Monthly Archives: August 2008

32 dead or missing after China quake: state media

BEIJING, Aug 31, 2008 (AFP) – At least 32 people were killed or reported missing and about 258,000 homes destroyed in a powerful earthquake in southwest China, state media said Sunday.

More than 460 people were injured in Saturday’s 6.1-magnitude earthquake, which rocked Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Ministry of Civil Affairs and local agencies.

Most of those killed were residents of Sichuan, which was devastated by a massive earthquake in May that left nearly 88,000 people dead or missing.

More than 700,000 people were affected by Saturday’s quake, Xinhua said.

“Some of the infrastructure in the quake zone was severely damaged,” it quoted the ministry as saying.

Rescue teams rushed to bring tents, food and water to those affected, as well as to help evacuate more than 40,000 people from the zone after up to 300 aftershocks rattled the area, Xinhua said.

One aftershock, which had a magnitude of 5.6, struck the area near the city of Panzhihua, the US Geological Survey said.

State television showed large swathes of collapsed homes in mountainous regions, with debris and mud spread over a wide area.

The government has initiated an emergency response, trucking in rescue workers including military, police and fire brigades, as rain hampered search efforts, it said.

Rescuers worked to dig out survivors throughout the day Sunday, with Xinhua reporting that firemen had successfully located and pulled out four people buried under a collapsed wall in a village in Huili county, outside Panzhihua.

Many dirt roads were blocked, with rescue teams having to clear debris to reach remote villages and assess damage.

Up to 10 reservoirs in the region were damaged, as were several major roads, rail links and power lines, Xinhua added.

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Kempen Seorang Sekampit Beras

Taman Saga, Ampang (29 Ogos 2008),Kempen Seorang Sekampit Beras telah berjalan selama 2 tahun setiap kali menjelangnya Ramadhan. Pada tahun ini, kempen penyerahan bahan mentah dimulakan dengan penyerahan oleh penduduk Taman Saga.Pada Jumaat yang lalu, seramai enam orang staf ABIM telah mengadakan pertemuan bersama penduduk Taman Saga Ampang di Dewan Masyarakat Taman Saga pada jam 8.00 malam. Pertemuan yang dianjurkan oleh seramai lebih kurang 30 orang penduduk Taman Saga yang kebanyakannya wanita ini bertujuan menjemput pihak ABIM memeriahkan majlis Tahlil dan doa selamat sempena Ramadhan dan seterusnya menyerahkan beberapa kampit beras dan bahan-bahan mentah sumbangan penduduk-penduduk Taman Saga.
Majlis dimulakan dengan bacaan Yaasin dan Tahlil diketuai oleh Puan Rokiah. Seterusnya jamuan makan dan sesi ramah mesra diantara staf dan penduduk. Akhir sekali, sesi penyerahan bahan-bahan mentah sumbangan penduduk Taman kepada pihak ABIM. Bahan-bahan mentah tersebut terdiri daripada beras, kicap, susu pekat, minyak masak, gula dan tepung gandum. Selain bahan mentah, pihak ABIM juga menerima sumbangan dalam bentuk wang sebanyak RM 385. Melalui Biro Pembangunan Sosial, ABIM mengucapkan jutaan terima kasih kepada penduduk Taman Saga yang telah menyumbang tenaga dalam menjayakan pertemuan ini. Diharap kerjasama dan hubungan yang terjalin ini dapat diteruskan di masa akan datang.

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United Nations provides humanitarian assistance to flood affected families

Kathmandu, 29 August 2008 – Heavy flooding by the Saptakoshi River in Sunsari and Saptari districts in Eastern Region continues to impact an increasing number of families who have been displaced and lost their lands and houses. The challenges to help the families will grow more in the coming weeks as the number of affected persons in need of assistance has grown to more than 70,000 in the past 10 days.

The United Nations (UN) in Nepal lauds the efforts made by the Government of Nepal, business community, civil society, NGOs and international community to provide humanitarian relief to the flood-affected families.

