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Archive for June, 2012

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says the government is cracking down on alleged mercenaries

Posted by African Press International on June 30, 2012

Photo: IRIN
Securing the 700-km border with Cote d’Ivoire is a challenge for UNMIL troops (file photo)

MONROVIA, – More than a year after the end of the conflict in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, the Liberian government has pledged to deal once and for all with longstanding complaints of its nationals being party to military operations and serious human rights violations on the other side of its western border.

By sending troops from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to Grand Gedeh County in eastern Liberia, helping to extradite alleged Ivorian militia fighters, temporarily closing the border, and pledging tighter surveillance of Ivoirian refugees as well as greater cross-border cooperation, the government of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has sought to show it is serious about tackling a now acknowledged mercenary problem in Liberia’s territory.

Critics have accused the Liberian authorities of tailoring their security policy to the needs of Côte d’Ivoire, at the expense of needlessly opening old wounds from Liberia’s civil wars (1989-1996 and 1999-2003).

Thomas Nimely, former head of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), one of the main rebel movements in the war against former President Charles Taylor, and long-based in Grand Gedeh, told Voice of America that: “If Ivory Coast wants peace, they should look for their own peace”, adding that Liberians in the border regions should not suffer as a result.

Changing tack on mercenaries

Liberia initially appeared to make light of a damning report on 6 June by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Liberia: Ivorian Government Foes Wage, Plot Attacks.

Accused by HRW of “having its head in the sand in responding to the flood of war criminals who crossed into the country at the end of the Ivorian crisis”, the government suggested the report had seriously overstated the extent of Liberian involvement.

That position changed when unidentified militia fighters near Tai in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire killed seven Nigerien peacekeepers and at least 10 civilians on 8 June, and pushed border security issues sharply into focus.

Linking with Abidjan on security

Senior Liberian officials joined their Ivorian counterparts, representatives of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), for a meeting in the Ivoirian commercial capital, Abidjan on 13 June. It ended with a joint communiqué offering to stabilize territory on both sides of the border, improve information exchange; tighten extradition procedures and consult more with community leaders.

The following day Liberia’s Information Minister, Lewis Brown, invited 10 “persons of interest” to turn themselves in to the authorities, implying they had been involved in mercenary activities.

Liberia delivered on its pledge to hold an extradition hearing for 41 Ivorian nationals in Zwedru, the capital of Grand Gedeh, and ensured their passage into Côte d’Ivoire on 23 June. The Liberian government has also reportedly suspended alluvial gold mining in Grand Gedeh, in which former Liberian combatants from a variety of factions actively participate.

Shamed into action

The mercenary issue has long been a source of embarrassment to the Liberian government. President Johnson-Sirleaf issued periodic warnings during the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire that Liberians should not get involved.

Liberia has been praised for its efforts to deal with an influx of over 200,000 Ivoirian refugees, but has also faced accusations of negligence and incompetence for failing to stop a steady flow of battle-hardened fighters into Ivorian territory.

High-profile mass arrests have sometimes been followed by the discreet release of those taken into custody.

A border beyond control

Even with the presence and active support of UNMIL, the Liberian authorities have difficulty policing a porous 700km frontier with Côte d’Ivoire, much of which runs through dense forest. The thinly scattered checkpoints and border controls are outnumbered by dozens of informal crossings.

Cross-border ethno-linguistic ties remain strong, particularly between Ivorian Yacouba and Liberian Gio in Liberia’s Nimba County, and Ivoirian Guéré and Liberian Krahn in Grand Gedeh.

Relief agencies and refugees confirm that the strong affinity between host communities and incomers was crucial in helping Ivorian refugees settle, particularly in Nimba. But the Krahn-Guéré connection has featured prominently in reports of mercenary recruitment and the alliances between Ivorian forces still loyal to ousted president Laurent Gbagbo and Liberian fighters.

Liberians at large

The UN Panel of Experts on Liberia believes at least 300 Liberians, mainly from Nimba, fought on the side of the Forces Républicains de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), backing current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

But many more, particularly Krahn, were allied to the Forces Armées Nationales de Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI), fighting for ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, and were particularly active in western Côte d’Ivoire, where pro-Gbagbo militias had longstanding ties with Liberian combatants.

In a report submitted to the UN Security Council in November 2011, the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia documented not only the direct involvement of Liberian fighters in some of the worst atrocities in the later stages of the Ivorian crisis, but also their predictably messy exodus from Ivorian territory in the wake of Gbagbo’s overthrow. The report made clear the inability of a weakened Liberian judicial and security system to track, try and detain combatants.

HRW has welcomed Liberia’s public commitment to resolving its mercenary problem. Matt Wells HRW’s West Africa researcher, noted that: “the Liberian government has taken important steps, making it clear that those responsible for devastating attacks on Ivorian border residents and the deaths of peacekeepers will be held accountable”. But they have caveats too about the role of the AFL, the revived national army, which has some experienced commanders, but inexpert personnel.

Anti-Krahn backlash?

The Krahn are the dominant ethnic group in Grand Gedeh. Former President Samuel Doe was born in Tuzon, about 10km from Zwedru. During his 10 years in power (1980-1990), the Krahn held dominant positions in government and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Later, as the struggle to oust Charles Taylor intensified, the rebel Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) drew heavily on a Krahn support base in eastern Liberia, while also receiving support from Côte d’Ivoire.

MODEL is now defunct, but former senior commanders from its ranks were on the government’s “wanted” list of 10 alleged mercenaries, including Isaac Sayou Chebgo (also known as ‘Bob Marley’), Amos Cheyee, Bobby Sharpee and Nehzee Barway.

MODEL’s former leader, Thomas Yaya Nimely, who served as foreign minister in the Transitional Government of Gyude Bryant in Liberia, warned against state harassment of former MODEL personnel, alleging that his own farm in Grand Gedeh has frequently been put under surveillance by security operatives. In a recent interview on the Voice of America (VOA) radio station, Nimely confirmed that the government had invited him to Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to talk about the situation in his home area in eastern Liberia, while hinting that the government’s approach had been too heavy-handed.

Photo: UN Photo/Erin Siegal
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says the government is cracking down on alleged mercenaries (file photo)

Parliamentarians from Grand Gedeh have echoed Nimely’s criticisms, and have been rebuked in turn by national ministers and sections of the media, accused of raising ethnicity as an issue. But Alex Chersia Grant, who represents District Three of Grand Gedeh County, on the Ivorian border, said the government had blundered in issuing its “wanted” list. “Eight out of 10 names on that list are Grand Gedeans,” Grant told IRIN. “I know some of them personally. One man who gave himself up has been around here in Monrovia, struggling to maintain his livelihood.”

Grant said concrete evidence of Liberian involvement in recent violence in western Côte d’Ivoire, notably the killings near Tai, had yet to be provided. He stressed the complexities of the fall-out from the Ivorian conflict, the dangers of false information circulating, and the need for government leaders to do more consultation before springing into action. “This whole thing [cross-border militia action] requires proper investigation before action can be taken,” Grant said.

The MP said he had fielded numerous phone calls from concerned constituents in Grand Gedeh, who were worried about the government troop deployment. While acknowledging that tensions appeared to have eased, Grant urged the Armed Forces of Liberia to tread carefully, hinting that a strong-armed deployment would antagonize a population with bad memories of past conflicts. “Some of our political leaders have short memories”, Grant warned. “We should be careful how to respond to little things so they don’t escalate into bigger things.”

The same grievances have been taken up in the diaspora, notably by the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas (GGAA). In a statement issued on 22 June they strongly questioned the government’s “wanted” list of 10, saying, “We are troubled by the level of intimidation directed at peaceful citizens within Grand Gedeh County by overzealous Government security forces and functionaries, in the form and manner that are designed to install fear and apprehension among the population”.

