Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mine collapse toll in CAR rises to 62

The number of people killed when a gold mine in the Central African Republic caved in at the weekend has risen to 62, local officials said on Friday.

The previous toll from the disaster, which occurred on Sunday when a mudslide destroyed a pit at Ndassima in the centre of the highly unstable, landlocked country, stood at 52.

"In all, 62 people died in this drama. Thirty-seven bodies were able to be brought out ... but at least 27 people have been reported missing to date, according to checks and queries made to relatives and friends," a source in the Ouaka district administration said.

The people who have vanished "have remained under the soil at an inaccessible depth. The search has been called off. Relatives who have not seen their loved ones cannot be assured of finding them alive," the source added.

"The entire population of the Ouaka region is in mourning. People can't stop crying. Just imagine, seven members of a same family perished. It is a real tragedy," Didier Ouangai, mayor of the nearby provincial capital of Bambari, said on Wednesday.

Last Sunday, the president's office in Bangui said that the collapse of the pit was brought about by heavy rain. The new head of state, Michel Djotodia, on Tuesday declared three days of mourning throughout the country.

The gold reserves at the Ndassima mine are estimated at about 3.6 million ounces, worth some 4.2 billion dollars at current market value.

The site, initially exploited by Aurafrique, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Axmin, was closed by the CAR government in 2009 on the grounds of "a general opacity to the detriment of the national interest".

Rebels of the Seleka coalition, whose key leaders included Djotodia, took control of operations at the mine during an offensive launched in January. In March, they toppled president Francois Bozize and seized power in Bangui.

The gold and diamond mining sectors are key to the economy of the country. The diamond business provides directly and indirectly for about a quarter of the population of some 4.5 million.

The infrastructure is rudimentary, however, and the CAR has remained one of the world's poorest and least developed countries despite its mineral wealth.

Saturday 29 June 2013

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Lab will identify Hammerl’s remains

The family of slain Saturday Star photographer Anton Hammerl are hopeful that his remains will be identified by a Sarajevo DNA laboratory which has set out to identify the remains of some of the thousands of people who are missing after years of conflict in Libya.

This week the laboratory, run by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which, through its work in the Balkans, has become a world leader in the field, has generated more than 100 DNA matches since the fall of the regime of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

According to the, the DNA matches have been made from bone and blood samples submitted to the ICMP by the new Libyan authorities.

Hammerl was shot and killed by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi outside of Brega on April 5, 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya.

After his death, Hammerl’s family was led to believe by the Gaddafi regime that he was alive and safe but held in detention in Libya.

His family learnt about his death on May 19 after the release of a group of journalists who had been with Hammerl when he was killed.

According to media reports, on the morning of April 5, 2011, three other reporters were attacked by Libyan soldiers who shot at them in a remote desert location outside Brega.

These included two Americans – James Foley, a freelance reporter and regular contributor to the Global Post, and Clare Morgana Gillis, a freelance reporter – as well as Spanish photographer Manu Brabo.

When the shooting started, Foley and Gillis both heard Hammerl yell out, “Help!” Hammerl was killed and the other three journalists were beaten by the pro-Gaddafi forces and then taken as their prisoners.

In November last year, the ICMP and the Libyan government signed an agreement to co-operate on missing persons cases from the recent conflicts, as well as from Gaddafi’s 42-year regime. So far, 115 DNA matches have been made.

The blood and bone samples are from the notorious case of the Bin Jawad mass grave, in which about 170 bodies were found in December 2011.

The ICMP compared the DNA profiles of post-mortem samples with blood samples obtained from families of the missing.

The Libyan authorities will now inform the families of the missing that their relatives have been identified and legally close the cases.

Although Hammerl’s family had not yet received news about his remains this week, his wife, Penny Sukhraj, is hopeful.

ICMP’s director-general, Kathryne Bomberger, said the ICMP was committed to assisting the Libyan government in continuing to develop its capability to address this painful issue.

“As we do so, we are also assisting them through using our capacity to conduct high-throughput DNA identification testing to assist in resolving large numbers of missing persons cases.

“We hope that by expediting this process, we will bring long-awaited answers to families of the missing who have waited to learn the fate of their loved ones,” said Bomberger.

Jibril Hamed, who is in charge of the identification process at the Ministry for the Affairs of Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons, said that there could be up to 10 000 people missing in Libya – from the recent conflict, as well as those missing from the 1977 war with Egypt, the 1978 war with Uganda, the 1980-1987 wars with Chad and the 1996 Abu Salim Prison massacre.

Saturday 29 June 2013

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1,000 still missing in ‘Himalayan Tsunami’

At least 1,000 people remain missing almost two weeks after devastating floods struck India's Himalayan region, killing hundreds and leaving tens of thousands of people in need of aid and rehabilitation, a government official said on Friday.

Dubbed a "Himalayan Tsunami" by the Indian media due to the torrents of water that gushed through Uttarakhand, the floods and landslides swept away buildings and bridges and buried roads. The state government revised down the estimated death toll to 580.

Many inland areas, scattered with remote mountain villages, have been cut off. International charities warn the number of deaths and the extent of the devastation are likely to be much greater once roads are cleared and affected areas become accessible.

"We still do not have an exact figure on the missing. So far it appears to be around 1,000 but that figure could likely go up," Bhaskar Anand, secretary of Uttarakhand's Disaster Management Agency, told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.

