Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Wife wants DNA test on bodies of slain OFWs

The wife of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) asked for more proofs that her husband, identified as Iluminado “Bong” Santiago, was among six overseas Filipino workers killed by during a hostage taking launched by Al Qaida linked “Signatories in Blood” at In Amenas in Algeria last week, a local paper said.

“I really want to be sure it is him (who is dead),” Estrella Santiago told the Inquirer as she requested for the use of DNA tests on bodies that were recovered after the hostage-taking crisis at the oil plant.

“I still hope he is alive,” said Mrs. Santiago, school teacher and a resident of Apalit, Pampanga in central Luzon.

Representative of the foreign affairs department and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) have given information about the death of her husband, although his body was not yet recovered, said Mrs. Santiago.

She also asked for a complete list of OFWs who survived the incident, some of whom were brought to Italy and Germany, hoping that her husband might be with those groups.

Her scepticism began when her husband’s co-worker and friend, Joseph Balmaceda, who survived the incident, returned to the Philippines on Monday, and visited the Santiago family on Tuesday.

Narrating to the family what happened, Balmaceda said he and Santiago were herded by the hostage- takers into one of the five trucks that were filled up with hostages from the gas plant.

It was Santiago who asked the hostage-takers about their motive and was told, “We are angry at the British and French (nationals),” one of Santiago’s children, Christian, quoted Balmaceda as saying.

“(Balmaceda) told us the terrorists were transferring the hostages out of the gas plant because they were going to bomb it. But as the convoy was heading out of the plant, the Algerian forces rushed to bomb the convoy,” Santiago’s son said.

“As the hostage takers were asked to raise their hands (like human shields for the hostage-takers) when an Algerian military plane hovered, it was Bong (Santiago) who tried to assure us that we were going to be safe. He led us in prayers for a miracle,” the young Santiago told Balmaceda’s story.

“He (Santiago) had no wounds or traces of blood but he looked afraid. I’m sure Bong was in (that state) when I left him (to find safety),” Santiago’s son added.

Earlier, Balmaceda said he was the only survivor among those in the vehicle that was bombed on the first day of the hostage-taking.

“As a husband and father, he was more than 10 (on a scale of 10). He had no vices. When he was in the country, all his time was for our children,” Mrs. Santiago recalled.

In December 2011, Santiago finishing building his family’s two-storey concrete “dream house” on a 200 square metre lot at Royal Family Homes. He also bought them a black Mitsubishi car.

The Santiago couple’s children are aged 13, 10 and 5.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Ritual killings that have terrorised Cameroon: 18 young women are abducted, murdered and found with brains, eyes and genitals missing

A series of ritual killings of young women in the West African nation of Cameroon has caused panic in the capital city Yaounde.

Families are now refusing to let their daughters go out after a spate of gruesome killings of young girls who were abducted by the drivers of motorcycle taxis before being murdered and dismembered.

Police have found 18 mutilated bodies on the streets of the capital in the past two weeks, five of them outside a nursery school, and all are believed to be linked to occult rituals.

In some parts of the country traditional healers believe that body parts including eyes, genitals, breasts and tongues have mystical powers, with many believing they bring riches and other good fortune. Others believe that performing a human sacrifice will bring good luck.

Ritual killings were common in Cameroon until the 1970s but as education spread, the number of murders decreased.

Now families fear the practice is coming back, with the latest wave of killings causing near-hysteria in the capital city.

This week, the sister of a 17-year-old girl whose corpse was found on Friday outside a nursery school, minus the genitals, tongue, eyes, hair and breasts, wrote to Cameroon President Paul Biya demanding action to prevent further killings.

Deborah Ngoh Tonye Epouse Mvaebeme said her sister, Michele Mbala Mvogo, a student at the government bilingual High School Yaounde was abducted three days before her body was found outside a nursery school.

She accused the city's commonly-used motorcycle taxi drivers of facilitating the murder, and said the government had failed to do enough to protect the victims, who were from the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of Mimboman and Biteng.

One local said: 'The moto-taxi drivers are the assassins' accomplices, and their targets are girls aged 16-25 who get the taxis after nightfall. For a large sum of money, these girls are delivered to men in the suburbs who do the rest.'

