Friday, 20 January 2012

One day Nigeria Police will halt mass burial of disaster victims

Biometrics is essentially the best forensic method used by the police and disaster management agencies to identify people or victims of disaster. They are uniquely based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioural traits. In Nigeria, disaster victim identification based on biometrics is not applied by the police detectives and failure to know the exact identity of victims has led to mass burials in so many instances.

Inspector General of Police Ogbonna Onovo said during disaster victim identification training organised for the police by Germany in Abuja, that so many victims of disasters have been given mass burials as a result of lack of a method to trace their identities. “It is expected that after the training, there will not be any excuse for mass burial,” he said.

In 2002, 56 unidentified victims of a plane crash in Kano were given a mass burial. Red Cross officials had stated that death toll had hit 148. The 56 victims, comprising about 14 men and 42 women, were interred in Kano. Also, victims of the motor accident that claimed not less than 70 lives at Uromi Junction along the Benin-Asaba Expressway, Agbor, in Ika South Local government Area of Delta State recently were given a mass burial. Nevertheless, 380 victims of the sectarian violence in three communities in Shen village of Jos South Local Government Area were given a mass burial in Dogon Na Hauwa.

The Germans trained the police based on request made by Onovo when German diplomats visited him in Abuja. The diplomats had asked the police to identify areas which they required training.

The German Police Liaison Officer for West Africa, Dominic Muller, said police must be able to identify victims of disasters no matter how bad the bodies. He said police detectives should apply biometrics in post-mortem examinations to find the exact identity of people and avoid mass burials. The physical characteristics which could be relied upon include finger print, dental records, face recognition, DNA as well as hand and palm geometry. Ante mortem records such as x-rays and photographs could be compared to post mortem records to get an exact identity. “Where the body becomes difficult to recognise such as in inferno, plane crash or has decomposed, dental records could be used to give appropriate facts,” Muller said.

But in Nigeria, very few people keep their dental records, if any, as such police will have a problem finding exact facts. Muller said in other European countries including Germany people consult dentists often due to the nature of their diets and it is easier to get their dental records. Identification rates are highest among people from nations where dental and healthcare systems are of high quality.

He said it is important to trace identity so as to allay suspicion by family members and enable relatives claim insurance benefits. It is only when the real identity of the victims of disaster such as in plane crash is established that insurance monies will be given to families.

Muller said it is sad that in Nigeria disaster victims are given mass burials because of inability or failure of police and disaster management agencies to identify victims. “Ideally, it is the police who are to coordinate other agencies in disaster management and police detectives posted to such scenes must have the knowledge of disaster victim identification,” he said.

A senior police officer in Abuja said very few policemen have requisite knowledge to identify disfigured human bodies which was the reason for mass burial of victims.

But Muller said he and his German counterparts have taught a select group of policemen some disaster victims identification strategies among which dental records are more reliable. DNA test is also reliable but it takes time before the result is known which necessitates keeping the body in a temperature-controlled morgue to slow down decomposition. It is a sensitive technique with contamination problems.

Fingerprints information is also important but will have to be sent to experts who will input the information into automated Fingerprint Identification System which is rare in Nigeria. Fingerprints are unique but less obtainable from victims due to the fast decomposition.

Muller said there is no basis to give victims of disasters or accidents mass burial when physical pictures of victims can be used in identification. Photos can be taken of the victim, focusing on items like medical operations, jewellery, tattooing, scars, piercing, or eye and hair colour.

These distinguishing characteristics are not considered universal because they may not be present in every corpse. These features may also be disfigured for various reasons but even then, they have helped detectives in identification.

Written by Misbahu Bashir Sunday, 18 July 2010 05:36

http://sundaytrust.com.ng/?option=com_content&view=article&id=4242:one-day-nigeria-police-will-halt-mass-burial-of-disaster-victims&catid=41:latest-news&Itemid=26

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Kibwetere’s mass grave site becomes guest house

The house in which more than 150 bodies were discovered buried in a mass grave by followers of the self-styled cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere, 11 years ago, is under renovation to be turned into a commercial guest house.

Residents of Rubirizi town council, Rubirizi district, where the house is located, have shunned it for all these years, fearing that ghosts would haunt them if they occupied it. Kakuru Byamugisha, the area Local Council II chairperson, told The Observer that no one has occupied the house since the police retrieved the decomposing bodies from it.

Kibwetere, who was the leader of the shadowy ‘Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments’, duped hundreds of Ugandans into surrendering their possessions to his cult, and entering into a makeshift church in Kanungu in western Uganda, before they were locked inside and the church set ablaze. More than 500 cult members, including children, perished.

In the days that followed, police and local authorities exhumed hundreds of bodies of people that had been murdered by the cult and buried in different places.
According to pathologists who examined their remains, some had been poisoned, others strangled. Many had stab wounds and/or fractured skulls. The bodies were mostly buried in mass graves under the houses where they were discovered, the majority in present-day Rubirizi district.

Residents who talked to The Observer expressed fear that renovation of the house, in which many of their murdered relatives were found buried, could affect them psychologically.

Rosemary Kirabo, a resident of Rugazi town council who lost four relatives, says the government should have demolished the building.
“Government should have come in and demolished this house because whenever we look at it, it brings fresh sad memories of our people, she said.

