Archive for the ‘World Problems’ Category

Sendong Washi December 2011

December 18, 2011

As bodies washed out to sea began rising to the surface, mortuaries were overwhelmed and emergency teams struggled to find survivors in cloying mud around the major port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Mindanao island.
Entire villages were swept away by floodwaters as residents, normally spared from typhoons that devastate other parts of the Philippines every year, slept in the early hours of Saturday despite storm warnings.
The Red Cross said that 652 people had been confirmed dead and another 808 were currently listed as missing.
“I’m out here retrieving bodies that are starting to rise to the surface,” Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster council, told AFP by mobile phone from a rescue boat off Cagayan de Oro.
The United States offered assistance to its former colony as the Philippine government and the Red Cross appealed for help to feed, clothe and house more than 35,000 people huddled in evacuation centers.
A 20,000-strong military force normally involved in fighting Muslim insurgents in Mindanao was leading rescue and relief operations.
A 30-member military and police rescue team landed Sunday in Bayug, a delta area near Iligan formerly home to a fishing community of up to 1,000 people, an AFP photographer saw.
The delta had been swept clean of most structures, leaving those left alive having to rebuild huts with scrap wood, and Lieutenant Colonel Efren Baluyot said only 43 people were known to have survived there.
Local freelance reporter Leonardo Vicente Corrales told AFP that rotting corpses were piling up unclaimed at mortuaries in Cagayan de Oro as overworked staff ran out of embalming fluid, coffins, and water to clean them.
“The bodies are decomposing too quickly because they are drowning victims – because there is muddy water in their bodies,” he said.
One establishment, Somo Funeral Homes, turned away the bodies of two drowned children. “We are already swamped. We only have four embalmers,” its owner Ryan Somo told an AFP reporter.
The mayor of Cagayan de Oro, Vicente Emano, said he expected the death toll to reach 500 just in his city, which has a population of half a million.
The local authorities opened up fire hydrants and long lines soon formed as residents queued for fresh water.
In the hamlet of Macasandig, near Cagayan de Oro, teacher’s wife Divilita Cuartero, 38, said she saw two dead bodies among the wreckage of houses near her own home, which was filled with mud from the nearby Cagayan river.
“I’m thankful that we woke up in time and were able to run toward the road, otherwise we would be dead by now,” the mother of one told AFP.
The Philippine National Red Cross listed 346 deaths in Cagayan de Oro and 206 in Iligan. Smaller tolls were reported in other parts of Mindanao and the central province of Negros Oriental.
Gwendolyn Pang, the organization’s secretary general, said the 808 people listed as missing could be trimmed as the dead were identified.
Authorities likened tropical storm Sendong (international name: Washi) to Ondoy (international name: Ketsana), one of the country’s most devastating storms which dumped huge amounts of rain on Manila and other parts of the country in 2009, killing more than 460 people.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered a review of the country’s disaster defences as it became apparent that residents were unprepared for such a deadly storm.
Ramos, the disaster agency chief, said the government faced a formidable task with 100,000 people needing help, including those who sought refuge at schools, government buildings and gyms.
The national government has begun airlifting mats, blankets and clothes to the affected populations of the south, he added.
Debris has to be cleared, electricity and drinking water have to be restored and damaged roads and bridges must be repaired, officials said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent condolences to the Philippines and said in a statement: “The US government stands ready to assist Philippine authorities as they respond to this tragedy.”
Originally posted at 05:30 pm | Sunday, December 18, 2011

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USA to be destroyed by north korea in firestorm

June 26, 2009

nkorea vows nuke attack if provoked by US

By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim, Associated Press Writer 1 hr 38 mins ago

SEOUL, South Korea — Punching their fists into the air and shouting “Let’s crush them!” some 100,000 North Koreans packed Pyongyang‘s main square Thursday for an anti-U.S. rally as the communist regime promised a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” for any American-led attack.

Several demonstrators held up a placard depicting a pair of hands smashing a missile with “U.S.” written on it, according to footage taken by APTN in Pyongyang on the anniversary of the day North Korean troops charged southward, sparking the three-year Korean War in 1950.

