defense. And we should recognize -- we should recognize that.

KILEY (voice over): In response, former Russian president and close Putin ally, Dmitry Medvedev claimed on Twitter that as the U.K. is in an undeclared war against Russia, any British official could be considered as a legitimate military target. Now that would be an escalation even Vladimir Putin might resist.

Sam Kiley, CNN in eastern Ukraine.


VAUSE: To Washington now, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and CNN Military Analyst Cedric Leighton. It's good to see you, Sir.


VAUSE: So, when asked about the Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil, a spokesman for the German government talks about international law which allows one country to strike military targets on foreign soil as a form of self-defense and international law even allows for preemptive strikes.

He describes such attacks by Ukraine as legitimate in the broad sense, which is similar to the policy by the U.K., only this official out of that Berlin opposes the use of German weapons for such attacks. While at the White House, it does seem to be a bit of a non-starter, but not a deal breaker. Listen to John Kirby, here he is.


KIRBY: We do not enable and we do not encourage attacks inside Russia. We certainly don't want to see attacks inside Russia that are -- that are being propagated, that are being conducted using U.S. supplied equipment.


VAUSE: Even the latest announcement of a $300 million in security assistance from the U.S. to Ukraine makes the point it's intended to help Ukraine continue to defend its sovereign territory.


So, is this a significant rift here between Washington on the one hand and London and Berlin and others on the other? And what's behind this rift? And is this sort of likely to be a potential problem further down the line somewhere?

LEIGHTON: Well, it could be, John. But I think, you know, in some ways, they're splitting hairs on the definition of what's legitimate target and what isn't one.

You know, when you look at as you correctly pointed out the international laws of warfare and laws of armed conflict, it definitely does allow for a country to engage in hot pursuit. It allows for preemptive strikes, and it allows for the nation to attack nation to render basically useless a non-force that is poised to strike it from an enemy territory. So, that means that the Ukrainians do have a legitimate point.

When it comes to the White House's position on this, I think they're trying very hard not to provoke the Russians. But of course, I think that ship has sailed a long time ago.

VAUSE: Yes, and this attempt by Moscow to play the victim, it's not getting a lot of sympathy. Listen to the former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, here he is speaking to CNN.


MARK ESPER, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Ukraine has the right of self-defense. And secondly, Russia should not have sanctuary, Russia doesn't get to destroy, kill civilians, right murder and pillage all across Ukraine now for 15 months, and then cry foul when Ukraine or Ukraine supported or maybe its anti-Putin groups shoot drones in Moscow. I just think that's wrong.


VAUSE: And yet, as long as military sites are being targeted, that's one of the caveats there. But in the latest border tax, the governor of the Russian province of Belgorod says eight apartment buildings, four homes, school, two administrative buildings were damaged during shelling of a small Russian village just across from the border.

And here -- this is the part it gets murky. What's a legitimate military target? Where does this leave Ukraine in terms of hiding the higher moral ground, which it needs for continued Western support? And how much of this plays into Putin's delusional narrative that the invasion of Ukraine was some kind of defensive action?

LEIGHTON: Yes, this is where it gets really tricky for the Ukrainians, they have to be very careful to avoid attacking civilian targets.

And you know, as someone who has worked on these issues before, it's a very fine line sometimes. Sometimes there are military installations right in the middle of a civilian neighborhood.

But regardless, every effort has to be made to minimize civilian casualties. And every effort has to be made to strike only legitimate military targets. And that includes command and control networks, military installations, logistic hubs, things like that.

So, the Ukrainians would be relatively well advised to keep to those kinds of targets, that will give them the most sympathy and the most support in the West.

VAUSE: And as for Moscow's air defenses after the recent drone attacks, here's the Russian president speaking Tuesday.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I want to say that Moscow's anti-missile systems worked as they should have satisfactorily though there are things to improve.


VAUSE: OK, can you unravel what he actually means here? That was satisfactory, but they need to improve? And, you know, the drones actually managed to hit a number of targets.