Sunday, 06 November 2011 22:55
Written by Wilson Asiimwe

http://webmail.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15790:kibweteres-mass-grave-site-becomes-guest-house&catid=34:news&Itemid=59

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Grave concerns over security laws in Kashmir

Two days into 2012, a student was killed and two more were injured in a village in North Kashmir when the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guarding a hydroelectric plant opened fire on protesters, shattering a tenuous peace. In the recent past, (and most noticeably in 2010), students who have come out on to the streets chanting pro-freedom slogans – as part of a struggle for self determination whose roots go back further than Indian independence – have been fired upon and killed. This time, the protesters were merely demanding more electricity on an icy winter day during an acute power shortage. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quick to declare that the CISF did not come under the ambit of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – an extraordinary and draconian piece of security legislation – and sought to raise the pitch for partial revocation of the law.

AFSPA was enacted in 1990, ostensibly to fight the insurgency and armed militancy that surfaced in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and in some parts of northeast India. Although the government admits that militancy has significantly reduced in Kashmir, the law has not been revoked. In October last year Abdullah began issuing statements to the effect that AFSPA must be partially revoked.
Trampling human rights

Activists say there are two disturbing aspects of the law that can grossly trample upon fundamental human rights. One is the de jure abrogation of constitutional guarantees – such as the right to life – because of the extraordinary and unbridled powers it bestows on security troops to arrest, detain, destroy property and even kill on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’.

The other is the shield of immunity whereby it is not possible to prosecute armed forces, even for the most heinous crimes, without the sanction of the Central Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry. The state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government claim there are provisions within the law for punitive action. In practice, impunity is deeply rooted.

Under the guise of defending the nation’s sovereignty at any cost, the police and armed forces have perpetrated huge crimes

Khurram Parvez, a rights activist working with Jammu Kashmir Civil Society (JKCS), says that the complete lack of culpability has been so pervasive that it has permeated down even to the police, who do not come under AFSPA. He says that under the guise of defending the nation’s sovereignty at any cost, the police and armed forces have perpetrated huge crimes such as custodial killings, mass rapes and enforced disappearances. ‘But who in the past 22 years has been punished, even when indicted?’ he asks.
Kashmir Global under a CC Licence
Which way now for Kashmir? Kashmir Global under a CC Licence

On the contrary, he charges, the state’s policy of handing out incentives in the form of payments for encounter killings has exacerbated the scale of rights violations. A recent example is the Macchil case, when three youths from poor families were recruited by an army unit to work as high-altitude porters. They were cold-bloodedly killed on 30 April 2010 after being falsely labelled as militants. A member of the state’s human rights commission charged the offending army personnel of murdering them to gain ‘undue promotions, awards and rewards’.

Parvez says any talk of revocation of the law from parts of Kashmir is meaningless if the political will to end this culture of immunity is lacking. ‘The crux of the issue is not whether such security laws are good or bad, but that they have engendered complete lawlessness. Armed personnel have violated every standard operating procedure, even within this draconian law. For example, any person who has been picked up for interrogation must be presented before the magistrate within a day or two. This is never done. That is why you have at least 8,000 cases of enforced disappearances, a figure that has been arrived at by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP),’ he adds.

The state has long denied these figures. It maintains that the missing youths crossed the border to Pakistan to train as militants. The state has also declared that many of the anonymous and unidentified graves that lie scattered all over Kashmir contain bodies of militants, mainly foreign fighters from Pakistan or Afghanistan who had infiltrated the state.
Cover up exposed

Significantly, in September 2011 this cover up was blown away. What had been an open secret well documented by rights groups was eventually acknowledged by the state’s human rights commission (SHRC). A team comprising 11 members and led by senior police officer Bashir Itoo admitted, to the state’s acute discomfiture, that graves in North Kashmir contained the remains of locals. There was every possibility they contained bodies of those who had suffered ‘enforced disappearances’.

The state team began in 2008 its investigation of anonymous graves in 38 sites in North Kashmir. Their report states that out of 2,730 unidentified bodies that were buried, 574 were later identified as locals. The report also notes that some of the bodies, besides bearing bullet injuries, were also defaced. At least 20 were charred and five comprised only of skulls. At least 18 graves contained more than one unidentified body.

A local Kashmiri daily recently reported that one of the mass graves in Bimiyar, Baramulla district, contained the bullet-riddled body of a six-month-old infant. Atta Mohammed Wali Khan, a local gravedigger who testified before the state’s inquiry team, confirms burying the baby. All the bodies had been brought in by the police.

It is not possible to prosecute armed forces, even for the most heinous crimes, without the sanction of the Central Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry

It is the norm for security troops to hand over to the police for burial the bodies of those killed in encounters with militants, or civilians caught in crossfire. It is mandatory for the police, in turn, to maintain proper identification profiles, taking photos of those killed and placing them in the public domain. Suspicious deaths, such as those with slit throats, strangulation marks or signs of visible torture, must be investigated. But, as the state report indicates, none of this had been adhered to.

Itoo, who led the investigations despite the challenges of ‘insufficient logistical support’, confirms that the local police did not keep any such identification profiles, and in ‘some cases police claims were falsified’.