Among the concerns raised by Grant and others is Liberia aligning itself so clearly with Côte d’Ivoire’s president Ouattara when many in western Côte d’Ivoire, particularly in the Guéré community, have bitter memories of atrocities allegedly committed by the FRCI (Forces Républicains de Côte d’Ivoire) towards the end of the Ivorian conflict. Interviewed in the French weekly, L’Express, senior FRCI commander Losséni Fofana was quick to blame Liberians for the attack near Tai, adding that his soldiers should be given the right to cross into Liberia in pursuit operations, “but we are waiting for the politicians to decide”.

Mats Utas, Associate Professor in Cultural Anthropology at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, has researched command structures among Liberian former combatants and their role in the artisanal mining sector in Grand Gedeh. [ ] Writing weeks before the June attacks, Utas noted that the presence of training camps in Grand Gedeh was “highly unlikely”, and that cross-border attacks, while part of the local reality, were “extremely rare and… appear in isolation”.

In a phone interview with IRIN, Utas said it was important to differentiate between small-scale operations by Liberians and the more significant attacks inside Ivorian territory. He warned of the likelihood of tougher treatment of Ivorian refugees by the Liberian security forces, but also stressed the dangers of the military antagonizing sections of the Liberian population. “Grand Gedeans already have this sense of abandonment, of things being mishandled by Monrovia, and this is not going to help.”



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Rescuing Ugandan women: Hundreds of women are allegedly trafficked into forced sex work every year

Posted by African Press International on June 30, 2012

Hundreds of women are allegedly trafficked into forced sex work every year (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Uganda set up a national human trafficking task force in April, but a national action plan to combat trafficking – originally due in June – could be delayed for months as officials take stock of existing and fragmented law enforcement efforts.

Minister of State for Internal Affairs James Baba, who set up the task force, highlighted the importance of improved coordination.

“Traffickers have often taken advantage of this fragmentation of interventions and uncoordinated responses and have exploited the vulnerabilities of the very people we seek to protect,” he said in his speech to officially commission the task force.

A government inventory showed that everyone working on the issue – from Interpol to immigration – is understaffed, underfunded, and operating ad hoc, essentially lacking the very coordination the task force was put in place to address.

The TIP office itself is currently operating out of an existing immigration office, with only four permanent staff and is yet to confirm its own budget.

A report by Uganda’s honorary consul in Kuala Lumpur in February said more than 600 Ugandan women were trapped in Malaysia’s sex industry, the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs has begun to implement the requirements under its 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) legislation.

Meanwhile, Umar Mutuya, deputy Special Investigation Unit (SIU) commandant and officer-in-charge of its TIP desk, said his officers could not get ahead of traffickers as things stand. “It is so rampant,” he said. “Unless someone makes a complaint we won’t follow it because we are overwhelmed already.”

According to the US State Department, which publishes an annual global trafficking report, Uganda remains in a middle-tier ranking.

US report’s criticisms

The report highlighted the lack of prosecution as a major barrier to progress in Uganda. Although officials identified five trafficking cases in the past year, and prosecuted three, it is yet to convict anyone under its trafficking legislation.

In mid-June, police said a suspected human trafficker was released from a magistrate’s court in Kampala on 600,000 Ugandan shillings (about US$240) bail despite an investigation which suggested he exploited more than 50 people through a front company that also acted as an illegitimate labour recruitment agency.

“Some of these courts don’t give us time,” said Mutuya. “We know he is involved – we have cases of people he had trafficked who are coming out now.”

The US report also singled out the one-person External Employment Unit (EEU) – the Labour Ministry’s arm in charge of the country’s 22 recruitment agencies – as lacking both the financial and human resources to adequately monitor their activities.

Following accusations of women ending up in domestic slavery in Iraq thanks to contracts by Ugandan labour recruitment agencies, the EEU put in place a policy prohibiting any Ugandan from being sent abroad to do domestic work. EEU travelled to Iraq in 2010 to investigate the slavery claims, but admits to not being able to get a full picture.

In the past year, the US TIP report said, Ugandan trafficking victims were reported in the UK, Denmark, Iraq, South Sudan, Kenya, China, Thailand and Malaysia. In addition, Interpol reported Ugandan women trafficked to India, Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

''[Human trafficking] is so rampant. Unless someone makes a complaint we won’t follow it because we are overwhelmed already''


Meanwhile, the task force says action is being taken: Since the task force’s inauguration, more than 50 victims have been repatriated or prevented from being trafficked, according to Eunice Kisembo, the taskforce chair, who oversees the range of ministries involved.

She said under their watch, SIU had been given three more officers to handle complaints, police are keeping better records, and airport security has become much more stringent. According to Kisembo, last week eight young women were prevented from being trafficked into domestic slavery in Egypt thanks to the vigilance of border officials.

A parliamentary committee which visited Malaysia in March recently released a report detailing at least 13 Ugandan women languishing in prisons there. The MPs called for a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking.

“Trafficking will only continue if the public isn’t aware,” said Dorah Mafabi, Uganda programme manager of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, who coordinates civil society partners working on the issue.

She called on the government to fund a campaign modelled on those designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s.


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Offerjng informal teaching to orphans and vulnerable children

Posted by African Press International on June 30, 2012

A Swazi teacher offers informal teaching to orphans and vulnerable children

MBABANE, – A strike called by Swaziland’s largest teachers’ union demanding a below-inflation salary increase is beginning to spread across the country – after the government refused to entertain any wage demands – and has led to sporadic clashes and arrests.

“There is no money to pay teachers a 4.5 percent increment. They have been told this again and again,” Education Minister Wilson Ntshangase told the media. Inflation is currently running at about 9 percent.

Strikes by the 9,000-strong Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) began on 25 June 2012. Government spokesman Percy Simelane says all teachers who take part in the strike will be fired; he has called the teachers “delinquents and criminals”.

On 28 June public transport was also hit after the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers Union (STAWU) joined the strike. The government has applied to the industrial court for a 30-day detention order for the SNAT leadership.

“As expected, a court order was sought [by the government] to declare the strike illegal and was granted by a government-appointed judge, but because this happens whenever a strike is called in Swaziland the aggrieved parties take to the streets anyway. But it gives the security forces a green light to attack us,” Amos Dlamini, a striking teacher from the Manzini region, told IRIN.

“That [firing teachers] would certainly cut down on government’s wage bill, because a majority of teachers will be dismissed. But it shows government sees education as a political battleground, not as a national crisis that needs attention. As an African teacher I wonder why I am not respected. Why do some African leaders give lip service to the importance of education but do so little in terms of policy and expenditures?” a striking teacher in the second city of Manzini, who declined to be named, told IRIN.

SNAT has members in primary and secondary schools, and also in some tertiary institutions. According to the union, 30-50 percent of Swaziland’s 153 primary and 172 secondary schools have so far been affected by industrial action. The government has ordered school principals to keep the doors open, but in the absence of teachers, lessons have been disrupted and in some urban areas there have been incidents of students joining their teachers in street protests.

''It is unusual for whole schools to empty and children taking to the streets like this''

“It is unusual for whole schools to empty and children taking to the streets like this. I’ve never seen anything like this that is so widespread. This is not the Swazi [practice] to be confrontational or disrespectful to police and authority, and you can see these children are very frustrated and angry,” Felicia Simelane, a seamstress whose shop provided a bird’s eye view of a confrontation between police, students and teachers in Manzini, told IRIN.

The average monthly wage (before tax) for a primary school teacher is about US$470 and $700 for a secondary school teacher.


Several students in Manzini and three teachers in the capital Mbabane were arrested on 26 June 2012 for allegedly throwing stones at riot police, who have so far responded with tear gas and warning shots, according to police spokesperson Superintendent Wendy Hleta. A further 25 teachers were arrested on 27 June 2012 on their way to peri-urban schools to encourage teachers in those areas to observe the strike, according to the union.

“We are tired of going to school where there is no water for the toilets, no electricity and food that makes you sick to your stomach. The teachers are abused because they are paid peanuts. We know where the money goes in Swaziland. We know who has it,” Nhlanhla Mkhonta, a secondary school student in Manzini, told IRIN.

King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has increasingly been criticised for his and the royal household’s spending habits.