North Korean troops will respond to any sanctions or U.S. provocations with “an annihilating blow,” one senior official vowed — a pointed threat as an American destroyer shadowed a North Korean freighter sailing off China’s coast, possibly with banned goods on board.

A new U.N. Security Council resolution passed recently to punish North Korea for conducting an underground nuclear test in May requires U.N. member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying arms or nuclear weapons-related material.

In response to the sanctions, the North pulled out of nuclear talks and has ramped up already strident anti-American rhetoric. And the isolated regime may now be moving to openly flout the resolution by dispatching a ship suspected of carrying arms to Myanmar.

While it was not clear what was on board the North Korean-flagged Kang Nam 1, officials have mentioned artillery and other conventional weaponry. One intelligence expert suspected missiles.

The U.S. and its allies have made no decision on whether to request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, but North Korea has said it would consider any interception an act of war.

If permission for inspection is refused, the ship must dock at a port of its choosing so local authorities can check its cargo. Vessels suspected of carrying banned goods must not be offered bunkering services at port, such as fuel, the resolution says.

A senior U.S. defense official said the ship had cleared the Taiwan Strait. He said he didn’t know whether or when the Kang Nam may need to stop in some port to refuel, but that the Kang Nam has in the past stopped in Hong Kong’s port.

Another U.S. defense official said he tended to doubt reports that the Kang Nam was carrying nuclear-related equipment, saying information seems to indicate the cargo is banned conventional munitions. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to talk about intelligence.

North Korea is suspected to have transported banned goods to Myanmar before on the Kang Nam, said Bertil Lintner, a Bangkok-based North Korea expert who has written a book about leader Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang also has been helping the junta in Yangon build up its weapons arsenal, a South Korean intelligence expert said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The two countries have not always been on good terms. Ties were severed in 1983 after a fatal bombing during the South Korean president’s visit to Myanmar blamed on North Korean commandoes.

They held secret talks in Bangkok in the 1990s to discuss the lone survivor among the three North Korean commandos involved in the bombing, and since have forged close relations.

The two regimes, among Asia’s most repressive, restored diplomatic ties in 2007. Not long after that, in April 2007, the Kang Nam docked at Thilawa port saying it needed shelter from bad weather.

But one expert said reports show the weather was clear then, and two local journalists working for a foreign news agency who went to write about the unusual docking were arrested.

“The Kang Nam unloaded a lot of heavy equipment in 2007,” Lintner said. “Obviously, the ship was carrying something very sensitive at that time as well.”

North Korea has also helped Myanmar dig tunnels in recent years, said Lintner, adding that the cash-strapped North may have received rice, rubber and minerals in return for its military and other assistance.

“North Korea appears to have exported conventional weapons to Myanmar in exchange for food,” another expert said.

Pyongyang is believed to have transported digging equipment to Myanmar, which is seeking to make its new capital a fortress with vast underground facilities, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

North Korea has been locked in a tense standoff with Washington and other regional powers over its nuclear program. In April, the regime launched a rocket widely seen as a cover for a test of long-range missile technology — a move that drew U.N. Security Council condemnation.

The North responded by abandoning six-nation disarmament talks and threatening to carry out nuclear tests and fire intercontinental ballistic missiles. The North is believed to be developing a long-range missile designed to strike the U.S. but experts say it has not figured out how to mount a bomb onto the missile.

On Thursday, Pyongyang vowed to enlarge its atomic arsenal and warned of a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” if provoked by the U.S.

North Korea’s “armed forces will deal an annihilating blow that is unpredictable and unavoidable, to any ‘sanctions’ or provocations by the US,” Pak Pyong Jong, first vice chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, told the crowd gathered for the Korean War anniversary rally.

In Seoul, some 5,000 people — mostly American and South Korean veterans and war widows — also commemorated the anniversary at a ceremony.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the nation is prepared to counter any type of threat or provocation.