LEIGHTON: Yes, they should. And I think what President Putin is saying is, well, at least you fired at the targets, but you need to make sure that you hit the targets.

And oh, by the way, it might be a real good idea if you prevented those missiles and drones from even crossing into Russian airspace. So, he's been clear that you know, at the moment, he's not going to

send these people to jail. But the key thing is they're going to have to perform and they're going to have to perform much better than they did.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. Colonel, good to see you. Col. Cedric Leighton there in Washington. We appreciate your time, Sir.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John, anytime.

VAUSE: North Korea remains determined to put a military spy satellite into orbit and soon, according to the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un whose comments were reported by state media just one day after the North failed satellite launch attempt, which was captured in these new images here.

A South Korean lawmaker says his country's intelligence agency believes the launch failed partly because North Korea pushed preparations and tried to change the flight path.

Joining now from Skype from Busan, South Korea is Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University.

Robert, thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: So, when it comes to reining in North Korea, only one country has any real influence and that's China, you can debate how much influence it has, but it seems to be the only one really.

And so, with that in mind, here's the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. Listen to this.


MAO NING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): The current situation on the Korean peninsula is clear. And it is not what China wants to see. The only way to prevent the situation from further deteriorating is for all parties to address the root cause of the lack of a peaceful mechanism on the Korean peninsula.



VAUSE: If you translate the translation, is she's essentially saying, hey, not our problem right now, you deal with it. And by you, she means Seoul and Washington?

KELLY: Yes, that's actually traditionally what China has done, sort of pushed the buck past North Korea and particularly wants United States to make concessions by U.S. forces in the region in order to get greater Chinese cooperation. North Korea sort of become a football between the two. And in some ways, that's actually allowed North Korea, I think, to

survive and sort of prosecute these tests and continue to be sort of a troublemaker, right? Because it can sort of tilt one way or the other, the North Koreans were really good about doing that during the Cold War.

The one interesting comment in there, I think, is the idea of a mechanism that's also been sort of kicked around for a while, but it's never really come through some kind of like local security forum or something like that. Some way in which the relevant parties up here in Northeast Asia would sort of sit down and meet and talk at least maybe, I don't know, once a year or something like that.

Those ideas have been around for a while, but the North Koreans aren't too keen on it. And quite honestly, the U.S. and China haven't really made much of an effort on that either.

And so, it continues, mostly to be a sort of standoff sort of the U.S. North Korea standoff, you know, with the South Koreans as well.

VAUSE: You mean, like some kind of six party talks perhaps that could involve in viscid play parties in the region.

KELLY: Exactly. That was one of the ideas at the time was that the six party talks would in fact morph into something more substantial, that would probably be a good idea, but it just didn't happen.

VAUSE: Didn't happen as often plays out.

How much room has really only been given to conduct, you know, this flurry of illicit missile tests earlier this year, and now this attempt to launch a spy satellite? Which is all in violation of U.N. resolutions, simply because relations between Washington and Beijing had been at such a low point for so long.

KELLY: Yes, I think that's actually a lot of it myself. I mean, I actually make that argument fairly regularly when I talk to Chinese colleagues at events is that if the United States and China actually work together on North Korea, which both of them have an interest in, we could probably actually do a lot to pull back North Korea, sort of to keep them from running us toward this this precipice. I do think that there's a great deal on for example, fuel, and other imports, most of which are illicit because of sanctions coming into North Korea, the Chinese helped for unsanctioned that may be able to make some progress.

I do actually think that's an area in the U.S. and China actually share a lot, right? I mean, North Korean nuclear missiles can easily be pointed at China as well.

So, it's kind of a shame that a lot of the other things that have strained the U.S. and China relationship in the South China Sea and such have made it difficult for the two to coordinate on North Korea, because I'd say the overlapping interest rates are quite strong.