A teacher, who declined to be named, told IRIN: “These children are not revolutionaries, they are just Swazis who feel Swaziland should belong to all Swazis and the resources of the country should be used for everyone. As a teacher it breaks my heart… These children are suffering because they don’t have a functioning science lab or even a decent soccer pitch.”

A significant drop in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union in the wake of the global economic slowdown helped precipitate a financial meltdown in Swaziland. A key IMF recommendation was that Swaziland’s public sector workforce be trimmed by 10 percent. But with private sector unemployment estimated at more than 40 percent, analysts say the government fears large-scale public sector retrenchments would spark unrest.



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Laila lives in Amman but her children do not go to school

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Laila lives in Amman but her children do not go to school (file photo)

AMMAN,  – Ten years ago Laila* got married to a man from her hometown of Dera’a in Syria, expecting a happy life. She never imagined that one day she would leave him behind fighting Syrian regime forces, and flee to Jordan with four children. Two months ago, Leila fled Dera’a, after the area became a war zone following a March 2011 uprising against the government of President Bashar Al Assad.

Many others’ wives left their homes after receiving threats allegedly made by the Syrian regime to rebel fighters. Now living in Amman, Jordan, Laila talked to IRIN about her plight:

“I did not really want to leave. But my husband insisted I should. I tried my best to stay near him so I moved to Karak [a neighbouring village], but unfortunately it was not much safer than Musaiferah. People urged me to leave Syria and I did.

“My husband put me and the children on a truck along with other women – all rebels’ wives. I feared that could be the last time I would see him.

“I had to be smuggled into to Jordan, because I do not have papers. My passport is expired and there was no way of renewing it. Syrian rebels drove us as close as possible. Then, a long, harsh trip began. We had to walk for two hours before we reached the Jordanian border. It was awful. We were about five women – we had youths (men) walking with us, but we had so many children.

“Can you imagine walking that long on your feet with children who need to drink and sit down. I felt so humiliated when I fell over the wall and men had to pick me up.

“We were carrying nothing but our clothes. Why bother to carry things like that when you could not carry people with you. My husband and two of my brothers are still there fighting.

“When we finally made it to the border, we were surprised to be treated well. The Gendarmerie opened a prayer rug for us to pray. We are happy to see that people are allowed to mention Allah.

“Our experience at the holding centres is another story. We stayed there for eight days. We were lucky to have found a shelter and sleep after months of violence and bloodshed in Syria, but it was very hard. We were more than 30 people staying in the same room. We cooked inside as well. They put the men downstairs and left the women and children upstairs to give us some privacy.

“Now, I am living in east Amman in a two-bedroom flat which costs me JD 160 (US$225) per month. It is so expensive here. But it is sheltering me, my children, my mother, my mother in-law, and two [women] with eight children. I never imagined that one day I would be living like this.

“I have four children who should be going to school, but I do not want to send them. I am afraid to leave them at home alone. I have been here for two months, but I have been afraid to go and ask for help.

“I wake up every day talking to God. I never imagined that my peaceful home town would become a battlefield where Syrians kill each other like that. I ask Him if one day I would see my husband and brothers again and if my children would ever go back to school.

*Not her real name

aa/eo/cb source

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Norway to provide NOK 850 million for green energy cooperation in Africa

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Norway to provide NOK 850 million for green energy cooperation in Africa

Norway is entering into agreements on energy cooperation amounting to NOK 850 million with Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.

The agreements were signed by Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås and ministers from the three countries concerned at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development  in Rio de Janeiro this week. The objective is to make more clean and efficient energy available, in line with one of the main themes of the conference. More energy needs to be provided to promote development in poor countries, but producing and using energy often causes substantial emissions of greenhouse gases.

“The cooperation with Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia will give ordinary people new development opportunities and help to improve public health. At the same time we can avoid increased emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås.

The agreements make available NOK 500 million to Ethiopia, NOK 250 million to Kenya and NOK 100 million to Liberia over the next five years. This is performance-based financing, which means that most of the money will be disbursed in step with results achieved, such as providing more people with access to energy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Norway is also using aid funds to facilitate private-sector investments.

The cooperation with Ethiopia will encompass energy, forests and agriculture, with the main focus to begin with on projects in rural communities. In Kenya paraffin lamps are to be replaced by lighting from solar power or other forms of renewable energy. In addition, millions of new cooking stoves will improve air quality and energy efficiency in people’s homes. Liberia is building up its energy sector after the civil war. Norway will help to get the damaged hydropower station Mount Coffee running again. The power station will provide 64 megawatts of green electricity when the work is completed. That is enough to supply the whole capital, Monrovia.

“Diesel and oil are expensive and they are not very climate-friendly. Giving priority to renewable energy sources and to greater energy efficiency in these countries will help to ensure a reliable and secure supply of energy, more jobs, better health, greater business opportunities and increased economic growth,” Mr Holmås said.

Norway’s Energy+ initiative was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in October last year. It has over 40 international partners. The Energy+ initiative builds on Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative>.

The following countries and organisations are partners in the Energy+ initiative:

·         Developing countries: Kenya, Bhutan, Liberia, Ethiopia, the Maldives, Senegal, Morocco, Tanzania, Nepal, Mali, Grenada and Mozambique.

·         Developed countries: The UK, France, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Iceland and Norway.

·         International financial institutions: The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

·         The UN: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

·         International organisations: The International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP), the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.

·         Business community: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

·         Foundations: The United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the Clinton Foundation.

·         Think tanks: Centre for Clean Air Policy (CCAP).

·         Civil society: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Friends of the Earth Norway, Practical Action UK, World Future Council and Bellona.




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The Syrian-Lebanon crisis

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012

Jebel Mohsen is home to the Shia Alawi community, who are skeptical of the army’s ability to ensure their security

TRIPOLI, LEBANON,  – For more than a generation, the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli has been a divided city, home to most of Lebanon’s Shia Alawi community, but also a stronghold of Sunni conservatism.

The two sects, in their respective neighbourhoods of Jebel Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, have been at odds since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, with hundreds dying in the worst bloodshed in 1986. The road separating the two entrenched factions – appropriately called Syria Street – is the only demarcation line that still exists in Lebanon 22 years after the war ended.

In recent months, the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has renewed and increased those tensions between Shia Alawis generally supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni sympathizers of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the opposition.

More than 30 Lebanese from both sides have been killed in fighting between the two communities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. While a fragile ceasefire in Tripoli – agreed in early June – seems to be generally holding, sporadic clashes happen on a daily basis and it is common to see civilians carrying weapons.

While there are clear risks of Lebanon being caught up in the Syrian conflict, the reverse is also true: Syrian antagonists are equally in danger of being dragged into age-old Lebanese sectarianism.

The Syrian conflict has already killed at least 10,000, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and displaced as many as 500,000 people inside the country, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and another 86,000 are registered refugees in neighbouring countries. Basic services are not running properly, and the economy has been hard hit, not only by the conflict, but by far-reaching economic sanctions, pushing up unemployment and the price of food. Lebanon, which has already suffered decades of war, is rife with poverty and political instability. Both countries have much to lose.

Socio-economic factors and politics

Sectarianism and political antagonism in Tripoli have already had very real consequences for ordinary people on both sides.

Mahmud, a local vendor in the alleyways of Tripoli’s market, points to the Alawi-owned shop next door, recently set on fire.
“The owner of this burnt shop paid the price of feuds between rogues,” he explains.
“If these unbelievers want Bashar al-Assad, they can go to Syria,” bursts out Omar, a long-bearded youngster, when asked about the shop. The risks for civilians here are large, with some Sunnis openly admitting that Alawi civilians could be further targeted.
“Now they don’t dare to leave their mountain, we would beat them again,” boasts Faysal, a talkative shopkeeper in Tripoli’s market, who praises his cousin fighting in Bab al-Tabbaneh. “Those Alawis who are still in the city centre are Syrian workers, not Lebanese,” he continues. “No one would harm them. But in case of a civil war, they will be killed, because wars know no ethical rules.”