The region is a popular Hindu pilgrimage destination due to its four temple towns of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, which make up the site called "Char Dham Yatra", attracting tens of thousands of devotees from all over India and abroad during the peak summer months.

Army and air force personnel rescuing stranded Hindu pilgrims said they hoped to end the mammoth evacuation in the next few days, weather permitting. They will then shift their focus to relief work, clearing roads and pathways and rebuilding infrastructure.

Over 100,000 mainly Indian pilgrims have been evacuated by land and air since heavy pre-monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides on June 15 and 16. Some local media organisations say the operation is the biggest evacuation in India's modern history.

"The information that we are getting is that between 2,000 to 3,000 pilgrims remain to be evacuated," Group Captain Sundeep Mehta, an Indian Air Force spokesman stationed at an air base in Gauchar town, said in a telephone interview.

"The weather here has meant that not many helicopters can take off today, but those survivors that are able are being taken down by foot."

Search for Missing

Local television channels have been running tickers with helpline numbers for relatives searching for their loved ones.

Families from different parts of the country, whose relatives had gone on the pilgrimage, told reporters they had not heard from them since the deluge started as phone lines were down.

Posters with pictures of missing people have been put up on public notice boards across Uttarakhand and local government websites showed photographs of unidentified corpses recovered from the disaster zone.

A medical expert stationed in the temple town of Kedarnath, one of the worst affected areas, told Thomson Reuters Foundation he and his colleagues were trying to identify and dispose of bodies through mass cremations in line with Hindu last rites - an arduous task.

Many bodies could not be photographed due to the extent of decomposition, while others had heads severed or were badly mutilated, he said. Officials were collecting samples of skin and hair to be used later for DNA matching with family members searching for their missing relatives.

The Times of India on Friday reported that 26 bodies had been found downstream in rivers in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, believed to have been carried there by flood waters.

Charity ActionAid India, which has been distributing relief in the districts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Tehri, said initial assessments pointed to a final death toll of as many as 5,000 people.

Approximately 300,000 people have had their lives disrupted by the floods, 50,000 have been displaced from their homes and around 10,000 people have been injured, it added in a statement.

"The priority for ActionAid and partners remains helping the families search, locate and file missing persons' reports and provide immediate relief in the form of food packets to communities," said ActionAid India's Barsha Chakraborty.

Saturday 29 June 2013

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Relatives identify missing loved ones at display

Sisters Sangita Jadhav and Asmita Yadav spent almost two years searching for their brother Deepak Zende, who had been missing since September 2011. Their search met a tragic end on Friday when they found Zende's photograph among the thousands of photographs displayed by the Pune police on the premises of the police headquarters in Shivajinagar.

The Pune police organized a display of as many as 2,227 photographs of unclaimed bodies and murder victims who remain undetected. Besides the sisters, four more people found their missing relatives were able to ascertain the identities of their relatives through the photographs at the display.

Relatives of the missing persons kept coming to the headquarters since morning and anxiously went through the photographs. One of them was 72-year-old Salima Siddiqui.

She had come to the police headquarters to look for her 40-year-old daughter, Nasreen Siddiqui, who is missing for the last two years. "I have checked the photographs displayed by the Pune police as well as those put up at police stations in other cities. But, I could not find her," Salima said. adding, "We are searching for her since she went missing."

Asmita Yadav said, she and her sister were tirelessly searching for their brother Deepak, who was missing since September 15, 2011.

"It is very painful for us is that we came to know that our brother is no more. That, too, on a day when we are performing rituals marking the completion of three months of our father's demise,after our father's death"she said.

Yadav said that while checking the photographs in the display all of sudden she noticed the picture of her brother. She further said, "I was shocked to see the picture of my brother at the display. We will not be able to even perform his last rites as his body has already been disposed of as it was unclaimed. We are now informing our relatives that Deepak is no more."

Rajendra Bhamare, assistant commissioner of police (crime), said as per the directives of the director general of police Sanjeev Dayal, the city police arranged the display of the photographs of persons found dead without any claimants for the bodies and undetected murders.

"Along with the city police, the photographs obtained from the Pune rural police, Ahmednagar police, Satara police and the government railway police were also display," Bhamare said.

He said the Pune police displayed 155 photographs, which included 126 people found dead and 29 photographs of undetected murders, which took place between 2008 and 2013.

The Pune rural police have sent 182 photographs; Satara police, 99 and the Ahmednagar police, 24 for the display. The government railway police have sent 1,767 photographs," Bhamare added.

He said the police received huge response from the people.Since morning the people have started visiting the display.

"We have asked all the police stations in the city to send their data of such persons for the display. Apart from that, we have also sent detailed information about the display to all the complainants, who have lodged the missing person's complaints with the police stations," Bhamare added.

Bhamare said he had maintained a register of such persons, when he was in charge of the social security cell. "We have also kept the register at the display," he added.

Bhamare said along with Deepak Zende (35), the identities of Rameshchandra Karva (50), Satish Pardeshi (40), Shivaji Pawar (60) and Ganpat Kamble (81) were also ascertained by their relatives. "We are expecting more people to visit the display on Saturday," Bhamare said. The display will be open on Saturday between 12 pm to 5 pm.

Saturday 29 June 2013

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