VAUSE: And it seems the tension between the U.S. and China is playing out what U.S. officials claimed to be an alarming increase in aggressive intercepts by China's military. Like this one last week when a Chinese fighter jet used what the Pentagon says was unnecessarily aggressive maneuvers to intercept a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane which was flying over international waters.

I want you to listen to White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby with more details. Here he is.


KIRBY: It was unsafe, it was unprofessional. You heard the Pentagon speak to that. And you all saw the video for yourself, as you can see that they forced that RC-135, to go through the jet wash of the Chinese fighter, which just tells you how close it was, several hundred feet is dangerous.


VAUSE: Not just an isolated incident, they say and not just isolated to the United States as the other countries have been involved in these kinds of incidents as well. So, how significant are these flare ups?

KELLY: Yes, I do. I think the most likely possibility actually the Chinese-U.S. conflict in the future, you know, is not actually an air incident, probably a maritime incident in the South China Sea where again, you have the two sides interacting without any good sense of what the rules are, and you get maybe a crash or collision that could potentially happen in the air.

It'd be nice if we could have some kind of rules of the road for the region. I think, you know, on issues of surveillance, you know, the United States wouldn't respond particularly well if China was doing that near U.S. -- near the U.S. coast, so maybe the United States sort of like find some kind of way, where we can sort of pull back a little bit in order to get better Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, for example, where there's a lot of risk about sort of a collision.

Again, there's some kind of deal that's probably doable there and send that both sides don't want these things kind of escalate out of control.

And to be fair, though, to the Biden administration. I think they've actually indicated interest in this. And the Chinese have just not been picking up the phone on this.

We know that, you know, there's been an effort to get the U.S. Secretary of Defense to talk his Chinese counterpart and the Chinese just haven't been interested.

I mean, ultimately, it's probably in both sides interest to actually sit down and talk this out, rather than have these kinds of incidents possibly lead to a joint incident and then, you know, flare up an escalation.

VAUSE: Because right now, there's sort of direct communication between Beijing and Washington on a diplomatic level, but not on the military level. Is that right?

And one of the problems is that there's going to be like an informal gathering of defense officials this weekend. The Pentagon says Beijing has declined to meet with U.S. officials, which I think as you indicated, this is just the latest one in a dozen declined invitations over the last few years.

KELLY: Yes, and again, it wouldn't be fair to the Biden administration. I think they've actually made an effort they've reached out both to China and North Korea, and you know, maybe the United States can offer something mild, as sort of an enticement or something like that, maybe some pullback on reconnaissance or something like that, or sort of like, I don't know, something.

But some way to sort of draw them out because if it doesn't happen, right, then what you're really going to get is basically the two sides operating basically sort of in the dark, vis-a-vis one another in these contested regions in the East China Sea and South China Sea.


And eventually, you know, as the region fills up with more and more activity, you know, you're probably going to get collisions and stuff like that, right?

I mean, this has been on the radar now for a while. You may recall this, something like this happened with the Bush administration way back 20 years ago, right? And you know, as again, as it becomes more, you know, as the traffic becomes thicker and thicker to then South China Sea, warships and so on.

Or if you have a genuine collision, you know, and people die, then there's obviously a lot more pressure on both sides to escalate.

VAUSE: Hainan Island back in, well, I think it's 2001. Early months of Hainan in 2001.

Robert, thanks for being with us. Really appreciate it.

KELLY: Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: When we come back here on CNN, back from the brink, the U.S. another step closer to averting default on tens of trillions of dollars in debt, the result of the House vote and what happens next, after the break.

Also, Serbian President speaks to CNN after ethnic Serbs clashed with NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo to hear his message about what they should do from this point on.


VAUSE: After weeks of negotiations, bluster and threats, a deal to suspend the U.S. debt ceiling and avoid default has been approved by moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives. The bill now heads to the Senate. The final House vote, 314 in favor,

117 against. Notably, more Democrats voted in favor of this bill than Republicans which is a blow to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

CNN's Melanie Zanona has details now on how this all played out and what happens next.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, a big bipartisan victory in the House Tuesday night for both President Biden and speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling and limit spending with a number of members in both parties voting in favor of the bill.