If history is anything to go by, those made destitute by the clashes are more likely to be dragged into violence. As the International Crisis Group put it in a briefing in October 2010, for many Sunni youngsters in Bab-Tebbaneh, joining one of the many Islamist groups which have spread relatively freely since Syria’s military withdrawal provides an attractive alternative to idleness and social failure.”

Lebanese politicians have been accused of exploiting the frustration of these poor neighbourhoods, supplying them with weapons.

''The first interest of the Syrian regime is distracting the attention of the media from what’s going on in Syria. Secondly, Bashar wants to pressure the international community by saying he’s capable of causing a civil war in Lebanon''

“External actors transferred their conflicts there [in Tripoli], backing local fighters in a struggle that was less costly, and more easily managed, than would be open warfare in the capital…, just as… local fighters use their struggles… to attract important outside support,” the 2010 Crisis Group briefing said.

Distrust in Lebanese army, intelligence
An enormous banner hanging in one of Tripoli’s main squares, al-Tell, reads: “In defence of the security and stability of Tripoli”. The whole city is plastered with these kinds of slogans. But behind the confident veneer, some residents are skeptical of the army’s ability to maintain the peace.
From behind a small stand on a street corner, a coffee vendor named Khaled says he doesn’t have much faith in the military.
“What do you want them to do? They stand aside!” he says laughing.

Weapons and Koranic commentaries pack the living room in the flat of Sheikh Bilal al-Masri, a Sunni leader fighting on Bab al-Tabbaneh’s front line. He says the army – which usually limits itself to standing between both sides – started doing its job when, on one occasion recently, it responded to gunfire coming from Alawi-majority Jebel Mohsen. But he stresses that the military remains divided by political rivalries.

Residents of Jebel Mohsen are also skeptical of the army’s ability to ensure their security.

“To us, [weapons] are more important than food,” Rifa’at ‘Eid, head of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party (ADP), told the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. “We have confidence in the army, but it cannot ensure our safety under certain conditions.”

The Lebanese army is generally considered a “spectator” in armed clashes, because party militias such as Hezbollah are much better equipped, and because Lebanese politics are so divided. Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s current government, as well as the Military Intelligence (mukhabarat al-jaysh) and the General Security (al-amn al-‘aam) are believed to be aligned with Damascus, whereas the Internal Security Forces (quwwat al-amn al-dakhili) and its Information Branch (far’ al-ma’lumat) are closer to the opposition Saudi-backed 14 March coalition, analysts say.

Syrian opposition and Lebanese Sunnis: between sympathy and military alliance

In Tripoli’s government hospital, the tension is palpable. A nurse at the hospital showed IRIN bullet holes on the wall of one of the rooms overlooking Jebel Mohsen, suggesting the targets were the Sunni Syrian patients. The latter do not dare poke their heads out the window, for fear of being shot. The 50 Syrians in the hospital claim to be civilians, but the line between the armed opposition and the peace demonstrators is increasingly blurred.

Still, Tripoli remains one of the safest destinations in Lebanon for mostly Sunni Syrian refugees, due to the Sunni support for the uprising; and Lebanon has been a transit route for relief supplies into Syria. But analysts are increasingly questioning whether the ties between Lebanese and Syrian Sunnis go beyond mutual sympathy to military cooperation.

Photo: Anja Pietsch/IRIN
Burnt shop in Tripoli. The Lebanese economy has been hit hard by conflict

Samir*, a 23-old Syrian from Homs, now a member of a Syrian grouping of humanitarian and civil society organizations in Lebanon called Watan (Homeland), says there are clear boundaries to his involvement in the Bab al-Tabbaneh-Jebel Mohsen clashes: “If a Lebanese civil war breaks out, we will leave. We’re not here to export our revolution. We need Lebanon as a basis for our activities.”
Walid*, 27, who works for another humanitarian group, the Coordination Committees for Syrian Refugees’ Affairs in Lebanon, holds different views on the relations between Syrians and Bab al-Tabbaneh: “I wanted to volunteer as a fighter in Bab al-Tabbaneh, but they rejected me.
“I wanted to do it, because the Alawis from Jebel Mohsen were involved in killing demonstrators in my city, Homs,” explains Walid. “They came to support Alawis in Homs and slaughtered our people.”

Al-Masri, the Sunni leader, confirmed having turned away Syrian volunteers. But he says the links between pro-Syrian government forces on both sides of the border are stronger. He says Lebanese Alawis are supplied with weapons and supported on the ground by Syrian and Hezbollah officers.
Pro-Syria media give a different view of the situation, with an article in pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar accusing Riyadh al-Asaad, commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, of visiting Tripoli to survey the territory, looking for an “ideal buffer zone”.

Al-Masri denies both the existence of a 300-man Lebanese-Sunni unit within the FSA in Syria (as recently reported by Nicholas Blanford, Middle East analyst and author) and the presence of FSA camps in Lebanon. “We sent our men to Syria and they were rejected. They told us: ‘We don’t need you, but give us weapons, if it’s possible’.” He does admit to smuggling weapons and food to the FSA across the Lebanese border, by bribing Syrian officials.
Both the FSA and the pro-Syrian alignment led by Hezbollah have their reasons to deny having trespassed national borders. The first fears being blamed for igniting the existing tensions within Lebanon; the latter wants to prevent a new explosion of Sunni resentment. In a nutshell, no one wants to be blamed for a new Lebanese civil war.

But in the absence of a quick settlement with Jebel Mohsen, tensions in both countries are becoming increasingly intertwined, with analysts predicting that Lebanese Sunnis will eventually make use of their brethren across the border to fight their domestic enemies, namely Hezbollah. Already, tit-for-tat kidnappings have blurred the lines between the two conflicts, with Syrian Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Shias; Syrian officers involved in kidnapping Lebanese Sunnis; and Lebanese Sunnis involved in kidnapping Lebanese Alawis.
Who benefits from the clashes?
Analysts say both sides in Lebanon have something to gain from the clashes.
The anti-Syrian Future Movement (FM), headed by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri, forced out of office in January 2011, has used the clashes as an opportunity to call for the current Prime Minister’s resignation, arguing he has not been able to ensure Tripoli’s security.

But in the eyes of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters, as well as many analysts, the Syrian government has more to gain.
“The first interest of the Syrian regime is distracting the attention of the media from what’s going on in Syria,” al-Masri says. “Secondly, Bashar wants to pressure the international community by saying he’s capable of causing a civil war in Lebanon.”
Both Bab al-Tabbaneh’s fighters and ADP’s spokespersons told the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star that Hezbollah is supplying weapons to both Alawis and Sunnis in Tripoli, suggesting that the goal is to destabilize Lebanon – regardless of the victor – in order to draw attention away from the situation in Syria.

*not real names
ag/kb/ha/cb/oa source


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Racism in Euro 2012 Football

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2012 Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __ Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __

< Elizabeth M. Koikai, reporting for API in Norway

Racists incidents in the ongoing Euro 2012 Football championships that began in June in Poland and Ukraine have not come as a shock. In fact, such incidents of racism were expected by many. Despite efforts by various Football Associations who have set up anti-racism campaigns to raise awareness of the problem, some countries have already been fined by UEFA because of racists abuse by some fans.

The Croatian Football Federation was charged €80,000 (£64,561) for offences which included the racist abuse of the Italy striker Mario Barwuah Balotelli on Thursday.


Between 300 and 500 Croatian fans started making monkey chants during the Group C match against Italy in Poznan. A banana was also thrown on to the field.

Mario Barwuah Balotelli who is of Ghanaian descent but raised by an Italian family, plays as a striker for Manchester City and the Italian national team. He’s biological parents gave him up for adoption due to life-threatening complications he had as an infant.

Balotelli said before the Euro 2012 championships that he would leave the field if he was subjected to racism. Some anti-racist groups are angered by UEFA claiming that the penalty fee was under-whelming with regard to the seriousness of the incident. Apparently, Croatia was not only punished for the racist abuse that occurred on Thursday but also for its misbehaving fans who set off fireworks and threw them for a second time in Euro 2012. And the invasion of the pitch by a supporter, during the win against Republic of Ireland on Sunday.