“The UN extends its heart felt sympathies to the affected families. I also want to pay tribute to the Government at the central and local level for its rapid response to manage and coordinate the relief effort. The UN and its humanitarian partners are ready to support these efforts with expertise and resources as needed” said Robert Piper, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nepal. He explained that several UN agencies have been on the ground involved and supporting relief activities from Day One.

The Humanitarian Coordinator also voiced concerns about reports that the aid operation has been hampered by insecurity, both in the affected area and further West where food convoys are being delayed by disruptions on the roads. “The movement of humanitarian personnel and goods should not be hampered in any way” added Mr. Piper, calling on all parties to respect humanitarian principles to ensure that relief reaches those who need it most. He also called on the authorities to ensure measures are taken to protect the displaced themselves, particularly women and children living in vulnerable camp conditions.

The United Nations and its NGO partners have deployed a range of resources to support the efforts of local Government to meet immediate needs. Coordinated by field staff of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based out of temporary Information Centres in Inaruwa and Rajbiraj:

– The World Food Programme (WFP) with financial support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), is providing an initial 15-day food basket consisting of rice, pulses, salt and vegetable oil to 50,000 flood victims and is putting in place food supplies for up to 30 days for families unable to return to their homes. – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FA0) has committed US$ 100,000 for fodder, feed and vaccination of flood affected animals, and for a rapid assessment of the needs for rehabilitation of agriculture.

– The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided water purifying products to meet the needs of 25,000 people for a month and hygiene kits for 50,000 people. Hand pumps, latrines and garbage facilities are being provided throughout the camps as well as private bathing spaces for women and girls. A nutritional response is being coordinated and 13,000 oral re-hydration salts have been provided for children suffering from diarrhea, while 8,000 family-size insecticide nets will be distributed. Protection and psycho-social support is being provided for vulnerable children and measures are being put in place to re-establish education.

– The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided Emergency Health Kits, to meet the needs of 40,000 people for 3 months, as well as supplies to assist with Malaria, Diarrhea and other emergency medicines for up to 50,000 cases

– The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has delivered Clean Health Delivery Kits, Hygiene kits and other supplies to meet the needs of some 3,000 people. UNFPA medical staff are also deployed in the District with a Mobile Reproductive Health Unit and have provided Reproductive Health Services to more than 12,000 people in temporary camps with their district partners

– The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided logistics support to the Ministry of Home Affairs to move relief items from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur. An IOM expert in camp management has also been deployed in the last 24 hours.

UN agencies are appealing for additional resources from donors to replace depleted stocks that had been pre-positioned in the region, to help sustain the ongoing humanitarian effort and to fund early recovery activities.

Further information including reports, maps and response matrices can be found at the Nepal Information Platform

For more information contact: Aditee Maskey, Coordination Officer, OCHA Nepal, +977 98510-72938

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PAKISTAN: Flour shortages cause despair ahead of Ramadan

Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
People like Zulquernain fear rising prices will deter customers who usually buy `roti’ (flat bread) in increased numbers during Ramadan

LAHORE, 28 August 2008 (IRIN) – Rubina Aslam, 30, cannot read or write. She has never been to school, but considers herself “fortunate to be married to a man who earns nearly 20,000 rupees (approx US$266) a month as a draughtsman”.

But now even this budget – generous by the standards of most households – is being stretched to the limit. The family is in debt to store owners from whom they have bought chicken, eggs, bread, lentils and other items.

“We owe over Rs 6,000 (about US$78) now and can’t afford to pay it back,” said Rubina. She also faces another issue. “Ramadan is approaching in a few days. Everyone expects a generous feast at Sehri [the pre-dawn meal that starts the fast] and at Iftar [when the fast ends at sunset], and I just do not know how to manage,” Rubina told IRIN.

Apart from her own three children and husband, Rubina must also provide meals for her parents-in-law and an unmarried brother-in-law who is a student.