In the end, 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats joined forces to get this bill over the finish line where it now goes to the Senate.

But this was not an easy vote. It was not an easy road to get here. It took weeks of intense negotiations. There were a number of breakdowns in the talks along the way. And there was also a last minute revolt from some rank and file members, particularly among conservatives.

Republicans were not happy that the debt limit is extended for two years now. They also wanted it to go further and cutting spending. And then some Democrats were worried about the new stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients.

But in the end, leadership works behind the scenes to whip this bill, to sell members on the steel. And they are confident that it is also going to pass in the Senate.

But there is a question of how quickly they can get it done because over in the Senate, it takes the cooperation of every single member in order to be able to move quickly.

But Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader is planning to take a first procedural step on Thursday to move this bill along. Then him and Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader over there will have to work out a deal likely offering some amendment votes to get all their members on board.


But the bottom line, Congress is poised to avert a crisis, although barely.

Melanie Zanona, CNN Capitol Hill.


VAUSE: Ethnic Serbs rallied in Kosovo on Wednesday according to Serbia state television, but no reports of major violence with NATO peacekeepers deployed to guard town halls and other government buildings. Serbs are in the majority in this part of Kosovo, and NATO sending in

hundreds of more troops after scenes like this played out just two days earlier.

Serbian protesters clashed with the peacekeepers leaving dozens of people injured. They were furious about ethnic Albanian mayors taking office in the area, following local elections, which were boycotted by Serb voters.

Serbia's president spoke to CNN Wednesday saying he did not encourage the boycott, even though he did say that Serbs in Kosovo lived under occupation. Now, he's urging them to fight peacefully.


ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT: I know that those people are very determined. Those people are very decisive to fight in a very peaceful way for their rights.

My plea for them is always to do it peacefully, to do it peacefully, to do it calmly, and to keep tranquility and stability for all of us.


VAUSE: This latest violence is just another episode of the long a bit of history between Serbia and Kosovo. CNN's Scott McLean explains what led to it.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was 2008 when Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia. The problem is that Serbia has never officially recognized that independence.

It's also important to know the ethnic makeup of Kosovo, which is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian with the exception of four municipalities right here. One of them is very small. It's about there.

The Serbs who live in these majority Serb municipalities don't want to be ruled by the authorities in Kosovo. And this has caused all kinds of problems.

So much so that in 2013, and entire decade ago, Kosovo and Serbia actually agreed on this text right here. It's called the Brussels agreement, it essentially gives some level of autonomy to these majority Serb regions or municipalities over things like education and health care and urban planning.

It also ensures that the police commander in the area is an ethnic Serb, and that the force reflects the ethnic makeup of the local population, all with the understanding that neither Serbia nor Kosovo will block each other's route to European Union membership.

The problem is that most of this has never actually been implemented which brings us to this agreement, which was actually agreed upon, at least in principle, in March of this year, it recommits, Kosovo and Serbia to the principal things that they have agreed on and also gives the express understanding that their failure to implement this will mean consequences from the European Union.

The problem that we have run into lately is when it comes to local elections, because Serbs in these majority Serb municipalities boycott the elections, so much so that the voter turnout was only 3.4 percent.

In fact, the mayor who eventually won in this municipality had only 141 votes. And so, there is a huge question of legitimacy.

The Serbs in that area protested, they tried to block the mayor from -- the mayors from actually getting into the town halls, Kosovo police were sent in to forcibly make sure that they could and all of this escalated to what we saw on Monday, which was violent clashes between NATO peacekeepers, and protesters.

Now, the U.S. has made no secret of the fact that it is blaming Kosovo very squarely for all of this. In fact, the ambassador said that this was a crisis that was unnecessary.