Indeed, the Euro 2012 championships are a grim reminder of the dark side of European football that is marred by Neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups.

Recently, BBC televised a documentary called “Stadiums of hate” a month before the tournaments. The report shed some light into racism and the increasing numbers of far-right supporters and white-power movements in most football matches in Poland and Ukraine. British government advice for Euro 2012 is for black or asian fans to take extra care in Ukraine because of the possibility of racist violence.

When Sol Campbell a former English footballer was shown the footage of the documentary, he expressed disgust. When asked by BBC whether he would recommend families to travel to Euro 2012, he responded;

-Stay at home, watch on TV, do not even risk it you could end up coming back home in a coffin.

Problems of racism, and anti-Semitism are a part of every day life in Central and Eastern Europe.The racist abuse directed at black players is an issue that UEFA has failed to properly address. Black or other foreign players playing for clubs in Central and Eastern Europe are subjected to mass monkey chanting and being pelted with bananas every week. The stadiums are usually packed to the brim with football fans doing the nazi salute. The Police officials in the involved countries do nothing to help the players and National Football Federations are in denial of the problem.

There are other countries that were fined due to racist behaviour in the Euro 2012. The German team is the latest to face punishment due to extremist behaviour by fans who displayed a neo-Nazi banner during the Group B match against Denmark on Sunday. Russia were last week issued with a suspended six-point deduction for their Euro 2016 campaign over the behaviour of their fans in Poland and Ukraine, Russian fans also displayed extremist banners during a match.

Many Europeans including some Norwegian football commentators claimed that the BBC documentary “Stadiums of Hate” was inaccurate. And that the tournament would be racism free, they were wrong.

UEFA President Michel Platini has approached the issue of racism in football in a rather slack manner. He could have done plenty to ensure that racism didn’t rear its ugly head at Euro 2012.

Security personnel, for example, could have searched people’s bags at stadium entrances and thrown out bananas when they found them. Mr. Michel could have come out earlier and admitted that racism could be a problem at the tournament, and warned attendants to take certain precautions.

UEFA’s choice of venue could have been more careful. They should have worked together with FIFA to find out the true football atmosphere of these host countries. It is time for these two influential organizations to take the safety of minority players and issue of racism seriously.

Related story:



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Colourful handing over: Mumias sugar managing director joins politics

Posted by African Press International on June 28, 2012

Jeff Otieno reporting for API from Kenya

After a sterling and unrivalled performance spanning almost a decade in the Sugar Industry, Mumias Sugar Managing Director Dr. Evans Odhiambo Kidero has today decided to call it quits in a tearful but a colourful handing over
ceremony in the factory precincts which was attended by workers, all
departmental heads, farmers and other stakeholders.
The new Chief Executive Peter Kibati described Dr. Kideros tenure as spectacular worth emulating.”We will try our level best to follow your foot steps to continue making Mumias Sugar a force to reckon with in the region”, Kibati told the attentive gathering amid applause.
” Our strategic plan as envisaged must be fulfilled and i urge all of you to accord me the necessary support to achieve the said goals,’ he said  a mid tears from a section of workers. Kibati described Kidero’s legacy as wonderful, brilliant intellectual who always consulted and collaborated whenever there was need.
Mr. Kibati initially was at Price Water House Coopers and Standard Chartered Bank Kisumu Branch and later joined the leading Miller as an Internal auditor and rose as Financial Director before taking the mantle from the immediate industrious C.E.O DR. Kidero 3 months ago. According to key industry players who talked to this journalist in the Company Precints, Kibati has got the potential to continue in the footsteps of Dr. Kidero, since he’s young, equally focussed and energetic.
Former Chairman of Butere  Mumias County Council, Councillor Michael Keya added that doubting Thomases will be proved wrong soon urging all the stakeholders to give maximum co-operation to the new C.E.O to achieve the set standards.
Dr. Kidero will be remembered for the general improvement of infrastructure in Mumias and its environs. He was a complete team player who knew all the departmental Managers by their names, hated bureaucracy or red tape and was a go getter.
He joined Mumias Sugar in October 2003, after other rare and magnificent performances at Nation Media Group and Smith Kline Beecham.
Accompanied by his wife Susan Mboya and a Nairobi Businessman Erick Okeyo, Kidero appealed to the workers to continue with the same spirit and added that he will always flex his muscles and be available when there’s a problem to be tackled.
His farewell party is however slated for mid October, 2012 due to logistical reasons. 


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Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre visits Afghanistan

Posted by African Press International on June 28, 2012

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is currently visiting Afghanistan. This visit is part of the regular contact between the Afghan and Norwegian authorities to follow up the Norwegian civilian and military efforts in the country, and provides an opportunity to meet Norwegian personnel who are serving there.

“I am looking forward to getting a first-hand impression of the situation in the country. The international engagement in Afghanistan is in a transitional phase: Afghan security forces are gradually taking over responsibility for security and the country is preparing for presidential elections in 2014,” said Mr Støre.

“Although the military efforts will gradually be scaled down, Norway’s considerable civilian engagement in Afghanistan will be continued,” he added.

Mr Støre’s visit will include meetings with President Karzai, other politicians and Afghan civil society representatives. During the course of the year, Norway and Afghanistan will sign a strategic cooperation agreement that will set the framework for their bilateral relations. Priority areas will be good governance, education and rural development.

“Norway will continue to promote good governance in Afghanistan. It is particularly important to strengthen the rights of women and improve their situation. It is encouraging to see that, just ten years after they were denied schooling under the Taliban, 40 % of school children are now girls. But there is still a long way to go,” said Mr Støre.



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The military is the winner: The Egyptian revolution undone?

Posted by African Press International on June 28, 2012

And the military is the winner

DUBAI,  – Mohamad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has been declared the official winner of the first free Egyptian presidential elections.

Cheers broke out both inside the briefing room and on Cairo’s Tahrir Square where protesters had been gathered since 22 June to protest what many had seen as a recent power grab by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

The official results come amid a period of political uncertainty in Egypt and many observers see troubles ahead for the democratic transition.

How did the elections go?

The Carter Center – among the few foreign observer missions in the country – said in a statement that most of the polling process was relatively free and fair. However, access to the polling and especially to the tabulation process was quite limited or completely forbidden; and local observers faced severe restrictions. Similar results were released by the One World Centre (Markaz al-Alam al-Wahid), a local Egyptian NGO monitoring the elections.

According to the Carter Center, the bigger problem was with an electoral law which left many important issues unaddressed, allowing officials to come up with ad-hoc rulings. Lack of open access to voters’ lists fuelled suspicions of possible fraud by the authorities. The Carter Center went so far as to declare that they would not be willing to observe any future elections under similarly restricted conditions.

Over 800,000 votes were invalid. Overall voter turnout was 51 percent, with 26.4 million votes cast (50.95 million of Egypt’s 81 million population were registered to vote). In remote areas such as in the rural south of the country where voters had to travel long distances to the nearest polling stations, many did not vote. Where no transport to polling stations was provided the poor could not afford travel costs.

What powers will the new president have?

The powers of the new president will be limited. Just a week before the elections, the military leadership decreed several amendments to the constitution, effectively reducing the power of any independent president.

Furthermore, the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on 14 June that the parliamentary elections earlier this year did not comply with the constitution and therefore ordered the dissolution of the new parliament, where Islamist parties held a strong majority. This effectively transferred legislative power to SCAF. The amendment also revived the defence council, a body charged with overseeing matters of national security. The president, while still part of the council, will only be one of five civilians, while the other 11 positions are to be filled by the military. Decisions will be taken by majority vote.

The president still retains the power to form a cabinet, except for the minister of defence, who will be the current head of SCAF, Field Marshal Tantawi.

The minister of the interior has also traditionally been supplied by the military and the security services – a practice most revolutionary groups want to see ended. Strong civilian control over the police and intelligence services was a core demand of the 2011 revolution.