“The South Korean government is firmly determined to defend the lives and wealth of its people and will do its utmost to find the remains of troops killed in the Korean War,” he said at the ceremony.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because the conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Taxpayers work for atomic weapons

May 18, 2009
May 18, 2009

Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

The administration’s effort is complicated by the fact that Pakistan is producing an unknown amount of new bomb-grade uranium and, once a series of new reactors is completed, bomb-grade plutonium for a new generation of weapons. President Obama has called for passage of a treaty that would stop all nations from producing more fissile material — the hardest part of making a nuclear weapon — but so far has said nothing in public about Pakistan’s activities.

Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who served as the co-author of Mr. Obama’s review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, reflected the administration’s concern in a recent interview, saying that Pakistan “has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

Obama administration officials said that they had communicated to Congress that their intent was to assure that military aid to Pakistan was directed toward counterterrorism and not diverted. But Admiral Mullen’s public confirmation that the arsenal is increasing — a view widely held in both classified and unclassified analyses — seems certain to aggravate Congress’s discomfort.

Whether that discomfort might result in a delay or reduction in aid to Pakistan is still unclear.

The Congressional briefings have taken place in recent weeks as Pakistan has descended into further chaos and as Congress has considered proposals to spend $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan’s military for counterinsurgency warfare. That aid would come on top of $7.5 billion in civilian assistance.

None of the proposed military assistance is directed at the nuclear program. So far, America’s aid to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure has been limited to a $100 million classified program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and materials from seizure by Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “insiders” with insurgent loyalties.

But the billions in new proposed American aid, officials acknowledge, could free other money for Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, at a time when Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program is facing a budget crunch for the first time, worsened by the global economic downturn. The program employs tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including about 2,000 believed to possess “critical knowledge” about how to produce a weapon.

The dimensions of the Pakistani buildup are not fully understood. “We see them scaling up their centrifuge facilities,” said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which has been monitoring Pakistan’s continued efforts to buy materials on the black market, and analyzing satellite photographs of two new plutonium reactors less than 100 miles from where Pakistani forces are currently fighting the Taliban.

“The Bush administration turned a blind eye to how this is being ramped up,” he said. “And of course, with enough pressure, all this could be preventable.”

As a matter of diplomacy, however, the buildup presents Mr. Obama with a potential conflict between two national security priorities, some aides concede. One is to win passage of a global agreement to stop the production of fissile material — the uranium or plutonium used to produce weapons. Pakistan has never agreed to any limits and is one of three countries, along with India and Israel, that never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Yet the other imperative is a huge infusion of financial assistance into Afghanistan and Pakistan, money considered crucial to helping stabilize governments with tenuous holds on power in the face of terrorist and insurgent violence.

Senior members of Congress were already pressing for assurances from Pakistan that the American military assistance would be used to fight the insurgency, and not be siphoned off for more conventional military programs to counter Pakistan’s historic adversary, India. Official confirmation that Pakistan has accelerated expansion of its nuclear program only added to the consternation of those in Congress who were already voicing serious concern about the security of those warheads.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, veered from the budget proposal under debate to ask Admiral Mullen about public reports “that Pakistan is, at the moment, increasing its nuclear program — that it may be actually adding on to weapons systems and warheads. Do you have any evidence of that?”

It was then that Admiral Mullen responded with his one-word confirmation. Mr. Webb said Pakistan’s decision was a matter of “enormous concern,” and he added, “Do we have any type of control factors that would be built in, in terms of where future American money would be going, as it addresses what I just asked about?”

Similar concerns about seeking guarantees that American military assistance to Pakistan would be focused on battling insurgents also were expressed by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee chairman.

“Unless Pakistan’s leaders commit, in deeds and words, their country’s armed forces and security personnel to eliminating the threat from militant extremists, and unless they make it clear that they are doing so, for the sake of their own future, then no amount of assistance will be effective,” Mr. Levin said.

A spokesman for the Pakistani government contacted Friday declined to comment on whether his nation was expanding its nuclear weapons program, but said the government was “maintaining the minimum, credible deterrence capability.” He warned against linking American financial assistance to Pakistan’s actions on its weapons program.

“Conditions or sanctions on this issue did not work in the past, and this will not send a positive message to the people of Pakistan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his country’s nuclear program is classified.

