Monday, 8 April 2013

‘Pablo’ makes Philippines most disaster-affected nation

Massive death and destruction caused by Typhoon "Pablo" (international name: Bopha) last December has made the Philippines as the most disaster-affected country in the world in 2012, a group said on Monday.

Based on data from government agencies and news articles, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC) said 2,360 Filipinos died due to natural disasters (1,067 from Pablo alone) while China came in second with 771 fatalities.

Twelve million Filipinos were also affected by typhoons, flood, earthquakes, armed conflict, fire, and landslides, which caused over P39.9 billion in damages. On top of these incidents was the havoc brought by Pablo in Southern Mindanao, a region that is rarely visited by tropical storms.

"The government definitely needs a lot more to improve in terms of disaster preparation especially in areas like Mindanao which never used to experience strong typhoons before," CDRC deputy executive director Carlos Padolina told Sun.Star.

Padolina said natural and human-induced disasters that occurred in the country grew by nine percent to 471 last year as majority of these disasters were caused by flood (143 incidents) that affected 7.8 million people.

To recall, a large part of Luzon including Metro Manila was inundated last August because of the southwest monsoon.

The CDRC official also noticed the increasing trend in the number of affected people in the last five years. He said the strong tropical storms that the Philippines experienced in recent years have contributed a lot to this trend.

Monday 8 April 2013

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China: Natural disaster death toll up

Natural disasters across China claimed 141 lives and left another 83 people missing from January to March, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) announced on Monday.

Affecting a total of 52.76 million people, disasters forced the evacuation of 253,000 people and toppled some 34,000 houses, according to a statement jointly released by the MCA, the National Commission for Disaster Reduction and other 10 central government agencies and organizations.

The disasters caused direct economic losses of 23.1 billion yuan ($3.72 billion) and affected more than 5 million hectares of farmland, destroying crops on 350,100 hectares of farmland.

During the period, 11 heavy fogs shrouded 20 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions. The number of days with heavy fog was the most ever since 1961.

Monday 8 April 2013

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The scars of genocide in Bosnia: ‘I didn’t know that human hearts and souls could be so evil’

It was a moment of Kafkaesque absurdity witnessed through the eyes of a seven-year-old. When the Bosnian town of Kozarac fell to the Serb forces in the first months of war, one by one Bosniak families were hurled into the barbed confines of Trnopolje, a concentration camp that would evoke the worst memories of the Holocaust.

Seven-year-old Elmina Kulasic was transferred out of Trnopolje with half her family after a month of horrors, but her father and two elder sisters were missing. On the train to the city of Zagreb, Elmina recalls an uncanny encounter with a Croat. He was the same age as her father, watching quietly as her mother sobbed. “He told us that the Chetniks [Serb nationalists] had probably killed my elder, disabled sister, and raped my other one. He said that it was only a matter of time before my father was dead. I remember the words, but I did not understand them. There was no sympathy.”

In a region once hailed as the jewel of Yugoslavia, the melting pot of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosniak Muslims, former neighbours and colleagues turned into enemies. Not a corner was left untouched by the war. On July 11th 1995, Serb atrocities culminated into the worst scene of carnage in Europe since the Second World War. The UN declared ‘safe haven’ turned into a graveyard of bodies as 8,000 Bosniak men were separated from their women and murdered in the pitch black night in the forests.

Today the ghastly scars of the war have been covered with cement and cardboard shutters. But there are still some buildings pockmarked with shell-holes, some cratered streets. In Kozarac, as in other Bosnian towns of Tuzla, Omarska, Mostar, and alas, Srebrenica, there are wounds still open. They are now entrenched as territorial imprints of ethnically cleansed villages, and partition lines dividing the country into Serb and non-Serb entities. Twenty-one years since the war and Bosnia remains just as divided. With genocide denial and nationalist rhetoric of politicians permeating everyday life, ‘closure’ and ‘reconciliation’ have become mere buzz words.

For the many survivors and refugees the war has altered their sense of ‘home.’ In spite of this, they return to their villages — or the site of crime — from time to time to pay respect to their dead, or recover their remains from the mass exhumations that still carry on to this day. Twenty-seven-year-old Elmina Kulasic, whose family was miraculously reunited in Zagreb and finally sought asylum in Chicago, describes her emotions upon return. “My sense of home in Bosnia was destroyed during the war. Since 1992, it has been my dream to return without feeling discriminated or ethnically cleansed. The situation in Bosnia is not welcoming. But I returned home because I want to be able to choose where I can live, and not be dictated by someone else’s choice.”

Now at the Cinema for Peace Foundation (CPF) in Sarajevo, Elmina Kulasic works as the program development coordinator for “The Genocide Film Library.” As the first oral history project of the war, it aims to record 10,000 life stories of the Srebrenica genocide. Since January 2011, it has collected over 1,175 narratives.

“This was the missing element in the overall process of reconciliation and social transition to a democracy,” says Elmina. “To tell the story is to be a witness; a witness that innocent people were killed for no reason other than their different identity. It also takes a lot of courage to tell and takes the war to a personal level. One cannot hear a personal narrative and look away.”