With no parliament in place, the president and cabinet ministers will have authority to enact laws, though SCAF may wish to impose its will. The term of the presidency was set at four years in the interim constitution enacted last year. But in an interview with al-Jazeera, Sameh Ashour, a legal adviser to SCAF, suggested the term would only last until a new constitution is in place.

However, even with these limitations, the elections were of great symbolic value. They were the first free presidential elections in Egypt, and with parliament disbanded, the presidency is the only successful manifestation of the revolution so far.

What will happen with the constitution?

One of the major questions now facing Egypt is how the new constitution will be written. The second Constituent Assembly has just elected Egypt’s most senior judge, Hossam Ghariany, as its head, giving it a legitimacy that even the constitutional court might find hard to dispute.

In the last few weeks, political parties had struggled to agree on the composition of a committee tasked to draft a new constitution. The FJP attempt to elect mostly Islamist candidates to the committee was heavily criticized by other political groups as well as by the constitutional court which ruled the practice illegal. The Muslim Brotherhood has apologized, but through its amendments SCAF has now taken much greater control over the new Constituent Assembly.

In a very vague formulation, it has given itself the right to form a new Constituent Assembly if the current one faced problems fulfilling its mandate. If a new constitution contained an article which the president, the head of SCAF, the head of the constitutional court or a fifth of the assembly found to conflict with the goals of the revolution or with any principle of any of the previous constitutions, the Constituent Assembly could be ordered to change the article. If they failed to agree, a final decision would be taken by the constitutional court.

The Constituent Assembly also faces another dilemma: The body tasked with drafting a new constitution has been elected by the same parliament that the court has just declared unconstitutional. It is unclear if the former MPs can stay on or if they will have to be elected anew. In any case it makes the assembly vulnerable to legal proceedings.

Do the actions of the SCAF amount to a military coup?

Amr Darrag, chairman of the FJP in the district of Giza and member of the Constituent Assembly, told IRIN: “If you take all these steps together, you come up with a perfect coup.”

Amnesty International described the army’s decision to grant itself “unrestrained powers” as a threat to human rights, giving it (the army) the ability to reject any attempt by a Constituent Assembly to restrain the military and put it under civilian oversight – or to hold its forces accountable for human rights abuses.

“The army’s move highlights its determination to both remain above the law and to trample on the rule of law,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa in a statement.

Yasser al-Shimy, analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Egypt, told IRIN that the possibility of the Brotherhood controlling the presidency, parliament and partly also the Constituent Assembly would have been a step too far for the military.

Can we expect more instability in Egypt?

Even with the presidential race decided, uncertain times lie ahead in Egypt. But analysts such as Nathan Brown with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace doubt that major unrest would erupt again. The schedule of an orderly transition process had now been aborted, he said, but it was unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood would take the fight back to the streets. Even with the curtailed powers of the presidency, the Brotherhood is likely to be too content with this position to start a major fight against SCAF: “It’s still a real price for them to preserve,” he said.

Questioned about what further steps the Brotherhood is planning, Hany al-Deeb, spokesperson for the movement abroad, told IRIN that both dialogue and legal proceedings would be the best choice. He said the Brotherhood was not looking for confrontation with SCAF but that every possible legal step would be taken to guarantee a civil government.

Morsi in his victory speech called for unity saying he was a president of all Egyptians. These remarks were mirrored by statements from al-Deeb who ruled out any secret deals with SCAF. He said mistakes had been made in the past, but that both party and movement would work for more unity with other revolutionary groups in the future.

Morsi is now faced with the huge task of getting the Egyptian economy under control. Job creation for the younger generation and reforming an ineffective subsidy system are his biggest challenges.

International pressure

The international community can have some leverage over SCAF: As long as the situation remains volatile, investors will be less willing to engage, and international donors, whose financial assistance is urgently needed, might refrain from taking on bigger obligations in the current climate of uncertainty.

Nick Whitney of the European Council on Foreign Relations suggested the European Union should withhold economic assistance from the Egyptian government. The ICG’s Selmy urged the international community “to emphasize that the democratic experiment in Egypt has to go all the way… Some kind of political stability has to take place in Egypt,” he said, “and that cannot take place as long as the rules of the game are so contested.”

The US State Department said any refusal by the generals to give up power could have an impact on the nature of Egypt’s relationship with the US, which gives the Egyptian military $3 billion in annual aid.

“There can be no going back on the democratic transition,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a daily press briefing on 18 June.

kb/ha/cb/oa source


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Reducing exposure to indoor smoke is key: Household air pollution fuels pneumonia

Posted by African Press International on June 28, 2012

Reducing exposure to indoor smoke is key

VIENTIANE,  – More than 95 percent of the Lao population use solid fuels for cooking, but the smoke produced by burning them contributes to the high number of child deaths from pneumonia, particularly among the poorest families, say health experts.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that in 2010, the latest year for which there are figures, 1,777 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in Laos, but health experts believe the number could be significantly higher.

A report by WHO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in November 2009 noted that 1,200 of the 1,777 deaths could be directly attributed to solid fuel use.

Burning wood, crop waste, charcoal and animal dung indoors for cooking and heating results in high levels of air pollution inside the living space, where small soot particles and other pollutants are inhaled and enter the lungs of young children. WHO warns that such exposure more than doubles the risk of pneumonia for children.

Reducing this risk could be easy. “We know that when Lao people get richer the smoke issue goes down. If you look in Vientiane [the capital] – how do they cook? Out[side]… the back door. So they found a Lao solution, and it works absolutely fine, just by going outside,” said Edward Allen, a technical advisor to the Lao Institute for Renewable Energy (LIRE), a non-profit organization based in Vientiane, who also advises the government.

Allen thinks an awareness campaign to inform people about the safest places to cook, particularly targeting women because they do most of the household cooking, would reduce household pollution levels significantly.

Another prevention measure gaining attention is the development of improved cook stoves (ICS), which are designed to be more efficient by burning hotter and using less fuel, said Bastiaan Teune of SNV, a Netherlands-based development NGO.

SNV and the World Bank are working with the Lao government to set up large-scale ICS programmes in the landlocked Southeast Asia nation. A prototype stove has been developed, with initial results showing that it uses about 20 percent less fuel, Teune said. SNV plans to produce about 420,000 ICS in the next eight years.

While the ICS could potentially reduce the incidence of pneumonia cases, in the mountainous and cooler north of Laos, the poorest parts of the country, solid fuels are not only burned for cooking but also for heating.

Ensuring adequate treatment for pneumonia is available to northern communities is essential to bringing down the number of pneumonia cases. A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released on 8 June 2012 showed that among the poorest 20 percent of the Lao population, only 28 percent seek medical care for suspected pneumonia.

Photo: Toby Fricker/IRIN
Just cooking outside can make a difference

Viorica Berdaga, the chief of the health and nutrition section at UNICEF in Laos, noted that a number of obstacles prevent effective pneumonia treatment in the poorest communities, which are found mainly in the north.

A lack of knowledge about the symptoms and danger signs of the disease is common, and the use of traditional remedies is widespread.

“The second important barrier is geographical access, financial access, social access, meaning the ability to speak the same language, share the same culture,” she said. There are 49 officially recognized ethnic groups in Laos, many of whom speak their own language and live in the most remote areas of northern Laos.

The final difficulty is the availability of qualified care and the quality of services in health centres, Berdaga said.

An August 2011 health workers reach index, published by the international NGO, Save the Children, ranked Laos at 159 out of 161 countries – just above Chad and Somalia – as the worst countries for a child to fall sick in. The index took into account indicators such as health worker density and vaccination coverage.

UNICEF said in its report that the child survival gap within and between countries could be closed if proven and cost-effective interventions for pneumonia were scaled up to reach the most disadvantaged children.

According to WHO, pneumonia kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five worldwide every year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.


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Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

By Stan Luchebeleli

Important questions that require answers:
1. When did the two Iranian nationals – Ahmed Abolfathi Mohammed and Sayed Mansour Mousav who appeared in court on Monday facing charges of being in possession of 15 kg bomb making material enter the country?

2. Who had the duo come to visit in Kenya and where did they come from when they entered the country? For how long had they been in the country before they were apprehended?