The head of a Mimboman nursery school told how she found one of the bodies outside her school.

She said: 'It was a strong smell of rotting that drew my attention, so I decided to do a tour of the school.

'That's how I found, behind one classroom, a body of a young girl in an advanced state of decomposition, with her underwear placed on her feet, before my very eyes.' Families in the neighbourhood are said to be in a state of hysteria, banning their girls from taking motorbike taxis and keeping them indoors after dark.

Communication minister Tchiroma Bakary said: 'Ritual sacrifices with a demoniac connotation are unacceptable and intolerable, and the government will do all it can to put a stop to it.'

Ngoh Tonye, whose sister was murdered, told CNN: 'There is laxity in the forces in ensuring security in the capital.'

The bodies of the five most recent victims were identified yesterday, according to a State security official who said most of the victims were high school students aged 15-26.

Two men have been arrested in connection with the killings but so far no charges have been brought.

The Cameroon capital, which has a population of just over two million, is in a state of distress with families staying behind locked doors as soon as darkness falls.

Police warn pedestrians to walk in groups at all times and have cracked down on local bars frequented by criminals, shutting them down in the dozens.

Vigilante groups of young men guard the streets at night and hunt for the killers, as the people of Yaounde say the police are not doing enough to keep the city safe.

The new wave of gruesome killings in the capital has also seen dozens of complaints about mutilated corpses in the mortuaries of Yaounde's public hospitals, according to Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Home Buipe accident: Six bodies identified

Six bodies have so far been identified in Monday’s accident at Buipe in the Northern region.

The gory accident which occurred on the Tamale-Buipe road claimed 24 lives.

The bodies have been deposited at the Tamale Teaching hospital morgue for identification. The two survivors are also responding to treatment.

Buipe Police Commander DSP Owusu Antwi in an interview with XYZ News said the six identified bodies have been handed over to their relatives.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Update: Chitungwiza mysterious explosion deepens

More than 24 hours after the blast that rocked Zengeza 2, Chitungwiza, killing five people, police had still up to yesterday afternoon no idea what caused the explosion.

The mysterious explosion occurred at a house in which a traditional healer was said to be performing unknown rituals.

At least three houses had their walls and roofs ripped off through while the bodies of some victims were mutilated with pieces of flesh flung as far away as 50 metres.

There were others though that were literally incinerated in a manner associated with high-voltage electric power or a powerful lightning bolt.

The explosion was so powerful it damaged up to 12 other houses in the neighbourhood.

Some property, including blankets and furniture, which was in the same room where some people were burnt beyond recognition, mysteriously escaped the fire as were some people who were within the yard.

Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda yesterday said police, other State security agents and forensic experts had not yet established the cause of the explosion.

Up till yesterday afternoon, bodies of the deceased people still lay where they were the previous day to allow for the investigations.

“We know there are a lot of assumptions as to what happened, but we need to be thorough so as to come up with what really happened. We have our experts on the ground, the army bomb disposal unit, (power utility) Zesa, homicide have all been there and we also had the pathologist attending the scene,” Chibanda said.

Top officials from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) (homicide and law and order section), a foreign pathologist and members of the army’s bomb disposal unit have been called in to lead investigations into the Chitungwiza “house of death” explosion which has left the country in shock.

Police said they have roped in the army and have alerted cooperating foreign laboratories to be on alert for assistance as they are leaving no stone unturned.

Head of the Harare law and order and homicide sections Crispen Makedenge and Cuban pathologist Gabriella Alvero are leading the investigations in a case that police officers say is complex.

Police said among the dead were four adults, including the traditional healer identified as Speakmore Mandere, a businessman who had come to consult the healer, Clever Kamudzeya, and an unidentified seven-month-old child.

Unconfirmed reports said the businessman was based in South Africa and owned a fleet of buses

Mandere’s aide Tawanda Maruma told NewsDay that he was outside the house stirring some stuff in a clay pot which Mandere used for casting out bad spirits when disaster struck.

“I do not really know what caused the explosion, but this guy used to be a prophet at the same time as being a traditional healer,” said Maruma.

However, the presence of bomb disposal and forensic experts brings in a whole new dimension to the unravelling case and could mean that authorities suspect a bomb detonated at the house.