The Last Stand of a Tiger

May 18, 2009

Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger rebel chief has been killed

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka declared Monday it had crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels, killing their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and ending his three-decade quest for an independent homeland for minority Tamils.

State television broke into its regular programming to announce Prabhakaran’s death, and the government information department sent a text message to cell phones across the country confirming he was killed along with top deputies, Soosai and Pottu Amman.

The announcement sparked mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo dancing and singing.

Prabhakaran’s death has been seen as crucial in bringing closure to this war-wracked Indian Ocean island nation. If he had escaped, he could have used his large international smuggling network and the support of Tamil expatriates to spark a new round of guerrilla warfare here. His death in battle could still turn him into a martyr for other Tamil separatists.

Sri Lanka’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Sareth Fonseka, said on television that his troops routed the last rebels from the northern war zone Monday morning and were working to identify Prabhakaran’s body from among the dead.

“We can announce very responsibly that we have liberated the whole country from terrorism,” he told state television. It was widely presumed Fonseka was waiting for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to announce Prabhakaran’s death.

Fonseka and the commanders of the other security forces were scheduled to formally inform the president of the victory Monday evening.

Senior military officials said troops closed in on Prabhakaran and his final cadre early Monday.

He and his top deputies then drove an armor-plated van accompanied by a bus filled with rebel fighters toward approaching Sri Lankan forces, sparking a two-hour firefight, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Troops eventually fired a rocket at the van, ending the battle, they said. Troops pulled Prabhakaran’s body from the van and identified it as that of the rebel leader, they said. The attack also killed Soosai, the head of the rebels’ naval wing, and Pottu Amman, the group’s feared intelligence commander, the officials said.

Suren Surendiran, a spokesman for the British Tamils’ Forum, the largest organization for expatriate Tamils in Britain, said the community was in despair.

“The people are very somber and very saddened. But we are ever determined and resilient to continue our struggle for Eelam,” he said, invoking the name of the Tamils hoped-for independent state. “We have to win the freedom and liberation of our people.”

But in Colombo, which had suffered countless rebel bombings, people set of fireworks, danced and sang in the streets.

“Myself and most of my friends gathered here have narrowly escaped bombs set off by the Tigers. Some of our friends were not lucky,” said Lal Hettige, 47, a businessman celebrating in Colombo’s outdoor market. “We are happy today to see the end of that ruthless terrorist organization and its heartless leader. We can live in peace after this.”

The chubby, mustachioed Prabhakaran turned what was little more than a street gang in the late 1970s into one of the world’s most feared insurgencies. He demanded unwavering loyalty and gave his followers vials of cyanide to wear around their necks and bite into in case of capture.

At the height of his power, he controlled a shadow state in northern Sri Lankan and commanded a force that including an infantry, backed by artillery, a significant naval wing and a nascent air force.

He also controlled a suicide squad known as the Black Tigers that was blamed for scores of deadly attacks. The rebels were branded a terror group and condemned for forcibly conscripting child soldiers.

Earlier, the military announced it had killed several top rebel leaders, including Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony, also a rebel leader. The military said special forces also found the bodies of the rebels’ political wing leader, Balasingham Nadesan, the head of the rebels’ peace secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan, and one of the top military leaders, known as Ramesh.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for Sri Lanka‘s ethnic Tamil minority after years of marginalization at the hands of the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Government forces ousted the rebels from their shadow state in the north in recent months and brought the group to its knees. Thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in the recent fighting.

Senior diplomats had appealed for a humanitarian cease-fire in recent weeks to safeguard the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone, but the government refused, and denied persistent reports it was shelling the densely populated war zone.

Diplomats in Brussels said Monday the European Union will endorse a call for an independent war crimes investigation into the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions were ongoing.

The rebels were also accused of using the civilians as human shields and shooting at some who fled.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says there have been “very grave allegations” of war crimes on both sides of the conflict adding “they should be properly investigated.”

The U.N. said 7,000 civilians were killed in the fighting between Jan. 20 and May 7. Health officials in the area said more than a 1,000 others were killed since then.

