Thursday, 3 September 2015

14 dead after boat with 70 migrants on board capsizes near Malaysia

A wooden boat crammed with migrant workers who were headed back to Indonesia capsized Thursday off Malaysia's western coast, leaving at least 14 people dead, a maritime official said..

The boat was believed to be carrying 70 people and not 100 as reported earlier by fishermen, said First Adm. Mohamad Aliyas Hamdan, the district chief of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

He said that 13 women and one man are confirmed to have died, and 19 people have been rescued.

Agency official Mohamad Hambali Yaakup said the boat sank in bad sea conditions not far from the coast and several vessels and an aircraft were searching for survivors near the coastal town of Sabak Bernam in the central Selangor state

Mohamad Hambali said the boat was believed to have been taking migrant workers home to Tanjung Balai in Indonesia's Sumatra province. It was likely to have been overcrowded when it sank, he said.

Such incidents are common in Malaysia, which has up to 2 million Indonesian migrants working illegally in the country.

The Indonesians work without legal permits in plantations and other industries in Malaysia, and often travel between the countries by crossing the narrow Strait of Malacca in poorly equipped boats.

Thursday 03 September 2015

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Austria struggle to Identify truck victims

Veteran police investigators say they have never faced a task like identifying the 71 bodies unloaded from the back of a truck found abandoned along a highway last week.

The victims, believed to have been mainly Syrian refugees trying to reach Germany, had apparently suffocated. They were so decomposed and drenched in bodily fluids that many of their documents were illegible. Hands were so deformed that traditional fingerprinting methods proved impossible.

Criminal investigators, many of whom had identified victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, are working 16-hour days at a disused veterinary clinic in Nickelsdorf, near where the truck was found Aug. 27. The stench and heat topping 90 degrees compounded the pressure, as most of the early work was done outdoors.

“This is both mentally and physically one of the most challenging jobs we’ve ever done,” said Chief Inspector Kepic Erwin, who heads the team handling the postmortem investigation. “We only focus on the work we’re supposed to do.”

Such gruesome finds are becoming all-too-common as Europe reels from the mounting death toll from the biggest influx of migrants in decades. At least 12 Syrians, including eight children ranging from 9 months to 11 years old, drowned Wednesday as they attempted to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Greece, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The bodies of the 59 men, eight women and four children found in the truck in Austria were brought to Nickelsdorf, undressed, then sent to Vienna over the weekend for forensic examination.

Their papers and electronic devices are being cleaned and analyzed at a regional police station in Eisenstadt. Clothing and any other belongings remain in Nickelsdorf, where investigators painstakingly search through them for clues.

No one has been positively identified, but an Austrian government official said travel documents found so far suggest at least some of the victims were from Syria where civil war has raged for the past four years.

The grim work has brought the human tragedy in Europe’s unfolding migrant crisis into focus. People from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa are willing to risk their lives to reach safer, more prosperous countries—even going as far as packing themselves into a refrigerated chicken delivery truck with no room to sit and little air to breath.

Activists and migration experts say smuggling has boomed since Europe recently began tightening its internal borders. Hungary last weekend finished erecting a razor-wire fence along its wooded frontier with Serbia, one of the most-popular crossings on the route northward from the Mediterranean.

Many don’t make it that far. The International Organization for Migration says more than 2,300 people have died while trying to cross the sea into Europe so far this year.

Germany, with its relatively strong job market and generous benefits, has been one of the main destinations for the wave of migrants and refugees. Among the hundreds of people prevented from boarding Germany-bound trains at Budapest’s main railway station this week, some said they would turn to smugglers.

Overnight Tuesday, Austrian police rescued 24 Afghan teenagers crammed into a small, nearly airtight van, at risk of suffocation. The van’s two windows were darkened and sealed and the rear door had been barred from the outside, a police spokesman said. The driver—identified as a 30-year-old Romanian—was arrested after trying to run away.

Nearby, in Nickelsdorf, Mr. Erwin said his medical team hoped to finish the forensic research by Friday, while examination of the findings would continue for weeks. Some passengers may never be identified, he warned.

“We do, of course, want to identify everyone, but we have no guarantees,” said Lt. Col. Karl Wochermayr, who came from Salzburg to Eisenstadt to lead the 30 investigators working on identifications.

The task is complicated by the lack of information about the victims. Normally in such situations, authorities have a list of names or other details to match to specific bodies. “Here, we have no idea who we’re looking for,” Col. Wochermayr said.

They don’t even know how long the people had been dead. It could have been “anything from some hours to several days. It is still hard to tell, because of the heat,” which accelerates decomposition, Mr. Erwin said.

A police hotline and email address established to gather tips has received fewer than 200 descriptions of missing people, said Col. Wochermayr.

He said the number is unusually low, probably because relatives may be stuck in war zones or otherwise cut off from communications.

Worried family members and friends arrive at the police station in Eisenstadt daily, handing over photos of missing loved ones and providing investigators with DNA samples. On Monday one man arrived from Hannover, Germany, 500 miles away, because he feared his brother might have been on the truck, Col. Wochermayr said.

The van where the people died, still emitting an overwhelming stench that wafted to a nearby refugee camp, was moved Wednesday to “a safe place,” according to the state prosecutor.

At the former veterinary facility, a one-story gray building with loading bays resembling a warehouse, police Wednesday continued documenting the migrants’ possessions. One officer clad in a hazmat suit spread a pair of jeans darkened by bodily secretions across a sheet of white plastic on the ground. A second officer, also in white, took photographs while a third nearby in civilian clothes wrote down details called out by his colleague in a monotone.

“Black belt, leather. Jeans, dark blue…”

A second team in Eisenstadt is analyzing cellphones, USB drives and other electronic items found with the bodies that could offer clues to their identities.