3. When did police get the bomb-making material in their possession and in whose company were they? Did they enter into the country with the stuff, and if so, where was our security agents? Or was the material locally obtained?

4. From which entry point did they manage to get into the country and did they have any valid travel documents by the time they were being arrested?

5. Since their arrest on June 20, 2012, did the security agents make any frantic efforts to establish their contacts in Mombasa that may have led to the recent blast in which one person was killed at Mishomoroni ?

6. Are there any connections between the two and any Kenyans who may be their contact persons before they duo entered the country? And whose visitors were they?

7. Has there been any prior contact between them with any locals? Who was there to welcome them to Kenya when they first arrived?

8. Can the security agents get details and the exact date they arrived from the surveillance cameras to ascertain who was there to welcome them into the country to unearth the mystery behind these two men?

9. Do their plea for release on bail citing medical problems a ploy to destroy police evidence in their investigations?

10.  Where exactly do they come from in Iran and was this their first visit to Kenya? Are they Kenyan nationals and if so, who gave them permits?




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Desert locust could spread in northern Mali due to insecurity

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Desert locust could spread in northern Mali due to insecurity

BAMAKO, –  Clouds of desert locusts have arrived in rebel-held northern Mali, where insecurity has hampered pest control, bringing fears that the insects may devastate a country already struck by drought, conflict, and the displacement of more than 360,000 people.

Swarms of immature locusts have invaded Kidal and Aguelhok in northern Mali, which was taken over by Islamist fighters and other armed rebels after a military coup in the capital, Bamako, ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure in March.

“It is difficult to know exactly how the situation is, as it is not safe to send scientific teams there. We cannot assess and fight locusts anymore,” said Manda Sadio Keita, a programme officer of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Mali.

Controlling desert locusts, one of about a dozen species of short-horned grasshoppers, is extremely difficult because they exist in an enormous area of up to 30 million square kilometres, sometimes characterized by insecurity, poor roads and the remoteness of some parts, among other factors, according to the FAO.

The locusts often fly with the wind, travelling at 16km to 19km per hour, and can cover distances of up to 130km per day. “Mali is the most important country in the Sahel in terms of protection [against the spread of locusts, but] it is the weakest link,” Keita added.

The insects have spread south from outbreak areas along the Algeria-Libya border, where swarms are declining after control measures, but in early June FAO said northern Niger had also been infested.

In 2004 swarms of locusts up to 20km long and 5km wide devastated pastures, crops and vegetation across the Sahel from Dakar, the capital of Senegal on the Atlantic coast, to Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, half a continent away.

There is no evidence that locust plagues occur at regular intervals. “We need more research. We scarcely understand why there are locusts in one year and not in another,” said Dr Amadou Diarra, a specialist in insect control at the Institut du Sahel, a regional research body.

“After 2004, we organized regional seminars, mobilized ourselves and ordered a lot of insecticides – something that we didn’t do during the last invasion. The country learnt its lesson,” Diarra said.

Recent downpours in Mali have brought fresh vegetation that is likely to trigger the growth and spread of the voracious insects. Before the rebels overran northern Mali, the authorities had made preparations for a possible locust invasion.

But the rebels have ransacked and looted warehouses where the chemicals were stored in the northern town of Gao, seized around 30 small delivery trucks used for distribution and other equipment, and occupied the buildings at a centre for locust control. “Mali could have effectively controlled the insects if the base had not been destroyed,” Keita told IRIN.

It is not clear where the millions of litres of the toxic chemicals are now, and there are worries over the effects they could have on humans and the environment if they are mishandled or disposed of carelessly.

“If they were dumped in the bushes there would be a serious environmental crisis. People living near rivers would have serious health problems,” Keita warned. Only one small pest control centre now remains, located outside Bamako, in the south.

Photo: Niv Singer/Flickr
Desert locusts over Eilat, Israel

Action Plan

The first direct control measure to halt the spread of the locusts is to set up operations in the north and spray the insects with pesticides before they grow wings. But in a vast rebel-controlled territory, the obstacles of insecurity and logistics, in a country struggling to resolve a post-coup political crisis, make this unlikely.

The option being studied by the agriculture ministry is to mount locust control operations in northern Mali and down along the border with Niger, its eastern neighbour, to Burkina Faso in the south. Under the circumstances this could be feasible, but could cost 780 million CFA francs (around UC$1.5 million), according to FAO.

In June, the Malian government discussed the possibility of carrying out the operation with the FAO, the Permanent Inter-State Committee against Drought in the Sahel (CILSS) and other actors. “It is becoming more and more important to set up a line of defence as soon as possible,” said Modibo Traoré, another FAO programme officer.

Countries in the Sahel face serious food shortages that have affected more than 18 million people, but in Mali, with its political divisions and unresolved conflicts, a locust invasion would be calamitous.

Aid operations were disrupted after rebels looted the vehicles and equipment of several relief organizations as they swept across northern Mali after the coup, leaving the drought-stricken residents without assistance. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 3.5 million Malians are hungry.

“If there is an invasion, like in 2004, it will be a catastrophe,” said the FAO’s Keita. Crops and pasture will be destroyed and nomadic cattle keepers would lose their herds.


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Food security goes from bad to worse

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Moorosi Nchejana is harvesting rain water to irrigate his vegetable plot

MOHALE’S HOEK,  – Initial estimates of the damage to Lesotho’s already ailing agricultural sector – caused by a year of too much rain followed by a year of too little – suggest that an unprecedented number of small-scale farmers harvested nothing this year.

Heavy rains and flooding cut Lesotho’s maize production by nearly half during the 2010-11 farming season, causing the price of maize meal to increase by 24 percent between March 2011 and March 2012 and putting a heavy strain on the 40 percent of the population already living in extreme poverty.

The 2011-12 season began with a prolonged period of drought which caused many small-scale farmers not to plant at all rather than gamble scarce resources on crops that would be vulnerable to frost.

As a result, what should be a time of plenty has become an extension of the pre-harvest lean season for many. The precise number in need of humanitarian assistance will only become clear when the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) completes its annual food security and vulnerability assessment at the end of June, but a crop forecast by the Bureau of Statistics has already estimated major declines in both total area planted and yields.

“It’s actually worse than last year, and we thought last year was the worst,” said Matseliso Mojaki, the DMA’s acting chief executive. “Maybe those heavy rains washed away some of the soil nutrients so even those who managed to plant didn’t get a good yield.”

According to the crop forecast, the overall area planted in the 2011-2012 agricultural year decreased by nearly 40 percent from the previous year and the total expected production of maize, the staple crop, fell by 77 percent. Yields of sorghum and wheat have also declined significantly.

Survival for many of Lesotho’s subsistence farmers has been precarious for years as soil erosion resulting from poor farming practices, HIV/AIDS and increasingly unpredictable weather have all taken their toll. Although 82 percent of Lesotho’s population of 1.8 million engage in some form of agriculture, the amount this contributes to the country’s GDP has declined from 25 percent in the 1980s to 10 percent in the last decade and 7.7 percent following last year’s floods, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

''It’s actually worse than last year, and we thought last year was the worst''

The cumulative effect of two poor or non-existent harvests on top of years of slowly declining productivity has pushed more and more Basotho to start employing what Hassan Abdi, a programme officer with the World Food Programme (WFP) describes as “negative coping mechanisms” such as selling off assets, taking children out of school and reducing meals.

Makhahliso Chabeli, a subsistence farmer from the country’s southeastern Mohale’s Hoek District, has sold off one cow a year over the past four years to pay for her childrens’ schooling. But following a particularly disastrous farming season and left with just three cattle, she doubts her three younger children will complete secondary school.

No equipment for ploughing

Others in Chabeli’s community have already sold all their livestock and some have started selling their furniture and even their land, while many of those that still have land cannot afford to farm it.

“We have two fields, but we haven’t farmed for three years now,” said Thato Hatsi, 19. “We don’t have the equipment to plough.”