On Monday, more than a thousand angry Sri Lankans protested outside the British Embassy in Colombo, pelting it with rocks and eggs and burning an effigy of Miliband and throwing it inside the compound. Protesters held posters calling Miliband a “white Tiger,” and several tried to climb the embassy’s high walls.

Sri Lanka Civil War Basic Facts

March 22, 2009
  • Formerly called Ceylon
  • Sinhalese majority – Buddhists
  • Tamil minority – Hindu and Christians
  • Good thing there are no muslims
  • The War has been raging for 25 years as of this writing
  • The LTTE is the rebel Tamil group seeking independence
  • More than 70,000 people have died
  • War started in 1983 after 1,000 Tamils were killed
  • Stunning beaches and lush hills
  • Virgin forests and varied animal fauna
Country profile: Sri Lanka

Nestling off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has beguiled travellers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments.

But the island has been scarred by a bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions. After nearly two decades of violence, a ceasefire was signed in 2002, but it broke down in January 2008, leading to renewed fierce fighting.

Known as “Serendip” to Arab geographers, the island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence and finally came under British rule when it was called Ceylon.

NATION AT WAR
Army and Tamil separatists are engaged in conflict involving air raids, roadside blasts, suicide bombings, land and sea battles

  • More than 50,000 killed
  • 1983 – start of war
  • 2002 – ceasefire is signed but violence escalates in 2006
  • 2008 – Ceasefire ends, renewed fighting erupts
  • 2009 – Government says army offensive has left the Tamil Tigers close to defeat and cornered in a small area of the north-east
  • There is a long-established Tamil minority in the north and east. The British also brought in Tamil labourers to work the coffee and tea plantations in the central highlands, making the island a major tea producer.

    But the majority Buddhist Sinhalese community resented what they saw as favouritism towards the mainly-Hindu Tamils under British administration.

    The growth of a more assertive Sinhala nationalism after independence fanned the flames of ethnic division until civil war erupted in the 1980s between Tamils pressing for self-rule and the government.

    Most of the fighting took place in the north. But the conflict also penetrated the heart of Sri Lankan society with Tamil Tiger rebels carrying out devastating suicide bombings in Colombo in the 1990s.

    The violence killed more than 60,000 people, damaged the economy and harmed tourism in one of South Asia’s potentially prosperous societies.

    A ceasefire and a political agreement reached between the government and rebels in late 2002 raised hopes for a lasting settlement. But Norwegian-brokered peace talks stalled and monitors reported open violations of the truce by the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

    Escalating violence between the two sides in 2006 killed hundreds of people and raised fears of a return to all-out war. In January 2008, the government said it was withdrawing from the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The ceasefire expired a fortnight later.

    Following a renewal of fighting, in January 2009 government troops captured the northern town of Kilinochchi, held for ten years by the Tigers as their administrative headquarters.

    The government said a sustained army offensive had left the Tigers close to defeat and cornered in a small area of the north-east.

    International concerns have been raised about the fate of the estimated 70,000 to 200,000 civilians caught up in the conflict zone.

    • Full name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
    • Population: 19.4 million (UN, 2008)
    • Capital: Colombo (commercial), Sri Jayawardenepura (administrative)
    • Largest city: Colombo
    • Area: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles)
    • Major languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English
    • Major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity
    • Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
    • Monetary unit: Sri Lankan rupee
    • Main exports: Clothing and textiles, tea, gems, rubber, coconuts
    • GNI per capita: US $1,540 (World Bank, 2007)
    • Internet domain: .lk
    • International dialling code: +94

    President: Mahinda Rajapaksa

    Mahinda Rajapaksa, prime minister at the time of his election, won the November 2005 presidential poll by a narrow margin. His main rival was the opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

    Mr Rajapaksa was backed by Marxist and Buddhist parties in the government. He also benefited from an extremely low turnout by Tamils in the north and east.But he inherited a troubled economy and a faltering peace process. During campaigning he promised to take a hard line in any peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels and said he would seek direct talks with the group’s leader.

    He says the solution to the conflict lies in a unitary state.

    Mr Rajapaksa, a Buddhist lawyer, became prime minister in 2004, heading a heavily-polarised parliament.