He said that the operation that took place on Friday to obtain access to municipal buildings through forcible means was not coordinated with the U.S. When we became aware of it, we advise strongly against it, because we anticipated consequences that we are now seeing.

So, the U.S. expects two things from Kosovo. First, that the mayors work from alternate locations, not the town halls and that police are withdrawn from the municipal buildings. They think that that will help lower the temperature and deescalate things.

The trouble is that Albin Kurti, made very clear on CNN, that despite pressure from the E.U., and from the U.S., he is standing firm. Listen.

KURTI: I'm working closely with international factors, especially with United States and European Union, we'll consider both of them indispensable allies, friends and partners, and we will do our best. But I am not surrendering democratic republic to fascist militia.


MCLEAN: So, the U.S. has now cancelled Kosovo's participation in U.S. led military exercises currently taking place in Romania and the ambassador also made abundantly clear that they are considering what other measures they might take. Scott McLean, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Sudan's armed forces has suspended participation in U.S.-Saudi brokered ceasefire talks in Jeddah. Accusing rival paramilitary forces are violating the latest truce which is extended this past Monday.

The month and a half since the Civil War broke out, ceasefires have been constantly violated by both sides. On Wednesday, at least 17 people were killed more than, 100 wounded at a market in Khartoum hit by heavy shelling.

Sudanese doctors say more people likely will die as a result of serious injuries. Hospitals now pleading for more medical staff and supplies to help treat victims.

Coming up next here on CNN NEWSROOM, NASA scientists working to solve one of the skies greatest mysteries by making it possible to get concrete answers about UFOs, opening up to the public, an attempt to be transparent. We'll learn how they want to do all that, ahead.


VAUSE: Welcome back. I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. And NASA taskforce plans to publish its first report this summer on unidentified anomalous phenomena, more commonly known as UFOs, unidentified flying objects.

The problem right now though, is despite thousands of sightings is not a lot of reliable information. Just a lot of grainy footage and hearsay, that makes it difficult to draw conclusions about what the mysterious objects actually are.

But NASA says the point of the taskforce report is to separate fact from fiction, to develop a roadmap that will help scientists and government officials collect useful data to understand what's going on.


SEAN KIRKPATRICK, DIRECTOR, ALL-DOMAIN ANOMALY RESOLUTION OFFICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: This is an example of one that I showed at the hearing recently. This is a spherical orb, metallic, in the Middle East, 2022 by an MQ-9.

We'll come back to the sensor question that David raised here in a moment.

This is a typical example of the thing that we see most of. We see these all over the world. And we see these in and making very interesting apparent maneuvers.


VAUSE: To use now and retired NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao, good to have you with us.

Good to be with you.

VAUSE: So, I got a bunch of questions here but I just want to start off by asking you something off the cuff, in all your years at NASA, all your time in space, have you ever had a UFO experience?


LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: You know, on several of my space flights, I saw some unusual things, but they've all been explained as either manmade objects or -- or natural phenomena.

So you know, I think that's the vast majority, you know, this task force has come up with has been explained by similar things. So there are only a small percentage of things that they could not really explain and didn't have enough information to really determine what these objects are or were.

VAUSE: During this hearing on Wednesday, NASA's Dan Evans said, "NASA believes that the tools of science apply to the study of UAP" -- or UFOs -- "because they allow us to separate fact from fiction. And that's all part of NASA's commitment to exploring the unknown, and doing so with the openness, transparency and candor that we're well- accustomed to providing the public."

You know, when it comes to UFOs, that hasn't been always the case, right? So is this hearing, and is this report, is it more about being sort of open and transparent than anything else? Trying to sort of debunk a whole lot of myths that might be out there?

CHIAO: I think so. You know, and you're right. From the very beginning back in, you know, the famous things like the Roswell incident of the 1940s, you know, all the way through where the Air Force and the government has kind of kept things under -- under wraps and quiet and all, just stirred a lot of speculation, frankly, about UFOs and extraterrestrials and all of that.