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
Participants in a Food for Work programme survey fields of failed maize 

In a normal year, Hatsi’s mother labours in her neighbours’ fields for an income, but in a year in which so few planted, even this work has dried up.

Abdi of WFP noted that many rural dwellers have resorted to moving into the country’s urban areas. “You’re seeing abnormal numbers of people in town with nothing to sell, just begging,” he told IRIN.

For Chabeli and Hatsi there is some temporary relief in the form of emergency food assistance through WFP which is reaching 40,000 people in the two districts of Mohale’s Hoek and neighbouring Quthing.

About half the beneficiaries, including 64 households in Chabeli’s community, are earning their monthly rations of maize, pulses and vegetable oil through a Food for Work programme that encourages participants to work on projects that will benefit the entire community. Chabeli’s community elected to work on shoring up a `donga’ (ravine caused by soil erosion) that contributes to recurrent flooding in the area.

“There’s a lot of hunger,” said Kelebone Sephelane, who along with Chabeli was chosen by the community to help supervise the four-month project. “We’re thankful for this project, but there’s nothing to do after July [when it ends]. We’re pleading for it to be extended.”

However, Abdi said an extension would depend on WFP finding additional funding which was likely to take several months.

Climatic shocks

In the long term, addressing Lesotho’s chronic and increasing food security will mean helping subsistence and smallholder farmers prepare and adapt to increasing variability in rainfall linked to climate change.

In a paper released last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted that climate-related stresses have long been prevalent in Lesotho, but “What has changed in recent times… is the apparent increasing frequency, magnitude and duration of climatic shocks, leaving little or no time to recover from the last event.”

Mojaki of the DMA admitted that the country was still in the process of developing strategies to deal with climate change and associated natural disasters. “Most of the time we’re reacting to shocks as they come,” she told IRIN. “I think we do need a long-term strategy, but at the moment implementation due to lack of resources is the problem.”

She noted that the national disaster management fund had been empty for several years and that her department’s budget was a mere US$106,000 in 2011, rising to $710,000 this year.

Pilot programme

FAO together with the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation recently completed a two-year pilot programme to strengthen farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change in three areas of the country. In Mabalane village in Mohale’s Hoek, which is one of the driest parts of the country, Moorosi Nchejana was one of 40 local farmers selected by the community to participate in the project. His experiences with poultry farming, growing fruit trees and collecting rain water to irrigate a vegetable plot are being closely watched by the rest of the community.

So far, the installation of a rain water tank and drip irrigation system at Nchejana’s homestead has been the difference between growing just enough vegetables to feed his family and having a surplus to sell and pay for other necessities. At a cost of just under $200, the system is relatively cheap, but still beyond the means of most of Nchejana’s neighbours.

“Most people would want it, but most wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he commented.

The extent to which such projects can be scaled up to other parts of the country and prove sustainable will depend on government buy-in and long-term budget allocations, notes the FAO paper.




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Cyclones, reduced aid compound malnutrition

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2012

Edwige Solo and her seven month old child at a nutritional centre in the east coast Madagascan town of Brickaville

BRICKAVILLE,  – The eastern Madagascan coastal town of Brickaville in Atsinanana region – ravaged by Cyclone Giovanna earlier this year – provided a refuge of sorts for Edwige Solo and her emaciated children fleeing the aftermath of rural devastation caused by the same storm.

Solo and two of her four children were ferried to the town by her former brother-in-law after seasonal agricultural work in the orchards and rice paddies became virtually non-existent – her only means of survival after her husband had abandoned the family.

May and June in the region are usually bountiful with the harvest of rice and fruit, but the impact of Giovanna and the effects of tropical storm Irina during the January-to-March cyclone season destroyed many fruit trees and swamped about 90 percent of rice fields late in the crop’s growing cycle.

Solo’s youngest child is about seven months old and weighs about 5kg. Both her and her other child, aged about five, were admitted to the Centre de Récupération et Education Nutritionnelle Intensif (CRENI) after the children displayed signs of severe acute malnutrition – badly swollen feet.

The hospital was badly damaged by Cyclone Giovanna and all medical patients are now treated in the maternity ward. While the harvest season has brought some respite to the region’s 49 nutritional centres it has far from ended it.

Heriniaina Rakotoarisoa, a doctor at CRENI hospital in Toamasina, the provincial capital of Atsinanana region, told IRIN that during the lean season (from January to March) he treated three cases of severe child malnutrition with medical complications daily. This has since dropped to about the same number weekly.

''Many times, parents don’t see that their children are suffering from malnutrition. They only start to take the children to hospital when they develop other problems, like oedema or skin rashes''

“Many times, parents don’t see that their children are suffering from malnutrition. They only start to take the children to hospital when they develop other problems, like oedema or skin rashes. And often, it’s not the parents who bring the children. When there are problems in the family, children often end up living with grandparents or uncles, and these people don’t have the means to feed them,” he said.

About 8 percent of all children under the age of five in the most vulnerable zones (the arid south and the east, west and north coasts) are severely malnourished, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Madagascar Demographic Health Survey 2008-09 found that stunting – a consequence of poor childhood nutrition – affects half of all Malagasy children under five, the sixth highest rate of stunting in the world. 

Breastfeeding not a panacea

Children aged 6-23 months are the most vulnerable, as breastmilk alone does not meet their required nutrient needs. But this is not the whole picture: Nationally it is estimated by donor agencies that about 4 percent of children under six months of age and exclusively breastfed are severely malnourished. In the case of Solo and her children, it is easy to see why, Virginie Razanantsoa, a UNICEF nutritional specialist based in the capital Antananarivo, told IRIN.

“These people are already vulnerable, and then when there is a shock like a cyclone, they don’t know what to do any more,” she said.

The average stay for treating malnourished children in CRENI is 4-6 weeks. Whereas before the centres used to cater only for children aged 6-59 months, an open door policy has recently been adopted.

“We have children who come in who are two months old and are suffering from severe malnutrition, or those who are 8-13 years old. They all need treatment,” Rakotoarisoa said, adding that some families may come back to the centre three to four times in a year. “We have this one mother with four children who can’t feed them. We try to give them specialized nutritional supplements that they can take at home, so that the children don’t always end up underfed and sick.”

According to Rakotoarisoa, food shortages in the Atsinanana region are a recurrent problem, despite the region’s reputation for cash crops. “Farmers here still plant on the ancestors’ land, but this land has been divided up many times among the children and the grandchildren. So now the plots of land are not big enough any more to feed the family,” Rakotoarisoa said.

The Southern Africa Regional Food Security Update for February 2012 notes that 80 percent of Madagascar’s 20 million people live on less than US$1 a day and poor households spend 74 percent of their income on food.

UNICEF’s dual track approach

UNICEF has a dual track approach towards treating child malnutrition to reduce mortality and morbidity among children under five. A home-based treatment plan provides recipients with ready to use therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut, coupled with a weekly visit to a CRENAS (Centre de récupération et Education nutritionnelle ambulatoire pour les Sévères) centre to monitor progress.

Children with medical complications are admitted to CRENI, where they are treated with therapeutic milk Formula 100 and Formula 75. Through this system, UNICEF and its partners are currently treating about 16,000 under fives nationally for severe malnutrition.

“Before, mothers used to come here to the hospital when the children were already severely underfed. The treatment would at least take a month. Now we have the outpatient centres in the communities, so children can receive early [preventative] treatment at home,” UNICEF’s Razanantsoa told IRIN.

In 2007 the Malagasy government of President Marc Ravalomanana decided to increase the number of nutritional centres from 73 to 488. However, this network has come under increasing financial pressure since 2009 when the international donor community froze all but emergency assistance after branding Andry Rajoelina’s ousting of Ravalomanana a coup.

The sharp drop in donor funding has spared few social services, including the Health Ministry and its National Nutrition Organization (ONN) whose budget has been depleted to such an extent that it can no longer pay salaries and provide free meals for families of patients.

Charlotine Marie Louise, an ONN assistant in Brickaville, told IRIN she had not been paid for the past two months and UNICEF has since assumed responsibility for her salary costs.




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