Demands have now grown for the investigation into anonymous graves to be extended to the whole of Kashmir. There is scarcely a district that does not contain such graves. Many of them spring up in open spaces adjoining police stations or security forces’ camps. Human rights groups such as the JKCS and the state human rights commission have sought accountability by demanding that all the graves be examined and a comprehensive DNA data base established for crosschecking with DNA samples of the next of kin of people who have disappeared.
What reconciliation?

At least 14,123 families have agreed to such DNA testing in a bid to bring about closure and end the agonizing search for loved ones. ‘But how serious [about it] is the state?’ wonders Parvez. The APDP has expressed concern that although three months have passed since the SHRC’s findings and recommendations, the government has done nothing. The Chief Minister’s only response has been to call for a truth and reconciliation committee.

‘There is no talk about finding the perpetrators of the crimes: the army, paramilitary troops, officers and civil administrators who aided and abetted them. There is no talk of trying them and giving them appropriate, even exemplary punishment’

This leads Kashmiri writer, researcher and legal activist Arif Ayaz Parray to declare that what the state is doing in a ‘legalistic’ sense is replacing ‘justice’ with ‘acknowledgment’. He explains: ‘There is no talk about finding the perpetrators of the crimes: the army, paramilitary troops, officers and civil administrators who aided and abetted them. There is no talk of trying them and giving them appropriate, even exemplary punishment, not only for “disappearing” people, killing them in fake gun battles and dumping them in mass graves, but also for failing to maintain DNA profiles and pictures of those killed and sharing the records with the administration of Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi and Islamabad.

‘The state is absolving itself by pleading the impossibility of such justice – conveniently choosing to gloss over the fact that it is the state itself which has made it impossible in the first place, as a matter of policy – and therefore offering “reconciliation” in its place. What reconciliation?’

He likens this latest example of acknowledgment to a case of ‘double disappearance’. ‘Figuratively, the state took children from their mothers’ laps, killed them and buried them anonymously, creating a void which has hardened over many years. Now it wants to return the skeletons back to the mothers’ laps, force the void shut and claim that restorative justice has been delivered.’

Freny Manecksha is a freelance journalist.

Published on January 16, 2012

http://www.newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/01/16/security-laws-inquiry-kashmir/

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Forgotten: The stolen people of the Sinai

Thousands of poor migrants from across Africa are being kidnapped by Bedouin gangs. Refugees from sub-Saharan Africa are being kidnapped, tortured and ransomed for thousands of dollars in the Egyptian Sinai in what human rights activists say is the world's forgotten hostage crisis. Over the past year, thousands of desperate migrants from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia have been kidnapped by Bedouin tribesmen who are taking advantage of continuing instability in Egypt to ramp up their lucrative trade.

Click Here to view 'Refugees on the move' graphic

Migrants have reported being rounded up by gang members and held in specially constructed jails where they are frequently tortured until relatives in Europe or Africa come up with thousands of dollars.

Testimony compiled by human rights groups reveals that torture with electric cables and molten plastic is routinely used against victims as they make desperate calls home to plead for cash. Many kidnap victims claim to have been raped by their abductors, and there are reports that captives who have been unable to raise funds have had organs removed for sale on the black market.

Critics have accused the international community of standing idle in the midst of a kidnapping scandal that has drawn little attention compared with Somali piracy, whose victims are often white employees of multinational corporations rather than poor Africans.

Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, receives regular calls to his Vatican office from the families of kidnapped migrants as they try to liaise with loved ones or kidnappers. "There are no real efforts being made to save these people," he told The Independent. "The inertia of the [international community] is a godsend for criminals who get rich. The millionaire business around this trafficking is forcing hundreds of families into debt for amounts that they will pay for decades, in order to save the lives of their son, daughter or husband. Many sell everything, or end up in the hands of usurers".

Most of the sub-Saharan migrants making their way to the Sinai desert are from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan – three impoverished African nations which have a history of persecuting political opponents and ethnic minorities. Most of those fleeing are hoping to reach Europe, where there are already sizeable populations from their countries.

Before the turmoil created by the Arab Spring, many migrants trekked through the Sahara to reach Libya, Algeria and Morocco in the hopes of finding work or catching a boat across the Mediterranean. Most now have no choice but to enter Europe via the Sinai and Israel, forcing them into the hands of Bedouin tribesmen who have long engaged in smuggling arms, drugs and people after years of chronic under-investment and prejudice from central government in Cairo.

Dr Khataza Ghondwe, an expert on sub-Saharan Africa working for the non-governmental organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, says the plight of kidnapped refugees has been ignored for too long. "The Sinai has been a pretty lawless place for years and [ousted President Hosni] Mubarak made no effort to halt the abuse of refugees by tribes there," she said. "But since the revolution things have got even worse. Their plight has slipped off the radar entirely."

She thinks people within Eritrea, and not just the Bedouin, could be benefiting from the smuggling routes. "I was in Kenya earlier last year speaking to an Eritrean man," she said. "As we were talking, he got a call from his brother who was being held in the Sinai and asked for him to send money as soon as possible. The bank details he gave were for a branch in Asmara [the capital of Eritrea], not Egypt."

According to a recent Israeli government report, an estimated 11,763 people were smuggled into Israel through the Egyptian border in 2010. Last week, the Knesset passed new legislation making it easier for the authorities to speed up deportations, leading to an outcry from human rights groups.