And so I think these efforts that we're seeing now, not only with NASA but also with the Defense Department, in coming up and trying to be open and transparent about what they do know and what they don't know. I think it really is an effort to try to debunk some of the speculation, the wilder speculations that have gone on over the years.

VAUSE: Well, I guess that this could be considered a credible bit of speculation. I want you to listen to former Navy pilots Dave Fravor and Alex Dietrich, who witnessed something unsettling, they say, and inexplicable over the Pacific Ocean back in 2004. Listen to this.


SQUADRON COMMANDER DAVID FRAVOR, NASA: I said dude, do you see that down there? And we saw this little, white Tic-Tac looking object. And it's just kind of moving above the whitewater area.

PILOT ALEX DIETRICH, NASA: Did you ever drop your phone, and it bounces off the counter top, and then bounces off something else, and then it sort of like, no -- no predictable movement? No predictable trajectory. It was just --

FRAVOR: It was just like a ping-pong ball.


VAUSE: The hearing did seem to debunk a lot of these sort of sightings through very basic elementary schools like geometry and optical illusions. Very simple explanations. Which gets us to the bottom line, that there is this need for better data on UFO sightings. Is that something that we're likely to get?

CHIAO: Right, and so unfortunately, a lot of these cases, you know, what you have is inconclusive evidence of something happening. Is it an allusion? It's some kind of weird, you know, light reflection, or is it some secret military program? You know, the left hand doesn't always know the right hand is doing. In fact, that's probably mostly the case.

You know, these secret programs are pretty compartmentalized. So there's not one entity that knows everything that's going on so -- you know, it's hard to say exactly what these people saw. I'm sure they really did see something. They tracked something. But you know, it's just not enough information to say what it is.

VAUSE: well, the chair of the committee, David Spergel, put this forward: "Given that there are three billion to four billion mobile phones around the world, the development of an app people could use to record data and upload to a website for tracking UAP" -- or UFOs -- "would be a great citizen-sized opportunity."

Is that one solution there to this lack of data? How do see it working?

CHIAO: Well, that would certainly give you more data to look through. You know, I don't know -- I don't know if that would really help to, you know, solve some of these things. Or just increase the number of reports of anomalous things that people see.

But you know, I think it's a great leap, in any case, for anyone to come out and say that these are the results of some kind of extraterrestrial visitors or beings.

And really, that's really what I think these task forces are doing, is trying to debunk some of the wilder speculations on what these things might be.

VAUSE: Yes. It's always a good topic to talk about. Leroy, it's great to have you with us. Appreciate your experience and your time.

CHIAO: My pleasure, thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you.

When we come back here, ethnic Muslims in China defending their mosque from partial demolition by the government. Now many are fearing a harsh crackdown could be next. The live report from Hong Kong in just a moment.



VAUSE: Fears are growing of another religious crackdown, this time in Southern China, where an ethnic Muslim minority has been defying government attempts to demolish the dome and minarets of their mosque.

They say they're the latest victims of Beijing's campaign to remove religious symbols from places of worship.

Details now from CNN's senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A rare confrontation between law enforcement and the faithful. Chinese Muslims clash with police outside a mosque in Southwestern China.

For two days last weekend, residents of the village of Najiaying tried to protect their mosque from a Chinese government reconstruction plan.

"They want to demolish the roof of our mosque," an emotional local protester tells CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This is our last bit of dignity," the protester says. "It's like someone going to your house and demolishing it."

CNN reached out to Chinese authorities for comment, but the only official acknowledgment of the incident comes from this local government statement, urging protesters to turn themselves in after "disrupting social order" and causing" severe adverse impact."

WATSON: Is it safe to be a Muslim in China today?


WATSON (voice-over): Ma Ju is an imam and activist from the Hui Muslim ethnic minority, living in exile in the U.S.

MA (through translator): No Muslim is safe in China. My people, the Hui people, everyone is trembling, scared, and living in fear.