    He served under Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga, president since 1994. She had backed economic liberalisation while in office but government rifts slowed the pace of change.

    Mrs Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga’s coalition was also divided over the Tamil peace process. The former president pursued a twin-track approach during the civil war, trying to offer the Tamil rebels some form of autonomy while seeking the upper hand on the battlefield.

    However, she accused the government of making too many concessions to the rebels and tensions over the peace process led to a bitter power struggle with the then prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, in 2003.

    The Sri Lankan president can appoint and dismiss the prime minister, and can dissolve parliament.

    Media outlets are divided along linguistic and ethnic lines, with state-run and private operators offering services in the main languages.

    Many of the main broadcasters and publications are state-owned, including two major TV stations, radio networks operated by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), and newspapers in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

    There are more than a dozen private radio stations, and eight privately-run TV stations. Sri Lanka’s privately-owned press and broadcasters often engage in political debate, and criticise government policies.

    But the country is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. In late 2008, a grouping of international media freedom groups noted a deteriorating situation, marked by “murders, attacks, abductions, intimidation and harassment of the media”.

    Reporters Without Borders says the media come under pressure from the authorities, while the Tamil Tigers “allow no dissident voices” in the areas they control.

    The internet is a growing medium for news; many papers have online editions. There were more than 770,000 internet users by March 2008 according to world telecoms body, the ITU.

    Intelligence report: U.S. antiterror ally Pakistan ‘on the edge’

    October 16, 2008

    By Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, McClatchy NewspapersTue Oct 14, 6:28 PM ET

    WASHINGTON — A growing al Qaida -backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army’s reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America’s key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

    A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as “very bad.” Another official called the draft “very bleak,” and said it describes Pakistan as being “on the edge.”

    The first official summarized the estimate’s conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: “no money, no energy, no government.”

    Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document’s findings confirmed them to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress . An NIE’s conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

    The NIE on Pakistan , along with others being prepared on Afghanistan and Iraq , will underpin a “strategic assessment” of the situation that Army Gen. David Petraeus , who’s about to take command of all U.S. forces in the region, has requested. The aim of the assessment — seven years after the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan — is to determine whether a U.S. presence in the region can be effective and if so what U.S. strategy should be.

    The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration’s effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq , Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.

    The Afghanistan estimate warns that additional American troops are urgently needed there and that Islamic extremists who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan pose a growing threat to the U.S.-backed government of Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai .

    The Iraq NIE is more cautious about the prospects for stability there than the Bush administration and either John McCain or Barack Obama have been, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. will be able to redeploy a significant number of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan anytime soon.

    Together, the three NIEs suggest that without significant and swift progress on all three fronts — which they suggest is uncertain at best — the U.S. could find itself facing a growing threat from al Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, said one of the officials.

    About the only good news in the Pakistan NIE is that it’s “relatively sanguine” about the prospects of a Pakistani nuclear weapon, materials or knowledge falling into the hands of terrorists, said one official.

    However, the draft NIE paints a grim picture of the situation in the impoverished, nuclear-armed country of 160 million, according to the U.S. officials who spoke to McClatchy .

    The estimate says that the Islamist insurgency based in the Federally Administered Tribal Area bordering Afghanistan , the suspected safe haven of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, is intensifying.

    However, according to the officials, the draft also finds that the Pakistani military is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the Islamists in part because of popular opposition to continuing the cooperation with the U.S. that began under Pervez Musharraf , the U.S.-backed former president, after the 9/11 attacks.

    Anti-U.S. and anti-government sentiments have grown recently, stoked by stepped-up cross-border U.S. missile strikes and at least one commando raid on suspected terrorist targets in the FATA that reportedly have resulted in civilian deaths.

    The Pakistani military, which has lost hundreds of troops to battles and suicide bombings, is waging offensives against Islamist guerrillas in the Bajaur tribal agency and Swat, a picturesque region of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan . U.S. officials said insurgent attacks on Pakistani security forces provoked the Pakistani army operations.

    The Pakistan general staff also remains concerned about what it considers an ongoing threat to its eastern border from its traditional foe, India , the draft NIE finds, according to the U.S. officials.