Doctors working for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, a charity which examines migrants on arrival, conducted interviews with 800 refugees, with 78 per cent reporting that they had been kidnapped, tortured or held for ransom at some point during their journey through the Sinai. A separate survey by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, based in Tel Aviv, found that 50 per cent of migrants had reported being raped in the Sinai, including many men.

Egypt's ability to police the Sinai has been historically hindered by its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which limits the number of troops Cairo is allowed to place on the country's eastern flank. After a successful attempt by Islamist suicide bombers to infiltrate the Sinai border last August, Israel has allowed the Egyptians to increase troop numbers, but little of the extra resources have been put into tackling the human trafficking networks.

The migrants have given testimonies with detailed descriptions of where they were held. One group operating out of the Mansoura area is known to be run by a man called Abu Musa and his brothers Ali Hamed and Salim. They use two distinctive red houses with Chinese pagodas outside their gates to imprison their captives. The towns of Rafah, Mansoura and Al-Jorra are also known to contain purpose-built prisons for hostages. Despite the details provided, however, authorities are taking little action.

The most recent telephone call received by Father Zerai was last Thursday, when a woman said she was part of a group of 20 who had been taken captive, including six children. "The woman who called for help talks about continuous mistreatment, starvation and violence," he said. The kidnappers reportedly demanded $30,000 for each captive and threatened to remove organs from those who could not pay.

"The situation is getting worse and worse," added Father Zerai. "Something must be done."

Tortured in the desert: Smugglers' victims

TLS: A 19-year-old Eritrean woman

When I was still in Sudan, I agreed to pay the smugglers $2,500 to transfer me to Israel. When I arrived in Sinai, the smuggler sold me, along with a group of other people, to another smuggler named Abdullah. Abdullah demanded an additional $10,000 from me. I had no way to raise that sum of money. Abdullah raped me for five days and two other smugglers raped me as well. As a result of all these rapes, I got pregnant. Only after eight months was my father able to send the smugglers $5,000; they released me and allowed me to cross the border to Israel. I must have an abortion. My husband should not know what happened to me in the desert.

MN: A 35-year-old Sudanese man

The smugglers asked whether we knew anyone in Israel or Europe and asked for our relatives' phone numbers. They would call our relatives and then bring a stick and beat us so that we could be heard shouting and crying. They told our relatives that if the money arrived that day, we'd be in Israel the following day. Sometimes they asked for $2,500 and sometimes for an additional $3,000. The more someone cried when they were beaten, the more money their relatives would send.

AIS: A 21-year-old Eritrean woman

So that we would convince our relatives to send money, the smugglers beat our shins with a stick. They also burned our arms and legs with a plastic stick with hot metal at the end. I still have wounds and scars from the beatings and the burns. I was a virgin when I arrived in the desert. During the first few times that I was raped I cried and resisted, but that didn't help. They wouldn't leave me alone. After that I stopped resisting. Only when $2,800 arrived did the smugglers unchain me. They transferred me to someone named Ibrahim and he transferred me and 30 other people to the Israeli border.

Jerome Taylor - Friday 20 January 2012

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/forgotten-the-stolen-people-of-the-sinai-6292201.html

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Six US troops killed in Afghanistan chopper crash

(AFP) KANDAHAR — Six US troops were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday, indicating the incident was not believed to be the result of enemy fire.

The helicopter, a CH-53 Sea Stallion, went down in the volatile Helmand province, according to one US official who said: "Initial indications are that this was not hostile fire."

The dead were members of the US military, another US official told AFP.

In a brief statement, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

"However, initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash," it said.

The helicopter came down in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province at around 10:00 pm (0530 GMT) on Thursday "due to technical failure", the provincial Afghan army corps commander Sayed Mulook told AFP.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban militia, which is leading a 10-year insurgency against the Afghan government and tens of thousands of NATO troops, claimed the insurgents had shot down the helicopter.

Mulook rejected the claim.

The Sea Stallion is a heavy transport aircraft capable of carrying about 40 people. The US officials did not say whether anyone else was on board, other than the six victims.

An ISAF spokesman told AFP in Kabul that the crash occurred late Thursday.

He stressed that "there was no enemy around", but could not give further information such as the terrain at the crash site or the weather.

In August, 30 US troops were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter, in the deadliest incident for US and NATO forces since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

The dead included 17 Navy SEALs and five other Navy sailors assigned to the SEAL unit. Seven Afghan troops and an interpreter were also killed.

Most of the Navy commandos came from the same SEAL team credited with killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a May raid in Pakistan.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iT7hAofnZSneTdgkklCdPTGSIjFA?docId=CNG.b33187b031d09173f046e82e4b41c179.131

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Turkey - Deployment of disaster victims to containers has being promptly continued

With the purpose of providing convenient environment for disaster victims during the winter time, works has being intensely continued.

On this framework, 27.598 containers have been ordered for manufacturing and 23.291 of them have been transferred and more than 18.000 have been deployed to affected area. As a priority, these containers have supplied for victims whose buildings are collapsed or uninhabitable. It is planned 180.000 disaster victims to be relocated to these container cities which have more capacities to shelter than the population of any other provinces in our country.

21 points in Van City Center and 4 points in Erciş District have been identified as container areas. Provided the disaster victims’ needs such as electric, water, heating, education, clothing, meals,three times a day in container cities established, it has been performed psycho-social support services.