“Consumption increases in most households during Ramadan. Everyone spends more,” says Umar Ilyas, 40, who owns a grocery store. “Many buy almost double the usual amount of rice and flour,” he said.

But this time round there is despair. Shortages of wheat flour, the staple for most families, have been reported even in Lahore. “Sometimes, even at the Sunday bazaars set up by the government to provide items at controlled rates to people, you have to stand for hours to buy a single 20kg bag of flour,” said Shakila Bibi, 35.

Fixed wheat prices – in theory

While the Punjab government has fixed the price at Rs 365 (about US$5) per 20kg, it is often almost impossible to buy it at this price, with many sellers asking Rs 450 (about US$6) per 20 kg.

Acknowledging the problem, the Punjab chief minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, has said: “`Atta’ [wheat flour] will be sold at a fixed price of Rs 300 (about $4) per 20kg bag in Ramadan.”

Food price inflation is running at over 20 percent, according to official statistics. In July, according to the Consumer Price Index produced by the central government’s Federal Bureau of Statistics, it soared to a record 33.81 percent, with vegetable prices rising by over 16 percent, tomato prices by over 100 percent and onions by over 15 percent.

“These items are basic. We cannot manage without them,” said Rubina.

Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
People like Zulquernain fear rising prices will deter customers who usually buy `roti’ (flat bread) in increased numbers during Ramadan

Wheat being smuggled out of Punjab Province

The flour issue has also triggered internal controversy. In Lahore on 27 August, the chairman of the Pakistan Flour Millers Association, Naeem Butt, addressing a conference called by millers, asked the Punjab government to “lift the illegal ban on inter-provincial movement of wheat” and fix a uniform price across the country.

The problem of wheat being smuggled out of the Punjab and sold in other provinces at higher rates is said to have contributed to shortages within the province.

The situation everywhere is grim. Muhammad Zulqernain, 24, who makes ‘rotis’ (flat bread) and fried ‘parathas’ (bread cooked in melted butter) to earn his living, says: “We usually do a roaring business in Ramadan. But now we are suffering losses because few can afford to buy one roti at Rs 7 [about nine US cents] a piece. It cost only Rs. 5 [6.5 US cents] a few months ago.”

Responding to the situation, the Karachi Stock Exchange has begun a free meal delivery scheme, feeding over 3,000 people a day, according to a press release it put out in July.

Last week a boy caught stealing two kilograms of flour told local newsmen he was compelled to steal because his mother and 10-year-old sister, who suffered from tuberculosis, had been without food for three days.

As Rubina Aslam says: “No one is doing anything for us, and we fear the time may come when we must remove our children from school if we are to eat.”

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UN Envoy Calls Attention to Somalia Humanitarian Crisis

28 August 2008

The U.N. Special Humanitarian Envoy appealed for increased attention to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, following a trip to the country. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, humanitarian agencies are warning of an alarming rise in the need for humanitarian assistance in Somalia.

The U.N. Special Humanitarian Envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban on Wednesday visited south-central Somalia, one of the areas worst affected by the humanitarian crisis, as well as a refugee camp on the Kenyan side of the border with Somalia

“What I saw is really a humanitarian crisis,” Arrukban said. “The little food that was available was extremely expensive. In the local markets, one egg costs around 5,000 Somali shillings, it is a five-times increase from the beginning of the year.”

His visit came as the Food Security Analysis Unit of Somalia, an organization managed the World Food Program, released new figures on the humanitarian situation in Somalia, which it calls one of the worst in the world.

The organization’s chief technical advisor, Cindy Holleman, described the situation.

“The scale and the magnitude and the speed at which the humanitarian crisis right now is deteriorating is very alarming and very profound,” Holleman said. “Just from the beginning of this year, the number of people in humanitarian crisis has increased 77 percent. That is going from 1.8 million people to more than 3.2 million people.

She said malnutrition rates are increasing across the country, even in the north, which has generally been less affected.

According to the group’s assessment, massive inflation has been a major driver of the crisis. Spurred on by excessive printing of new bills, food prices have increased by 700 percent in the past year. The problem is compounded by continued drought in the country.