    For these reasons, they said, the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani , wants the new civilian coalition government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to provide the military with political cover by blessing a major anti-insurgency crackdown.

    However, the ruling coalition, in which President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto , holds the real authority, has been preoccupied by other matters, according to the draft NIE.

    These include efforts to consolidate its power after winning a struggle that prompted its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q , to leave the ruling coalition.

    Moreover, widespread anti-U.S. anger has left the coalition deeply divided over whether to unleash a major military assault on the Islamists, the U.S. officials said.

    The government is also facing an accelerating economic crisis that includes food and energy shortages, escalating fuel costs, a sinking currency and a massive flight of foreign capital accelerated by the escalating insurgency, the NIE warns.

    The Pakistani public is clamoring for relief as the crisis pushes millions more into poverty, giving insurgent groups more opportunities to recruit young Pakistanis.

    N Korea ‘buying weapons not food’

    October 6, 2008

    North Korean soldiers parade through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept 9, 2008.

    North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world

    North Korea has bought weapons worth $65m (£37m) over the past five years despite severe food shortages, a South Korean lawmaker said.

    Kwon Young-Se said the North had spent about $13m a year during South Korea’s previous administration.

    He was arguing against the South’s so-called ‘Sunshine’ policy of engagement with the North.

    Previous administrations sent food aid to the North, which critics say should have been more closely monitored.

    Mr Kwon, of South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party, said his information came from intelligence sources, although this was not confirmed.

    South Korean workers load fertilizer onto a ship in June 2006

    North Korea has relied on foreign food aid for years

    He said the weapons came from China, Russia, Germany, the Slovak Republic and other countries.

    “The report shows the North has developed its military capacity despite severe food shortages,” Mr Kwon told reporters.

    He said more caution should be practised when providing aid to the reclusive, impoverished, communist state.

    “Didn’t North Korea maintain its regime, introduce weapons and strengthen its armed forces while we were divided over controversy over the reckless aid?” Mr Kwon said in a statement.

    Powerful army

    Critics of aid disbursements have argued that the food sent to Pyongyang was used to feed members of North Korea’s military elite.

    North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world, and about a quarter of its national income is believed to be spent on the military.

    About 1.7 million people make up the armed forces in a country with a population of 23 million. By contrast, South Korea’s army comprises 680,000 troops.

    But many North Koreans are going hungry.

    In July the UN’s World Food Programme warned that hunger in North Korea is at its worst since the famine years of the 1990s, with five to six million people in immediate need out of a population of 23 million.

    When he came to office earlier this year, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak promised to stop unconditional aid to the North, which responded by cutting off government-level contact.

    Correspondents say the North has not asked for food aid from Seoul this year, and has been bitterly critical of the conservative government which came to power in South Korea in February.

    Russia Is Collapsing Inside

    October 5, 2008

    Sunday, October 5, 2008; B03

    The bear is back. That’s what all too many Russia-watchers have been saying since Russian troops steamrolled Georgia in August, warning that the country’s strongman, Vladimir Putin, was clawing his way back toward superpower status. The new Russia’s resurgence has been fueled — quite literally — by windfall profits from gas and oil, a big jump in defense spending and the cocky attitude on such display during the mauling of Georgia, its U.S.-backed neighbor to the south. Many now believe that the powerful Russian bear of the Cold War years is coming out of hibernation.

    Not so fast. Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia’s army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin’s military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia’s economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it’s facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.

    To be sure, the skylines of Russia’s cities are chock-a-block with cranes. Industrial lofts are now the rage in Moscow, Russian tourists crowd far-flung locales from Thailand to the Caribbean, and Russian moguls are snapping up real estate and art in London almost as quickly as their oil-rich counterparts from the Persian Gulf. But behind the shiny surface, Russian society may actually be weaker than it was even during Soviet times. The Kremlin‘s recent military adventures and tough talk are the bluster of the frail, not the swagger of the strong.

    While Russia has capitalized impressively on its oil industry, the volatility of the world oil market means that Putin cannot count on a long-term pipeline of cash flowing from high oil prices. A predicted drop of about one-third in the price of a barrel of oil will surely constrain Putin’s ability to carry out his ambitious agendas, both foreign and domestic.