Within the framework of works to be relocated disaster victims’ permanent houses, 3.984 houses have been laid the foundation. Completed the rough construction of many disaster houses in a short time as a month; it is planned that houses will be supplied to disaster victims on the late of August. Moreover, the process is ongoing for tender offer of nearly 11.000 houses.

70 container offices have been manufactured for mukhtars of Van and Erciş settlements. All of them planned as working office for mukhtars have been deployed.

13.488 Citizens have been sheltered in 9 tent cities established in Van Center and 1.205 Citizens have been sheltered in Mevlana houses (a type of prefabricated house) in Erciş District.

As of today 35.976 disaster victims have been also transferred from disaster area to public facilities and their needs have being provided by our state.

The number is more than 50.000 included the Citizens, have applied to relevant Governorships after having departed to other provinces with their own facilities.

Up till today, included the emergency aid allowance transferred to Van total cost of humanitarian aid supplies is 380.327.869, 00 USD. Due to supply the needs in affected area, 75.546.448, 00 USD Emergency Aid Allowance has been transferred from resources of AFAD and Prime Ministry to Governorship of Van, Ministries, Public Facilities, Universities, Organizations and relevant Governorship for relocating.

In the context of the humanitarian aid campaigns launched by our Prime Minister H.E. Recep Tayyip ERDOĞAN, in the accounts of our Prime Ministry, The Presidency of Religious Affairs and Turkish Red Crescent 165.027.322, 00 USD have been collected.

Deep respect and appreciate.

Dr. Fuat OKTAY Director - General

http://reliefweb.int/node/471405

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Padiham Cemetery's memorial revamp for East Lancashire's Dan-Air disaster victims

A MEMORIAL to 45 air-crash victims from East Lancashire has been revamped thanks to a town mayor.

Lettering on the Padiham Cemetery monument to those who perished in the 1970 Dan-Air disaster had become indistinct.

And relatives of those killed in the incident, which saw a jet crash into a mountain range near Barcelona, were keen to see the area overhauled.

Now town mayor Coun Bob Clark has stepped in and arranged for a stonemason to retouch the inscription to the ill-fated passengers.

Parks department staff have also revamped the small garden, where the memorial stands, in the Blackburn Road cemetery.

All 112 people on board the plane were killed, including four players from the all-conquering Britannia Wanderers football team, based at the Guy Street pub of the same name.

The victims also included holidaymakers from Burnley, Nelson, Barnoldswick, Worsthorne and Ramsbottom, which had set off from Manchester Airport.

Coun Clark said: “The families are happy with the work which was been carried out and I was glad I was able to assist.”

Last year family and friends of the victims staged a memorial service to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash.

The memorial was unveiled following a fundraising campaign by the former Padiham Urban District Council, under the chairmanship of Sheila Maw.

An official report into the disaster concluded that the jet had been talked down to disaster after misleading information from the cock-pit and the mistaken identity of a mystery blip on the radar screen.

Thursday 19th January 2012

http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/burnleypendlerossendale/9482129.Padiham_Cemetery_s_memorial_revamp_for_East_Lancashire_s_Dan_Air_disaster_victims/

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The Mexico drug war: Bodies for billions

(CNN) -- There are kingpins with names like the Engineer, head-chopping hit men, dirty cops and double-dealing politicians. And, of course, there are users -- millions of them.
But the Mexican drug war, at its core, is about two numbers: 48,000 and 39 billion.
Over the past five years, nearly 48,000 people have been killed in suspected drug-related violence in Mexico, the country's federal attorney general announced this month. In the first three quarters of 2011, almost 13,000 people died.

Cold and incomprehensible zeros, the death toll doesn't include the more than 5,000 people who have disappeared, according to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission. It doesn't account for the tens of thousands of children orphaned by the violence.
The guilty live on both sides of the border.

Street gangs with cartel ties are not only in Los Angeles and Dallas, but also in many smaller cities across the United States and much farther north of the Mexican border. Mexican cartels had a presence in 230 cities in the United States in 2008, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Its 2011 report shows that presence has grown to more than 1,000 U.S. cities. While the violence has remained mostly in Mexico, authorities in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and other states have reportedly investigated abductions and killings suspected to be tied to cartels.

Mexican black tar heroin (so called because it's dark and sticky), is cheaper than Colombian heroin, and used to be a rarity in the United States. Now it is available in dozens of cities and small towns, experts say. Customers phone in their orders, the Los Angeles Times reports, and small-time dealers deliver the drug, almost like pizza deliverymen.

Traffickers are recruiting in the United States, and prefer to hire young. Texas high schools say cartel members have been on their campuses. Most notoriously, a 14-year-old from San Diego became a head-chopping cartel assassin.

"I slit their throats," he testified at his trial, held near Cuernavaca. The teenager, called "El Ponchis" - the Cloak - was found guilty of torturing and beheading and sentenced to three years in a Mexican prison.

For more than a decade, the United States' focus has been terrorism, an exhausting battle reliant on covert operatives in societies where the rule of law has collapsed or widespread violence is the norm. The situation in Mexico is beginning to show similarities. In many border areas, the authority of the Mexican state seems either entirely absent or extremely weak. In September 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said cartel violence might be "morphing into or making common cause with what we would call an insurgency."