Reclaiming History

Sixty-four-year old Fatima Alijic lived with her husband and three sons in Srebrenica until her hometown fell to the Serb forces in May 1995. As she gives her testimony to the CPF, her face framed by a bronze headscarf is pained and exhausted. “I lost my husband and my children and never saw them again,’” she says. A moment later, she takes a deep breath and continues, “Well, I say I never saw them… But I did see them when I was in the truck… going to Kravica. They were all lined up, like they sometimes show on television, holding their hands behind their necks. I saw my youngest son lying near the ditch as if facing the ditch, but he was headless… I started vomiting… I didn’t know that human hearts and souls could be so evil.”

Fatima Alijic was among the approximately 40,000 Bosniak refugees who arrived at the town of Tuzla after their men were left behind. “One of the Chetniks came to me and started interrogating my surname, over and over again,” recalls the 64-year-old. Perhaps her testimony, by breaking the silence on the genocide, will give her some consolation, but Alijic is certain that her wounds will never heal. “People who still have someone left, maybe they have some comfort to ease the pain. I have no one.”

Another survivor of Srebrenica, 35-year-old Eldiha Selimovic is cautiously hopeful that some semblance of coexistence and normality could return to Bosnia. But much depends on the portrayal of the war’s true narrative, of destruction and human pain, so that it can reach across inter-ethnic divides. “Everyone here writes their own history,” she says, “And by history, I don’t mean this history, but those that go back. Of vengeance against the Turks … or the [Catholic] Austro-Hungarians.”

If there is a retrospective glance on the past in Bosnia today, it is tinctured with myths and politically manipulated narratives of vengeance and victimhood unleashed during the war. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia was as much literary as it was political. Libraries and museums were systematically targeted in an attempt to wipe out the multi-ethnic identity of the region. Serb paramilitaries marching into Muslim villages quoted verses from The Mountain Wreath, an infamous play by Petar Njegos depicting the mythical extermination of the Islamized Serbs for their betrayal and collaboration with the Turks. Labeled as “race traitors,” Bosniaks were caught between the contesting claims of Serb and Croat nationalists. When former colleagues and acquaintances became voluntary perpetrators of atrocities, they hid behind masks, transporting themselves back in time. They were no longer acquaintances, but Serb heroes fighting their traitors in blood and in religion.

But in the midst of skewed narratives, the Genocide Film Library seeks to do justice to history by giving voice to the survivors silenced by politics. Although few survivors testified at The Hague during the trials of war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, there has been no large-scale reckoning with the truth in Bosnia, as was the case in South Africa. The archived testimonies will now be provided to schools and universities, to researchers and policy makers – an important move in Bosnia’s awfully politicised education sector.

Crucial for Bosnia and the survivors are the lessons learned. “Many survivors who have shared their stories have never spoken before. This is the first time they are recounting their past and are breaking the silence,” says Elmina. “They know what is at stake if they don’t speak up.”

As the sixty-four year old survivor, Fatima Alijic puts it: “Genocides still go on in the world. Srebrenica didn’t teach anyone a lesson.”

For more information about the Genocide Film Library click here

Monday 8 April 2013

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Nyaruguru District commemorates the 1994 genocide at the very place where the first Tutsi was murdered in the District

Over 500 residents (plus some neighbours and friends) of Ruramba village in Ruramba cell of Ruramba sector in Nyaruguru district, Southern Rwanda, on Sunday gathered in Ruramba village as the whole of Rwanda launched the 19th commemorate the 1994 Genocide against. People laid flowers on mass graves at Ruramba Genocide memorial site where 321 dead bodies have been decently buried.

It’s in Ruramba sector where the first Tutsi across Nyaruguru district was killed on April 7, 1994.

The mourners − in their grey-colored scarves, among other grey-colored clothes – keenly listened to soft songs, poems and speeches – the core message of all of which was rotating around the brutality with which Tutsis were killed during the Genocide and how Genocide survivors have so far managed to carry on moving forward with hope.

And for the first time, grey has replaced purple as the national color as a symbol of remembering the Genocide, with grey alluding to the traditional way of mourning the dead using ashes.

“Within the first days [of the Genocide], Tutsis including my father [late Gasimba] offered their cows to the killers in exchange for their lives”, recalls Valens Ngendahayo, one of the Genocide survivors in Ruramba sector.

“After eating them [cows] up, they [killers] could come back and finish you off. That’s how people including my father got killed”, Ngendahayo, by then a second-year primary school student, added, his voice tone changing with sadness as if he were about to sob.

“But today I have hope to carry on living. And that’s how I have managed to complete my primary and secondary education and I am now an employee at Sacco [a savings and credit cooperative] Ruramba. And I even plan to go to university someday”, said Ndendahayo, closing his testimony.

Bertin Muhizi, head of IBUKA (an umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors) in Nyaruguru district, also did hint at Ngendahayo’s hope message.

“Let’s keep collaborating, having hope and building for a bright future”, said Muhizi, who also thanked the then RPA (Rwandese Patriotic Army), now the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), for halting the Genocide.