Most importantly, Somalia, unlike many other countries coping with rising global food prices, also faces rampant insecurity. The conflict in Somalia has grown more severe in recent months, as a weak transitional government struggles to contain a growing Islamist-led insurgency.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, described the challenges of providing assistance in the country, and called on donor government to step up their support.

“The cost of doing work in Somalia is becoming higher and higher because of that. We have to invest, tragically, in the security of our staff and also the security of all humanitarian workers in there to be able to deliver more effectively. And this comes at a cost,” Bowden said. “And it is that cost which is rarely met by the donor community.”

Attacks on and abductions of aid workers have been a growing concern on the ground in Somalia, and delivery of aid by sea has been discouraged by growing piracy of the Somali coast.

In a rare piece of good news, the U.N. refugee agency announced that its top official in Somalia, Hassan Mohammed Ali, was released Wednesday. He was abducted near Mogadishu more than two months ago.


SHAHRUL PESHAWAR – World is more concentrating on Afghanistan & Iraq, media lens are all in that area.

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Afghanistan: Free Aafia Siddiqui’s 11-Year-Old Son

Child Is Too Young to Be Treated as Criminal Suspect

(New York, August 27, 2008) – The Afghan government should immediately relinquish 11-year-old Ahmed Siddiqui to the custody of his family, Human Rights Watch said today. Siddiqui, a US citizen, is believed to be the son of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman held on US federal charges in New York.

The two were reportedly arrested together in Afghanistan last month.  
According to an Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted in the Washington Post, Ahmed Siddiqui was held briefly by the Interior Ministry after the arrest, and then transferred to the custody of the Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS), the country’s intelligence agency. His current whereabouts are unknown. The NDS is notorious for its brutal treatment of detainees.  
“Under Afghan and international law, Ahmed Siddiqui is too young to be treated as a criminal suspect,” said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. “He should never have been transferred to the custody of Afghanistan’s abusive intelligence agency.”  
Afghan police reportedly arrested Aafia Siddiqui and her son in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 17, 2008. US federal prosecutors allege that the day after her arrest, while in Afghan custody, she grabbed a gun from the floor and fired it at a team of US soldiers and federal intelligence agents. In August, she was charged with assaulting and trying to kill US officials.  
In a letter sent recently to Aafia Siddiqui’s family, US prosecutors said photos and DNA tests strongly suggested that the boy arrested with Siddiqui was her son Ahmed.  
The federal complaint against Aafia Siddiqui states that the Afghan police officers who arrested her found suspicious items in her handbag, including “documents describing the creation of explosives, chemical weapons, and other weapons involving biological material and radiological agents.” Siddiqui’s lawyers reject the official account, suggesting that the charges against Siddiqui are a sham.  
Whether or not his mother is implicated in criminal acts, Ahmed Siddiqui should not be held responsible. Under both Afghan and international law, he is too young to be considered criminally responsible for his mother’s alleged acts.  
According to Afghanistan’s Juvenile Code, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 13.  
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Afghanistan is a party, defines a child as any person under the age of 18. In its General Comment on Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice of February 9, 2007, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors states’ compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, explicitly stated that a minimum age of criminal responsibility below age 12 “is considered by the Committee not to be internationally acceptable.”  
Human Rights Watch said that Ahmed Siddiqui should be released to his biological family members, who reside in Pakistan, or to a child welfare organization that can provide proper care until he is reunited with his family.  
Human Rights Watch expressed concern not only for Ahmed Siddiqui, but also for two siblings, Mariam, age 10, and Suleman, age 5, who have been missing since March 2003.  
Siddiqui, along with her three children (then aged 6 years, 5 years and 6 months), was reportedly apprehended in Karachi, Pakistan on March 28, 2003. Ten days earlier, on March 18, 2003, the FBI had issued an alert requesting information about Siddiqui in an effort to locate and question her.  
The US government has alleged that Siddiqui is linked to al Qaeda suspects Majid Khan and Ali ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Ali (also known as Ammar al-Baluchi), who were both arrested in early 2003 and held for years in secret prisons operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A number of reports alleged that Siddiqui had been handed over to US custody after her March 2003 disappearance, raising concerns that she, too, was in secret CIA custody.  
Yet on May 26, 2004, then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III identified Siddiqui as someone who posed a threat to the United States, suggesting that she was not in custody. For more than five years, until Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, her whereabouts were unknown.  
Since Siddiqui’s reappearance this summer, the CIA and the US Department of Justice have denied that the United States had held Siddiqui or her children during the period of her disappearance, calling her a “fugitive from American justice.” Her family claims that Siddiqui and her children were held in secret US detention during at least part of that period.  