If cartel violence is not contained in Mexico, which shares a nearly 2,000 mile border with the United States, the drug war could threaten U.S. national security and even survival of the Mexican state.

How much is enough?

For most of us, Mexico is reduced several times a week to a sickening barrage of horror flick headlines. Thirty-five bodies left on the freeway during rush-hour in a major tourist city. A person's face sewn onto a soccer ball. Bodies found stuffed in barrels of acid. Heads sent rolling onto busy nightclub dance floors.

What could explain such savagery?

Traffickers don't have a political or religious ideology like al Qaeda.
The answer, some experts say, is a number. Something like $39 billion.
That's the top estimated amount Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations make in wholesale profits annually, according to a 2009 Justice Department report, the latest year for which that calculation was available. The department's 2011 report said that Mexican traffickers control the flow of most of the cocaine, heroin, foreign-produced marijuana and methamphetamine in the United States.

There are seven cartels in Mexico vying for control of smuggling routes into the United States, a bountiful sellers' paradise. South of the border it costs $2,000 to produce a kilo of cocaine from leaf to lab, the DEA said. In the U.S., a kilo's street value ranges from $34,000 to $120,000, depending on the ZIP code where it's pushed.

"How much is enough to the cartels? How many billions justify how many deaths to them?" said DEA special agent and spokesman Jeffrey Scott. "Mexico is their home, too. Their families live there. At what point does the violence cripple their ability to conduct business?"

Scott has been with the DEA for 16 years. Between 2006 and 2011, he led a Tucson, Arizona, strike force that fought smugglers bringing tons of methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin and cocaine across the border. By the time the drugs reach the low-level street dealer, they have been through many middle managers in the cartels' purposely confusing web of workers.
"The people who are arrested will sometimes say, 'Sinaloa who?'" he said, referring to the cartel that originated in the Mexican Pacific Coast state and has the strongest presence in the United States.

Dealers usually don't know or care where their product comes from, Scott said. He said he doubts the tens of millions of Americans who use illegal drugs do, either.

Get Shorty
From foot to head he is short/But he is the biggest of the big
If you respect him, he'll respect you
If you offend him, it will get worse
-- Lyrics to narcocorrido "El Chapo" by Los Canelos de Durango

"El Chapo" (Shorty) is the boss of the Sinaloa cartel. In his last-known photo, the 5 foot 6 inch son of a poor rural family wears a schoolboy haircut and a plain-colored puff-coat. Despite having virtually no formal education, Forbes estimates Joaquin Guzman Loera is worth $1 billion. This month the U.S. Treasury declared him the most influential trafficker in the world. He has eluded capture for more than a decade, is known for coming up with original ways to smuggle, like putting cocaine in fire extinguishers, and is suspected of helping Mexicans and Colombians launder as much as $20 billion in drug profits.

The legend of "El Chapo" began to grow when he escaped, reportedly on a laundry cart, from a Mexican prison in 2001. He seemed even more untouchable last summer when his 20-something beauty queen wife (who has dual nationality) crossed into California to give birth to twins. The birth certificates leave blank the space for the father's name, and she apparently hustled back across the border.

It's anyone's guess where El Chapo is. Mexican President Felipe Calderon wondered last year if he was hiding out in the United States.
Guzman is the drug war. Perpetuating the image of the bulletproof bad guy keeps it alive.
YouTube is full of narco snuff. Those with weak stomachs should avoid the wildly popular El Blog del Narco, which posts gory photos of killings and confessions by drug lords. Cartels make their own movies, glorifying the business. The films are sold in street markets in Mexico and the United States.

Some say it's no coincidence that the first beheadings of Mexican police officers occurred in 2006, when videotapes of al Qaeda beheadings were shown on Mexican television.
Since then, headless corpses have become a cartel calling card. In a single week in September, a sack of heads was left near an Acapulco elementary school and a blogging reporter's headless corpse was dumped in front of a major thoroughfare in the Texas border town of Nuevo Laredo. Her head, along with headphones and computer equipment, was found in a street planter.
A note left at the scene, one of dozens of journalist killings in the past five years, read: "OK Nuevo Laredo live on the social networks, I am La Nena de Laredo and I am here because of my reports and yours ..."
The message was signed with several Z's, indicating the slaying was the work of another major cartel, the Zetas.

One of the first cartels to use the internet, the Zetas are perhaps the savviest propagandists in the drug war. They're known for effective recruitment tactics.
A few years ago, they appealed to the destitute in a nation where the minimum wage is $5 a day, but millions have no work.
Banners were dropped from bridges in major cities.
"Why be poor?" the signs said. "Come work for us."

The good old bad days
Desde que yo era chiquillo tenia fintas de cabron (Ever since I was a kid, I had the fame of a bad-ass)
ya le pegaba al perico, y a la mota (already hitting the parrot [cocaine] and doing dope [marijuana])
-- El Cabron, a legendary narcocorrido, or narco ballad, released in 2005.

Feeding addiction has long been a part of Mexico's relationship with the United States, first becoming a well-oiled operation during Prohibition when Americans crossed over to drink and get high and Mexicans sent marijuana and alcohol to speakeasies in the States.