    That makes Moscow’s announced plan to boost defense spending by close to 26 percent in 2009 — in order to fully re-arm its military with state-of-the-art weaponry — a dicey proposition. What the world saw in Georgia was a badly outdated arsenal, one that would take many years to replace — even assuming the country could afford the $200 billion cost.

    Something even larger is blocking Russia’s march. Recent decades, most notably since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, have seen an appalling deterioration in the health of the Russian population, anchoring Russia not in the forefront of developed countries but among the most backward of nations.

    This is a tragedy of huge proportions — but not a particularly surprising one, at least to me. I followed population, health and environmental issues in the Soviet Union for decades, and more recently, I have reported on diseases such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the Russian population. I’ve visited Russia more than 50 times over the years, so I can say from firsthand experience that this national calamity isn’t happening suddenly. It’s happening inexorably.

    According to U.N. figures, the average life expectancy for a Russian man is 59 years — putting the country at about 166th place in the world longevity sweepstakes, one notch above Gambia. For women, the picture is somewhat rosier: They can expect to live, on average, 73 years, barely beating out the Moldovans. But there are still some 126 countries where they could expect to live longer. And the gap between expected longevity for men and for women — 14 years — is the largest in the developed world.

    So what’s killing the Russians? All the usual suspects — HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, suicides, smoking, traffic accidents — but they occur in alarmingly large numbers, and Moscow has neither the resources nor the will to stem the tide. Consider this:

    Three times as many Russians die from heart-related illnesses as do Americans or Europeans, per each 100,000 people.

    Tuberculosis deaths in Russia are about triple the World Health Organization‘s definition of an epidemic, which is based on a new-case rate of 50 cases per 100,000 people.

    Average alcohol consumption per capita is double the rate the WHO considers dangerous to one’s health.

    About 1 million people in Russia have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, according to WHO estimates.

    Using mid-year figures, it’s estimated that 25 percent more new HIV/AIDS cases will be recorded this year than were logged in 2007.

    And none of this is likely to get better any time soon. Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency created in response to the epidemic, told a press conference this summer that he is “very pessimistic about what is going on in Russia and Eastern Europe . . . where there is the least progress.” This should be all the more worrisome because young people are most at risk in Russia. In the United States and Western Europe, 70 percent of those with HIV/AIDS are men over age 30; in Russia, 80 percent of this group are aged 15 to 29. And although injected-drug users represent about 65 percent of Russia’s cases, the country has officially rejected methadone as a treatment, even though it would likely reduce the potential for HIV infections that lead to AIDS.

    And then there’s tuberculosis — remember tuberculosis? In the United States, with a population of 303 million, 650 people died of the disease in 2007. In Russia, which has a total of 142 million people, an astonishing 24,000 of them died of tuberculosis in 2007. Can it possibly be coincidental that, according to Gennady Onishchenko, the country’s chief public health physician, only 9 percent of Russian TB hospitals meet current hygienic standards, 21 percent lack either hot or cold running water, 11 percent lack a sewer system, and 20 percent have a shortage of TB drugs? Hardly.

    On the other end of the lifeline, the news isn’t much better. Russia’s birth rate has been declining for more than a decade, and even a recent increase in births will be limited by the fact that the number of women age 20 to 29 (those responsible for two-thirds of all babies) will drop markedly in the next four or five years to mirror the 50 percent drop in the birth rate in the late 1980s and the 1990s. And, sadly, the health of Russia’s newborns is quite poor, with about 70 percent of them experiencing complications at birth.

    Last summer, Piot of UNAIDS said that bringing Russia’s HIV/AIDS epidemic under control was “a matter of political leadership and of changing the policy.” He might just as well have been talking about the much larger public health crisis that threatens this vast country. But the policies seem unlikely to change as the bear lumbers along, driven by disastrously misplaced priorities and the blindingly unrealistic expectations of a resentment-driven political leadership. Moscow remains bent on ignoring the devastating truth: The nation is not just sick but dying.