Over 200 extra remains of those killed during the Genocide have so far been recovered throughout Nyaruguru district, said Muhizi, calling the district officials to arrange for their “decent burial”.

To this, Nyaruguru district Mayor, Fran├žois Habitegeko, responded that a sum of Rwf 100,000 (about $160) has been earmarked for that particular purpose plus revamping the existing Genocide memorial sites across Nyaruguru, and construction activities, the Mayor said, are set to begin before the end of this year.

Sunday’s ceremony in Ruramba village to mark the week-long Genocide commemoration also took place in Rwanda’s 14, 873 villages, including Ruramba village itself. And the commemoration theme for this year’s 19th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is: “Let’s commemorate the Genocide against Tutsi by striving self-reliance”.

And Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame hinted on that “self-reliance” while at Gisozi National Memorial Site on Sunday.

The Head of State said the commemoration period is an opportunity for Rwandans to look back to their Genocide history and see how far Rwandans have gone in rebuilding their country. He also said there is need for Rwandans themselves to write their history so that those who were still young and those who were born after the Genocide can grasp the repercussions of “bad politics” that led to the Genocide.

For a week, the national flag will be flying at half-mast and different commemoration activities like talks on how the 1994 Genocide was masterminded and on Genocide prevention will be held all across the country.

Such activities, including decent burials of recovered remains of those killed during the Genocide, are expected to carry on for a hundred days just in the memory of slightly over three months – from April to July 1994 – that the Genocide claimed over a million lives according to Rwanda’s official statistics or over 800,000 people according to the UN records.

Monday 8 April 2013

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French priest documents Shoah mass graves

As we come upon another Holocaust Remembrance Day, we often look to the camps – Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau – as the main centers of killing. But across Eastern Europe, more than a million Jews lost their lives to so-called death squads – often shot to death, their bodies unceremoniously piled in mass graves.

Many of those graves stood unmentioned and untouched for many decades, and likely would have remained so, if not for the efforts of a French priest, Father Patrick Desbois.

Many of the witnesses haven’t uttered a word about the slaughter of their neighbors in more than half a century. In this documentary film, a woman explains no one was pushed into the pit of corpses.

"They killed them," she says, "and the Jews fell in."

Elie Wiesel Institute says more than 100 Jews – men, women, children, and elderly people – buried at newly discovered site in forest area near Popricani

Over the past decade, Father Desbois and his colleagues have discovered hundreds of mass graves and interviewed over 3,000 people across Eastern Europe. It’s an attempt to piece together what Desbois calls "the Holocaust by bullets."

Desbois’ organization, Yahad (In Unum), employs 22 people. Fifteen times a year, nine-person teams go from village to village, asking if anyone remembers what happened to the Jews. Desbois says 99% of the time, witnesses are willing to speak and be interviewed on camera.

The stories are chilling, yet Father Desbois wants to make sure the world knows of this under-told chapter of the Holocaust. As a clergyman, he says his role is not to judge.

Desbois knows the clock is ticking. As the number of witnesses tapers, he acknowledges there may be parts of the story that remain untold.

Desbois’ organization has begun researching Roma mass grave sites as well, further illustrating the atrocities of the World War II. Later this year, they hope to unveil an online interactive map, showing the world the final resting place of millions

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5 Nepalis among Mumbai building collapse victims

Five Nepalis were among the victims of the Thursday building collapse in Mumbai of India, Indian media reported on Monday.

According to the online version of The Times of India, the bodies of five Nepali nationals were recovered after 40 hours of the rescue operation.

They have been identified as Mujaeed Raza, wife Miladun (28), daughters Jalekha (8) and Rataya (6) and brother-in-law Akbar Ali (26). However, the report has not mentioned where from Nepal they hailed.

Raza (32) reportedly had taken his kith and kin to Mumbai six months ago.

At least 72 people were killed when a seven-storey building being constructed illegally on forest land in a suburb of India's financial Capital cave in on Thursday.

Monday 8 April 2013

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Perenco helicopter crashes in Peru, 13 dead

A helicopter chartered by French oil company Perenco has crashed in a remote northern part of Peru, killing all 13 Peruvians aboard, including one Perenco employee and representatives of three contractors, a company source told Reuters.

Perenco confirmed the accident, adding "at this stage, no survivors have been found." A Peruvian official usually has to confirm a death toll in an accident before a company can publicly confirm the casualties.

The helicopter went down in the sparsely populated region of Loreto, Peru, near the border with Ecuador. It had left the jungle city of Iquitos to fly to the company's Block 67, the company said.

"The [Peruvian] armed forces are in the area of the events, and two additional helicopters are taking part in the search and rescue operation. So far, no survivors have been found," said a statement released in Lima from the Anglo-French firm.

There were nine passengers and four crew members on board, it added.

Block 67 is a 630-square-mile (1,020-square-kilometer) block of more than 300 million barrels.

The Russian-made MI-8 plummeted to ground near the Curaray and Arabela Rivers in Loreto, local media reported.

Media reports initially put the death toll at nine.

This is the second accident of the year involving a helicopter used by energy companies that work in the remote, oil-rich Peruvian jungle.

Monday 8 April 2013

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