During this era, narcocorridos, or drug pop ballads glorifying kingpins, became popular. The accordion-based anthems were danceable, fun. Today the songs are no longer so amusing.
Between 2006 and 2008, more than a dozen performers have been murdered. Cartels have held some balladeers hostage for days, forcing them to entertain partying crews. The Mexican government has tried to ban the music, but the effort has only made the songs sexier. They shake butts from Cancun to Culiacan, and across the United States from Los Angeles to New York. Slain narco singers have been nominated for posthumous Grammys. (Watch narco singer Valentín Elizalde's music video "A Mis Enemigos" which some speculate was an attack on the Gulf cartel and led to his murder.)

Narcocorridos have become death impersonating art, a symbol of just how unexpectedly dark the Mexican drug business has become.
The definition of a cartel is an agreement among competing firms. That was the old way for the Mexicans. Pay the cops and the politicians. Don't kill anyone unless absolutely necessary and don't make a mess of it.

Two scenarios made their thieves' agreement possible.
For decades, Mexicans mainly transported cocaine for the Colombians or the Colombians sent the cocaine directly into the United States on planes or speedboats.

That changed in the 1990s when the United States tightened its choke on Colombia's main smuggling point in the Caribbean and Florida and worked with the Colombian government to combat cartels and eliminate kingpins like Pablo Escobar.

The neutered Colombian cartels were then forced to rely on the Mexicans, who smuggled across much more vast and impossible to monitor areas like the border and the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Suddenly indispensable in their industry, the cartels in Mexico reacted like any ambitious corporation. They bought out every last possible competitor, ramping up bribes across the ranks of law enforcement and politicians. They advertised themselves to struggling working class people and the poor as a panacea amid all the government's failures: Cartels were the private-sector alternative.

Within a few years, they gained unrivaled dominance in the global illicit drug trade.
The second scenario helping the cartels, some experts say, was rampant corruption within the PRI, or the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for 72 years.
There were far fewer deaths and the cartels' bottom line wasn't threatened.
The PRI lost power in 2000 with the election of Vicente Fox, who led the opposition National Action Party.

Known for his cowboy hats, Fox made little of the cartels during his election campaign. But after meeting with American officials in the early days of his administration, he announced he wanted the traffickers gone.

The arrests of kingpins and key players followed, which prompted chaos within cartel ranks as commands were shaken. Cartel members fought amongst themselves and each other. The good old bad days ended.

A real war starts
La traicion y el contrabando (The treason and the contraband)
Son cosas incompartidas" (They are the same thing)
- Lyrics to "Contrabando y traicion" by Tigres del Norte
To understand the drug war, accept that it's impossible to keep track of all its players. Accept that there are no white hats or black hats. There's only grey. Fog.
There is, however, agreement among experts about when war was declared: In late 2004 in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, 10 minutes from Laredo, Texas.
The Sinaloa wanted this golden smuggling route.

Every year, more than 5 million cars, 1.5 million commercial trucks and 3.8 million pedestrians cross northbound from Mexico into the United States here, bringing with them a ton of hidden narcotics.

In 2004, Nuevo Laredo was controlled by the Gulf cartel, which was just as old and Corleone-esque as Sinaloa.
For help defending their turf, the Gulf hired a group of former Mexican special forces soldiers who called themselves Zetas after the federal police code for high-ranking officers, "Z1."
The Sinaloa clan hired their own protection, a gang named Los Negros led by a blond-haired, blue-eyed American from Laredo. The man's cohorts called him La Barbie.

The Zetas battled Los Negros with tactics befitting an elite military. They fired automatic weapons, launched RPGs and grenades. They shot at each other for more than a year. Local gangs jumped in. Civilians dropped.

Emboldened by their Nuevo Laredo victory, the Zetas formed their own cartel. As they went after other cartels throughout Mexico, the Zetas honed a reputation for sickening brutality, seeming to kill just because they can. They have been blamed for setting fire to a casino killing 52 people, shooting dead 72 migrants on a Tamaulipas farm in 2010, murdering and tossing into mass graves women and children and killing bloggers. In April 2011, the bodies of 190 people, some of them migrant workers, were found in a mass grave in the desert of Tamaulipas.
Officials say the Zetas have lobbed grenades into celebrating crowds and blown up a pipeline that sent "rivers of fire" into residential streets. They have terrorized cities that once seemed untouchable by the violence, including the port city of Veracruz and Mexico's richest city, Monterrey, home to many international companies.

As the Zetas enacted their terror, that blond-haired, blue-eyed American leading Los Negros got angrier. La Barbie was Edgar Valdez, a Texas high school football star who worked his way into the Mexican underworld as a pot dealer. In 2005, the Dallas Morning News reported on a video showing four bound and bloody men, suspected to be Zetas, being interrogated off camera by a man believed to be Valdez.

A pistol comes into the frame, goes off and one of the men slumps. The video went viral. People around the globe started asking what was really going on in Mexico.
Journalist Ioan Grillo has been to more murder scenes than he can recall. His new book, "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency," includes interviews with hit men, gang members, government and law enforcement officials and people caught in the crossfire.

Grillo repeatedly returns to a single idea. Wars occur because people cannot feed their families. They happen because groups of people feel unimportant, disenfranchised, angry and broke. They want a piece of life. It only takes a few people with particularly hollow morals, capable of shutting off or suppressing guilt, to convince many that killing and dying in spectacular ways is tantamount to glory.