Tadious Chibanda, Harare police spokesperson, said investigations will include the army who have supplied their bomb disposal unit to examine the presence of a bomb and land mines.

“We have roped in Central Investigation Department (CID) homicide, law and order, special forensic unit, and among other interested parties. We have summoned all our experts to attend to this complex matter,” said Chibanda.

The owner of the house, Oliver Dumba, said in an interview yesterday that the incident happened shortly after he had ordered Mandere to vacate the property after he learnt he was a traditional healer.

Mandere’s father, Swellemu Mandere, said his son’s death had pained him.

“As far as I know, my son was a prophet who helped a lot of people. What happened pains me a lot because he even helped me out of some problems,” said a distraught Mandere

Swelimu Mandere father to the deceased traditional healer said his son doubled in ritual and apostolic activities, a development which makes the superstitious endorse the black magic theory.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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New evidence of indentured Indians' mass graves in Suriname

As the Suriname government granted permission in early January to researchers to begin operations to discover the forgotten mass graves of Indian indentured workers killed in police firing in 1902 in the tiny South American nation, where nearly 40 percent of its people are of Indian extraction, new evidence has emerged that could give significant pointers to the location of the graves.

Late last year, Benjamin Mitrasingh, an archaeologist in Suriname, had proposed to use modern technology and aerial surveys to locate the graves of Indian indentured workers killed 110 years ago in Marienburg. The 1902 massacre took place at Marienburg factory and sugarcane plantation when angry agricultural workers protesting against low wages were fired upon by Dutch colonial forces. About 24 workers were killed and their bodies dumped in unmarked mass graves.

As Mitrasingh waited for government permission to commence his investigation, researchers in the Netherlands - Suriname, a country of a little over 500,00 people, gained independence from the Dutch in 1975 - working in the archives located a map that could give indications to the site where the mass graves were located. Sandew Hira and historian Radhinder Bhagwanbali have done considerable research on the subject of Indian immigrants in Suriname.

Bhagwanbhali had been researching on the subject of resistance on the plantations against the indentured labour system. "During his research, Bhagwanbali went into the archives and studied the reports of the Dutch military regarding the uprisings by the workers. He found this map in the military files," Hira said in an email interview with a news agency. A copy of the map was sent to Mitrasingh, he added.

Bhagwanbali is the author of three books on migration and the indenture system in Suriname. Hira has been working on creating a database of all Indian indentured labourers who arrived in Suriname. He has put together a list of all those Indian workers killed in the Mariengburg massacre with their names and details about their home villages in India from immigration sources. Hira is keen to get some recognition in India for those who died in the Marienburg uprising.

"I have written a letter to the Indian government with the names, village addresses of those killed in the uprising so that they get recognition in their homeland. I am still awaiting a response from the Indian government", he added. Hira's list was sent to the ministry for overseas Indian affairs in July 2012.

However, Mitrasingh is not very hopeful of getting any real evidence from Bhagwanbali's map. "It is not an actual military map which gives coordinates and specific locations of the graves," he said. The map discovered by Radhinder Bhagwanbali looks like a rough sketch that depicts the rail tracks, the roads and other topographical features of the area.

After securing the government's go-ahead, Mitrasingh has been assured full support by the district commissioner, the surveyor's office and the Marienburg coordinator for his investigations. The surveyor's office will provide a detailed map of the disused rail system at Marienburg. According to media reports, a local businessman has offered the use of his company helicopter for an aerial survey of the area.

There were about 10 major incidents of workers protests by Indian indentured labour in Suriname between 1873 and 1902 and the Marienburg agitation was among the largest. Indian indentured workers were taken to Suriname as agricultural labour to work on the sugarcane plantations during colonial times. Suriname was first colonized by the British, and captured by the Dutch in 1667. Conditions on the plantations were miserable with overwork, poor living conditions and low wages.

The Mareinburg estate and sugar factory was the biggest business enterprise in Suriname at one time. In 1902, Dutch security forces fired on the protesting workers, killing 24, whose bodies were dumped in unidentified mass graves. According to local belief in the region, the bodies were transported on the train that brought the sugarcane to the sugar mill and buried in large pit near the rail tracks.