WATSON (voice-over): He claims the Chinese government has targeted hundreds of Hui mosques across the country, demolishing their Arabic- inspired domes and minarets, and replacing them with Chinese-style architecture.

CNN has independently verified the before-and-after images of several of these cases. Part of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's policy of Sinicization, instructing religions to basically look more Chinese.

JAMES LEIBOLD, PROFESSOR OF CHINA STUDIES, LA TROBE UNIVERSITY: The logic of what China is trying to do is about social reentering. It's by remolding people.

WATSON (voice-over): Academics and activists say, since Xi came to power, there have been crackdowns on expressions of religious, ethnic and linguistic identity.

MA (through translator): Xi Jinping's policies are aimed at all socially organized groups, including Christians, Buddhists and even some civil organizations including LGBTQ.

WATSON (voice-over): CNN extensively reported on the detention of more than a million ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities in China's Xinjiang region in internment camps.

And CNN reported on clashes around churches in Eastern China, where authorities chopped the crosses off the top of Christian places of worship.

Those scenes in 2015, remarkably similar to the images of protesters trying to protect their mosque today in Najiaying.

"Today they'll change our mosques. Tomorrow, they'll ban us from going to mosques," the local protester tells CNN. "We know, because that's what they did to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang." A last-ditch effort to protect deeply personal concepts of faith and identity from being defined by the Chinese state.



WATSON: But John, Hui Muslim activists tell us that, in that village of Najiaying, since the weekend, there are still residents that are maintaining a vigil at the entrance to their mosque to try to protect it. They say that the police have not tried to go back in since the clashes of the weekend.

They say that the Internet -- mobile Internet does appear to be restricted in that area. And there's also a very large presence of security forces in the village right now.

Now in 2015 John, there were tensions between the Chinese government and Turkey amid reports that China was cracking down on Ramadan practices for Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

And I was invited to a mosque in Beijing, a Hui Muslim mosque, to share in Iftar to see that, in fact, China was allowing Muslims to practice freely.

At that time, the Hui Muslim community was viewed as far more reliable, I think, than Uyghur Muslims, more assimilated with the Han Chinese ethnic minority in China.

So that's part of why this is so alarming to some people in China. And part of why we're hearing some Hui Muslim activists say, After the Uyghurs, it's us. We are the ones that are next for repression in China -- John.

VAUSE: Ivan, thank you. Ivan Watson there with a report there about the situation in China, the ethnic Muslims. We appreciate it. Thank you, Ivan.

Well, a capsized boat on an Italian lake has left four people dead and a mystery in its wake. Officials say all 21 passengers had current or former links to Italian and Israeli intelligence agencies. More now from CNN's Barbie Nadeau.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBIE LATZA NADEAU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A peaceful day on a picturesque Italian lake turns deadly. A deadly accident turns mysterious.

Four people were killed, including two Italian intelligence officers and a retired Israeli defense official, when a chartered house boat sank in a sudden storm on Lake Maggiore Sunday.

The captain said a waterspout appeared in a sudden storm. The Italian captain's Russia girlfriend also died.

The Gooduria boat was listed on a boat-chartering website for 2,000 euros a day, with an advertised maximum capacity of 15 passengers. But on the fatal Sunday, there were 21 passengers, plus two crew members on board.

All passengers, in some way tied to Italian and Israeli intelligence work, the prosecutor's office said.

The survivors said they were celebrating a birthday. Italians Tiziana Barnobi and Claudio Alonzi were active secret service agents, the Italian government confirmed.

The Israeli citizen Erez Shimoni was retired. Israel's prime minister's office called him a dear friend to the country's security forces.

The Italian prosecutor said passengers are not under investigation and would not comment on what they might have been doing on the boat.

The captain is under investigation for culpable manslaughter.

Efforts to salvage the boat are being closely watched by Italian security officials and should provide more clues to the mysterious Sunday outing turned deadly.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Thanks for watching. WORLD SPORT is up next, after a break.