Jihadist groups, kamikaze squadrons, American street gangs, cartels. Their members were all kids at one point. Grillo writes that he has seen teenagers show up at murder scenes showing no grief. It has become routine. They pick up shell casings scattered on the ground and debate whether they've been fired from AK47s or M4s.

There are very few counselors in Mexico to help, and there is very little quality education outside the circles of the comparatively privileged few, he wrote.
Why wouldn't a kid take 50 pesos to be a lookout, or 1,000 pesos to kill someone?
"I would love to see more money spent on these concerns," Grillo said, "than on more military helicopters and soldiers gunning it out with the cartels."

Fighting back
After he was elected president in 2006, the PAN's Felipe Calderon took a page out of his predecessor's playbook and declared war on the cartels. He had the Mexican military fan out across the country and fired hundreds of corrupt police officers. He even disarmed an entire town, saying that most of its police force was working for the cartels.
Plenty of narcos were arrested, and some extradited to the United States, but many thousands of people died. They included cartel members, police and civilians who were caught in the middle of a gruesome war.

Calderon and President George W. Bush reached an unprecedented agreement to fight the cartels. The Merida Initiative (named after the Mexican city where the two met) included a U.S. pledge of $1.5 billion between 2008 and 2010. President Obama requested millions more for 2011 for the program. The program provides aircraft, inspection tools and other sophisticated drug-detecting technology to the Mexicans. It also funds drug counseling and prison rehabilitation programs.
To fight corruption, the United States has also pledged to give money to help train police in Mexico.

For its part, the Mexican government has passed legislation aimed at bolstering its judicial system, and in October 2010, Calderon formally requested a total reshaping of the police force in Mexico. The reform he proposed would create unified state police forces and eliminate municipal police, who federal officials have said are very susceptible to corruption because of their low salaries.

Observers say Calderon underestimated how many police and other law enforcement officers were on the cartels' payroll when he came to power. As of March 2008, 150,000 soldiers had deserted. Traffickers, experts say, spent the Fox administration hunkering down, ingratiating themselves to communities, buying food and paying for medical bills, offering restless young people a sense of identity and hard cash.

And as Grillo has written, many people didn't trust the police and the soldiers as they once did. Authorities were accused of widespread human rights abuses while on anti-cartel missions. Jose Luis Soberanes, president of the Mexican Human Rights Commission, testified in 2008 that his office had received complaints that police and soldiers had entered towns to rape and torture and kill, including shooting dead two women and three children in Sinaloa state.
The cartels had become Robin Hood to many, similar to Colombia kingpin Escobar. In his impoverished Medellin, Escobar built a soccer field and a school. He died in a gunbattle with agents in 1993. At the church Escobar built, some Colombians still come to worship him like a saint.

A Barbie, a fox and some piggies
"La Barbie" was arrested in August 2010 in Mexico, and smiled as he was paraded in front of the press. The green Ralph Lauren polo shirt he wore inspired an international fashion trend.
Calderon's administration trumpets his arrest and others, and vows to keep fighting the cartels. But the president is a lame duck. Term limits prohibit him from running again in 2012.
Many expect the PRI, Mexico's founding party that ruled for seven decades, to return to power in July's elections.

Whoever wins the election will have to answer a critical question: whether to appease the cartels and try to negotiate with them or continue the all-out assault that Calderon launched.
Negotiating with traffickers played a role in Colombia, where religious figures and former guerillas led the talks, experts said.

But they also stress that Mexico is not Colombia, and this is not the late 1980s. Crime syndicates operate differently. Key players on both sides of the border have considerations unlike those during the Colombian crisis. Mexico, they contend, is far less likely to welcome close foreign involvement than Colombia did.

A solution also cannot come from only one side of the border. Former President Fox and other experienced leaders in Latin America have advocated legalizing the consumption of marijuana, saying it would cut the value of the cartels' product. In 2011, the U.N.'s Global Commission on Drug Policy, which included Fox, recommended that governments experiment with drug legalization, especially marijuana.

Last fall, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, said he thought the drug war violence had become so dire that U.S. troops could be sent into Mexico. Drug trafficking in Mexico, he and others have said, fuels criminal organizations around the globe and feeds human and arms trafficking.

Perry had barely finished his thought before being pounced on by critics, many within his own party and especially his opponents: How would a limping U.S. economy pay for that? The United States was already involved in two wars.

Mexico has historically been highly averse to allowing a foreign force to fight on its soil, experts said. The idea of Team America swooping into its sovereign neighbor is offensive to many Mexicans. Consider the country's national anthem, written after the 1840s Mexican-American War in which Mexico lost half its territory.
If some enemy outlander should dare
to profane your ground with his sole,
think, oh beloved Fatherland, that heaven has given you a soldier in every son
In 2009, the group Los Tigres del Norte were banned from performing a popular song titled "La Granja" at an awards ceremony in Mexico City.

The lyrics blast the Mexican government's strategy against the cartels, a "Fox" who came to break plates on a farm. The animals got out "to create a big mess."
The lyrics also suggest that America, Mexico's No. 1 drug customer, is just as dirty.

The piggies helped out
They feed themselves from the farm
Daily they want more corn
And they lose the profits
And the farmer that works
Does not trust them anymore

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
January 18, 2012 -- Updated 1553 GMT (2353 HKT)

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/15/world/mexico-drug-war-essay/index.html

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