The plans to locate the mass graves at Marienburg have evoked a good deal of interest in Suriname. An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1983-84 when drilling was undertaken at one site. In 2006 a monument was unveiled to commemorate the workers uprising.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Unusual ways of identifying dead bodies at US-Mexico border

Through an investigation from BBC, it revealed the difficult process of identifying the bodies of migrants, who die in the desert of Sonora during their struggle to cross illegally into the United States. Although migration rates have decreased significantly due to the economic situation that the U.S. is currently going through, it is necessary to address the problem that this has been for years and still is today.

In an interview with Robin Reineke, who is part of the team of forensic anthropologists in Pilma County, Arizona, it was said that about 800 bodies remain unclaimed in Tucson.

For the forensic team it's a daunting task to identify bodies, in which even the smallest details of each person are not overlooked. After spending hours and even days in the desert, the bodies become extremely difficult to identify.

Robin Reineke speaks of how they compare the list of missing persons with the bodies that are found, where they look for signs that family members give in the missing persons report. Details such as the type of shirt buttons, shoes and stamps that may be on a portfolio or letter that make it crucial in determining the identity of a person.

The process can take months, but after certain features are matched on a person, they then proceed to track down the family members, who are not allowed to view the body, because it may cause a negative impression that could possibly influence them to deny the identity of the body.

Reineke noticed that most of these people are indigenous, and made call out to government officials to pay attention to the security of the border, not in the physical aspect but rather to question how safe it is and for whom.

The task does not only fall on the United States, but also on all of the countries that these migrants come from.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Update: Coal mine explosion kills 10, leaves 3 missing in southwestern China

State media say the death toll from a coal mine explosion in southwestern China has risen to 10, with three workers still missing.

State-run China Central Television said rescuers were able to recover more bodies from the mine on Tuesday. The explosion occurred Friday at the state-owned Jinjia coal mine in Guizhou province's Liupanshui city, but high levels of gas hampered rescue efforts.

State media said four company officials have been ordered to resign.

China has the world's deadliest coal mine industry, with 1,973 miners killed in accidents in 2011.

Safety improvements have reduced deaths in recent years, but regulations are often ignored and accidents are still common.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Five foreigners still missing at Algeria hostage site

Algerian authorities searched on Tuesday for five foreigners still missing and tried to identify seven charred bodies, days after a bloody hostage crisis, a security source said.

"Still no news about the five missing foreigners," the source said, after Algerian special forces launched a final assault on Saturday against Islamist gunmen at the remote desert gas plant where they seized hundreds of hostages.

Thirty-seven foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the siege by the hostage-takers, who were demanding the release of Islamist prisoners and an end to France's intervention in Mali.

Announcing the grim body count on Monday, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal did not specify the nationalities of the slain foreigners, and said seven of them remain unidentified, adding that five foreigners were still missing.

A plane of Norwegian experts arrived in Algiers on Tuesday to help with identifying the victims, with five Norwegians unaccounted for.

"The gas complex is so big that we are still in the process of looking for bodies, especially those of missing foreigners," said an official at the sprawling In Amenas plant, 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) southeast of Algiers.

At the hospital morgue in the nearby town, only the bodies of the militants remained, 29 of whom were killed, along with three others captured during the final assault launched against them.

Another security source said of those found alive, two were Algerian and one Tunisian.

A source close to hardline Islamist groups said the militants, most of whom were thought to have entered Algeria from Libya, and reportedly used Libyan weapons, received logistical aid from Islamists based there.

"Logistical support was provided from Libya," said the source close to hardline Islamist groups in Libya, which has seen a rise in extremism since the fall of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi.

He did not specify the exact nature of such aid but acknowledged Libyan Islamists were responsible for establishing contacts between the captors and the media.

Harrowing accounts of the siege have emerged, with survivors recalling how fellow hostages were brutally executed, among them citizens of Japan, which grieved on Tuesday over its greatest loss of life at militant hands since 9/11.

A government plane was to leave Japan late Tuesday bound for Algeria. It was expected to return on Thursday with survivors and the bodies of those killed, all of whom were employees or contractors for Japanese engineering firm JGC.