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U.S. Contractors Shouldn’t Face Iraqi Courts


Nearly a year after the tragic shooting of 17 Iraqis by Blackwater security contractors, the Department of Justice is close to indicting six of the guards involved in the horrific events. This is a long overdue step toward holding contractors legally responsible for their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this positive move risks being overshadowed by a more destabilizing development: the apparent agreement, as part of U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement negotiations, to revoke the immunity from Iraqi law that private security contractors have enjoyed since 2003. This decision could place diplomats, Iraqi civilians and PSCs at greater risk, and undermine the U.S. mission in Iraq. More must be done to hold security contractors accountable for their actions — but this is not the way to do it.

The U.S. dependence on PSCs is well-known; Gen. David Petraeus testified recently that he could not complete his mission in Iraq without them. Even Sen. Barack Obama had to rely on Blackwater guards during his recent trip to Afghanistan.

Though PSCs have generally performed admirably, legal or even contractual accountability for contractors has been scandalously deficient. Under Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17, PSCs in Iraq were made largely immune from Iraqi law. The Pentagon and Justice Department abdicated responsibility as well; only a handful of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have ever been prosecuted for criminal acts.

However, placing contractors at the mercy of an underdeveloped Iraqi legal system is not a solution. Greater liability for PSCs will also bring a higher price tag. Furthermore, PSC ranks will become deprofessionalized, as many of the most experienced contractors may decide that the risks of being thrown in an Iraqi prison are not worth a paycheck.

A greater risk, however, will be the resulting reliance on third-country or local-country nationals, who often lack proper experience and training. In Afghanistan, a Canadian solder was recently killed by an Afghan PSC. The Canadian Press wire service described the low standards for local contractors: “They are often a ragtag band of locally hired guns. Many are known to have a drug problem. The vast majority of them are illiterate and slap on a uniform after receiving what can only charitably be described as cursory instruction in military tactics and the handling of an assault rifle. In Afghanistan, they are called private security contractors.”

Even with a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, American diplomats will need protective security for the foreseeable future — a capability that currently does not exist in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

There are better ways to ensure accountability. In 2006, Congress extended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to cover Pentagon contractors. Legislation in Congress now would place State Department contractors under the jurisdiction of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. The bill, which would also create an office of enforcement in the FBI to investigate alleged contractor offences, is opposed by the Bush administration. But its eventual enactment would go a long way toward clearing up much of the legal confusion surrounding contractors.

More steps should be taken, including the establishment of an extraterritorial U.S. attorney to prosecute potential criminal violations. We need improved vetting, training standards and third-party certification for PSCs. Finally, the Departments of State and Defense should consider developing their own capability for providing personal security, rather than relying so heavily on the private sector.

What has been sorely lacking on the contractor front is the political will to prosecute criminal offences. That is why Congress and the Iraqi Government have been demanding action — and the recent announcement of possible indictments is such an important and long overdue development.

Unfortunately, at the exact moment that contractor-related accountability issues are being taken more seriously, the Bush administration is negotiating an agreement with the Iraqi government that would weaken protections for PSCs, and risk undermining the professionalization of the private contractors protecting U.S. diplomats.

Mr. Cohen and Ms. Küpçü are senior research fellows at the New America Foundation.

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