Police declined to say what they had found, but note that chasing leads isn’t simple. Cooperation with police in Syria is largely out of the question, due to the civil war, and some victims may have come from areas now controlled by Islamic State militants. Police also worry that calling numbers in Syria found on cellphones could expose people there to dangers.

Col. Wochermayr said their current focus is on European phone numbers that might provide clues to the migrants’ final destinations.

Medical examiners in Vienna are collecting dental samples, DNA and records of identifying marks such as scars, implants or tattoos. All the information is being entered into a computer program that is also used by Interpol, an international organization that facilitates police cooperation.

“We’re working against time,” said Mr. Erwin. Even though the bodies have been cooled for almost a week, the decomposition doesn’t stop.

The examiners are all accustomed to dealing with corpses, but the work is nevertheless unusually intense, he said. Each evening a police psychologist arrives to talk with team members. “So that we don’t have to take all the mental images with us home,” said Mr. Erwin.

Thursday 03 September 2015

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20 years on, Bougainville families haunted by missing

In the late 1980s, long-standing tensions over an Australia-run copper mine saw the region of Bougainville descend into a decade-long civil war for independence from Papua New Guinea.

It was after PNG imposed a blockade on the region in 1990 that Celine Pururau's brother, Paschal, left to take up arms and join the conflict, compelled by what she says was a motivation to save Bougainville from being wrecked by mining and environmental destruction.

"We tried to stop him," she said in an interview 25 years later. "But he did not listen to us, he said he had to sacrifice to save Bougainville."

Paschal, who before the war was a passionate football fan who worked with children around the town of Buka, left to fight Papua New Guinea government forces on Buka island.

His family never saw him again.

"They tell us the story that they buried him in a mass grave," Ms Pururau said. Her situation is not unique.

Almost twenty years since the war's end, the International Committee for the Red Cross says many families still have no idea what happened to their relatives during the war.

The official end of the conflict was in 1997, when a ceasefire was signed after protracted efforts to negotiate a peace between the two sides.

Estimates put the death toll at about 15,000, but the ICRC's Bougainville delegate, Tobias Koehler, says that nearly 20 years later, there's still no idea just how many are missing.

"There's simply no data on this and there's also, in terms of missing persons, no clear knowledge," said Mr Koehler. "Every time we come to a new district or we come to a new village and we talk about these issues people do come forward and mention this."

"It'll be at least more than 100, but it'll probably be less than a couple of thousand." Mr Koehler said many of the families of the disappeared have suffered psychologically as a result of the uncertainty, especially in a culture where returning a dead person to their home village for burial is of utmost importance.

"Basically, their family members have no idea of their fate and whereabouts, what has actually happened to them, if they are dead, if they have been killed or have died of a disease, if they are buried at a certain place or their bodies are lost at sea," said Mr Koehler. "There are a lot of families who are completely left in the dark about the fate of their loved ones."

It was that uncertainty that spurred Peter Garuai to form the Bougainville Families of the Missing Persons Association.

Mr Garuai's 20-year-old brother, Benedict, joined the fight in 1993 and was killed later that year. His family never heard what happened to Benedict.

"He was killed during the combat here in Arawa," said Mr Garuai. "The defence force killed him, but we've never known where he was buried. It was a dirty little war, here in Bougainville."

"I formed this association because of the pain that lingered in my mind that my brother, he has to come back," he said. "So this association tries to bring back normalcy to the lives of the missing people's families."

The now Autonomous Bougainville Government, formed under the peace agreement signed at the end of the conflict, adopted a policy on missing persons late last year, but little has come from it so far.

That's prompted many of the relatives of the disappeared to march through the towns of Buka and Arawa this week in an effort to highlight their ongoing battle for answers, and to call for more to be done to ensure that remains are returned to home villages.

Peter Garuai says the government needs to take note of the families' cries in order to build a foundation for a referendum on possible independence for Bougainville, which is likely to be held in 2019.

Bougainville's president, John Momis, says he accepts the ABG does need to do more to work out the whereabouts of the missing, but funding has been an issue.

"The ABG first of all has to engage people who are in the know and also find funds to fund it because it won't be done for nothing," said Mr Momis. "I'm not saying it hasn't been the top priority, we have had problems with the National Government giving us our legitimate financial budgetary allocations, and all these things have taken up our time."

John Momis said he hopes to work with the Red Cross and donor countries to make the missing persons policy more effective.

Thursday 03 September 2015,-bougainville-families-haunted-by-missing

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Himachal Pradesh: 18 dead, 12 injured as bus falls into gorge at Nathpa

Eighteen people were killed and twelve others injured on Tuesday when a bus fell 200 metres deep into a gorge at Nathpa on Hindustan Tibet National highway, 185km from Shimla.

Fifteen persons died on the spot while three succumbed to their injuries on way to hospital and twelve others were injured, SP, Kinnaur, Rahul Nath said.

The condition of four injured persons was stated to be serious and they have been rushed to Civil Hospital Rampur.

The private bus was on its way to Rampur from Rekong Peo when the tragedy struck. The deceased included two policemen while the identity of the others was being identified.

Since most of the people travelling in the bus were locals, a large number of people rushed to the spot and wailing relatives of the passengers looked for their kin.

After hurtling into the gorge, the bus stopped on the bank of Sutlej, a few meters from the river and some of the injured persons jumped out of the bus.

The bus broke into pieces and rescuers struggled to extricate the bodies trapped in the vehicle

Rescue teams, assisted by local people, had a tough time in bringing the injured to nearest roadhead.

The injured persons have been admitted to hospital at Bhawa Nagar while two seriously injured persons were rushed to civil hospital at Rampur.

The cause of the accident could not be ascertained so far but eye-witnesses said it took place as the driver tried to overtake another bus.

Thursday 03 September 2015

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