There was blanket media coverage of the news that at least seven Japanese nationals had been killed in the Algerian hostage crisis, with the respected business daily Nikkei describing Japan's anger as "overwhelming".

Three other Japanese remained unaccounted for.

Some foreign governments, and Tokyo in particular, initially voiced concern over Algeria's response to the crisis, which many observers found hasty, but criticism then focused on the Islamist militants behind the hostage crisis.

The government has said special forces managed to free 685 Algerian and 107 foreign hostages, most of them on Thursday, during a first rescue operation.

The In Amenas plant, part of a natural-gas industry vital to Algeria's economy and which is jointly run by three firms including Britain's BP, was being brought back on stream on Tuesday, according to the security source.

Security has been heavily beefed up at the plant, which is being guarded by the army, while security has been doubled at other energy installations across the country.

"Work to restart the complex has begun," the source said, after mine-clearing and other clearance operations at the desert complex were completed.

"But we will have to wait for a week before everything returns to normal," he added, as there were complicated technical procedures involved in resuming gas production.

Algeria's Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi had said on Sunday that the wet gas plant would restart "in the next two days," adding the damage caused during the four-day crisis was "not significant".

Employees not being treated for shock have been called back to the plant to help with restarting it and specialists have also been brought in from other sites, the security source said.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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Disposal of bodies in Ganga unabated

On the eve of the first ritual bath of Mahakumbh, which started over a week ago, a group of pilgrims from Bangalore spot a body in the Ganga where it meets the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

“It was a grim sight ahead of the Mahakumbh. We looked the other way. What could we do?” said Santosh Lal, on her third Kumbh visit. Another body was fished out of the river at another spot the same day.

The discharge of bodies into the river doesn’t amuse anyone in this part of the country, but environmental engineers admit it is a potential source of bio pollution and much less talked about than it should be.

On an average, 20 bodies are pulled out of the river every month. Most belong to people whose families have no money to pay for the last rites or those marooned in superstition.

The discharge of bodies is often made for religious reasons. Sadhus’ bodies are often discharged into the river and not cremated; around the Ganga, “jal samadhi” is commonplace.

Besides, over 1 lakh kilos of unburned mass from bodies cremated along the ghats also finds its way into the river. “For religious reasons, people do not cremate the entire body. Sometimes out of poverty, they leave most parts unburned. This mass is discharged into the river, thereby polluting it,” says Mohd Sikandar from Kumbh administration’s pollution control unit.

Over 20,000 bodies (sometimes 30,000) are cremated along the banks of the Ganga every month. Environmental experts say at least 5 kg unburned mass is discharged into the river from each body. That brings the discharge to whopping 1 lakh kilos a month.

On the discharge of bodies into the river, the state administration has tried to raise awareness among the local residents and sadhus.

“We have received some requests from sadhus for the allotment of land to carry out traditional cremation. But the demand is quite low,” says Kailash Singh of the Allahabad municipal corporation.

During the Mahakumbh, over 50 personnel of “Water Police”, a special cadre, is manning the river to scout for bodies or animal carcasses.

Around 40 boats have been pressed into service and boating has been banned at Sangam ghat, the most auspicious place for the holy dip.

Even locals feel the practice of discharge of bodies into the Ganga must end. “People have been polluting the river for ages. They throw away bodies of snake-bitten and leprosy-afflicted persons even today. This is unacceptable,” says Satish Chandra Mishra, a local resident.

The state is now promoting electric crematoria to assist poor people with the last rites. There are two crematoria in Allahabad and four furnaces. An NGO has been roped in to aid the task.

But Sanjeev Pradhan, environmental engineer with Allahabad MC, admits: “Our electric crematoria are hugely underutilised. More awareness needs to be raised.”

Until the awareness comes, the Ganga will continue to bear the brunt of bio pollution, the least talked about in the larger debate on river’s violation.

Protecting purity

Around 80 tanneries have been closed to ensure Ganga water remains clean during six ritual baths of Kumbh, the next being on January 27

On Makar Sankranti, the colour of Ganga water was measured at 15 Hazen units, indicating it had its natural colour

As this measurement rises, water turns reddish brown, primarily because of tannery-based pollutants

Wednesday 23 January 2013

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