Thursday, 15 August 2013

Sri Lanka launches new probe into thousands missing in war

Sri Lanka's president Wednesday ordered a new investigation into the disappearance of thousands of people in the island's northeast during an ethnic war which ended four years ago.

The announcement comes just days before UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is due to visit the island, amid international criticism of Colombo's human rights record during the war against Tamil separatists.

President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed a retired judge to head a three-member panel to investigate "cases of persons from the northern and eastern provinces who went missing during the war", a statement from his office said.

"The president indicated that the inquiries are being conducted in the interest of public security and well-being and in order to determine what measures should be taken to prevent such incidents," the statement said without giving further details.

Sri Lanka has resisted international pressure for an independent investigation into war crimes despite what UN calls "credible allegations" of up to 40,000 civilians killed in the final battles in 2009.

Instead it has conducted a number of its own probes into disappearances and extrajudicial killings during the conflict, which have resulted in few prosecutions or convictions.

Sri Lankan troops declared an end to 37 years of ethnic war after wiping out the leadership of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

Sri Lanka has maintained its forces did not kill civilians while battling Tigers who were known for suicide bombings.

A government survey conducted last year in the war-ravaged north said that nearly 8,000 people were killed during the conflict and another 6,350 were missing. International rights groups say the figures are much higher.

The survey also said that those killed included 550 children below the age of 10, but did not say who was responsible.

The UN's Pillay is scheduled in Colombo on August 25 for a five-day visit, during which she is expected to meet political leaders.

Thursday 15 August 2013

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Cambodia landmine blast leaves six dead

Six people in Cambodia have died after their vehicle hit an old anti-tank mine, officials say.

The blast in northern Preah Vihear province also seriously injured another person on Wednesday.

The men, said to be farmers who were inspecting their paddy fields, were driving through a flooded area.

Unexploded landmines, a legacy from Cambodia's civil war, continue to kill and injure civilians despite an ongoing de-mining drive.

"The anti-tank mine was left over from the civil war and it was planted by the Khmer Rouge soldiers to defend their area from the government forces," provincial police chief, Sy Kiri, told Agence France-Presse news agency. He added that the area was a battlefield in the 1980s and had not yet been demined.

The Khmer Rouge, the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.

The brutal regime claimed the lives of more than a million people - and some estimates say up to 2.5 million perished.

Thursday 15 August 2013

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93 killed as torrential rains hit Pakistan

At least 93 people were killed and 94 others injured in rain-triggered accidents in Pakistan over the last two weeks, official statistics said Wednesday.

According to data compiled by the country's National Disaster Management Authority, the current monsoon rains affected 84,272 people, destroyed 2,309 houses and affected over 58 hectares of standing crops.

The southern province of Sindh was the worst hit area where 22 people were killed and 10 others injured in various rain-related accidents. The rain-triggered flash floods affected 15 villages in the upper part of the provinces and swept away 193 houses.

Rain water entered houses in low-lying areas of the province and disrupted railway, road and air traffic.

The state of emergency was declared in the rain-hit areas of the province and an emergency cell was formed to carry out rescue and relief operations for bringing the situation under control.

At least 21 people were killed, 13 others injured and 149 houses were destroyed in the country's northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The floodwater affected 337 people and destroyed several bridges and highways.

In eastern Punjab province, heavy downpour killed at least 18 people and injured 65 others. The rain water affected 68,936 people and destroyed 140,799 acres of standing crops.

In southwestern Balochistan province, 16 people were killed and 12 others injured in the rain-triggered accidents.

The northeast area of Pakistan administered Kashmir received heavy rainfall, during which at least four people were killed and four others injured.

The country's northwest tribal area also received heavy rainfall in which 12 people were killed and over 30 others injured.

Monsoon rains hit Pakistan every year in June and the season normally ends in the first week of September. During this period, the country receives heavy rains which cause flooding in various areas.

The most destructive flood hit the country in 2010, sweeping away 20 percent of the land and leaving 1,540 people dead and 2, 088 others injured in part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

According to a United Nations report, 557,226 houses were destroyed and over 6 million people were displaced in the 2010 flood.

In 2011, flood water killed an estimated 270 civilians in southern Sindh province. At least 5.3 million people were displaced and 1.2 million houses were destroyed.

Thursday 15 August 2013

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Palestinian Authority to demand DNA tests before Israel returns bodies

The Palestinian Authority has refused to receive the remains of Palestinian fighters held by Israel because its request for DNA testing was denied, a PA minister said Wednesday.

Since the 1960s, Israel has withheld the bodies of hundreds of Palestinians, interred in numbered, rather than named, graves in a cemetery in the occupied West Bank's Jordan Valley.

The Israeli news site Ynet reported Wednesday that Israel had agreed to return the bodies as part of a deal to secure the resumption of negotiations.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA minister for civil affairs, said the PA would not accept the bodies unless Israel carried out DNA testing to confirm their identities.

"Israel has leaked this news to the Israeli media because the PA refused to receive the bodies without testing and identifying them," al-Sheikh told Ma'an.

"The PA is willing to receive all the bodies of martyrs but we want to identify them."

The minister said the PA had rejected previous Israeli offers to return the bodies because Israel refused to perform DNA testing.

In 2012, Israel transferred the bodies of 91 Palestinians who were interred in numbered graves in Israel as a "gesture" to President Mahmoud Abbas.

The family of Nasser al-Buz received what was alleged to be his body, but they demanded a DNA test to verify the identity. A sample of the remains was sent to a DNA laboratory in Jordan, which found it was not al-Buz's body.

"I swear when we were carrying the coffin in Ramallah, all my brothers and I felt that it was not our brother Nasser," Nasser's 39-year-old brother Subhi told Ma'an.

"Three blood samples and a saliva sample were taken from me at Rafedia Hospital in Nablus and were sent to Jordan for DNA tests. The results were negative, though the test was done twice," Subhi al-Buz said.

Israel never announced that Nasser had been either killed or detained, the family says.

In 1989 he left home headed to Tunisia, intent on sneaking out of the West Bank via Jordan. He was set to meet late President Yasser Arafat, who was based in the north African country at the time.

The family never heard whether he arrived in Tunisia.

Thursday 15 August 2013

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India works to salvage stricken submarine, recover bodies

Indian divers and engineers struggled to refloat a stricken submarine in a Mumbai military shipyard Thursday after it exploded and sank with 18 crewpersons on board.

The fully-armed INS Sindhurakshak, returned by its original manufacturer Russia earlier this year after a major refit, went up in flames in a dock on Wednesday and sank to the bottom of the harbour.

Divers had opened the main hatch on Wednesday afternoon and were then expected to secure two water-tight compartments and begin pumping out the water to bring the vessel to the surface.

The disaster is considered the Indian navy’s worst since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine in 1971 and premier Manmohan Singh is expected to speak about it in his annual Independence Day speech Thursday.

Defence Minister AK Antony described the explosion as the “greatest tragedy in recent time”.

Defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar told AFP late Wednesday: “We have not got the bodies so we can’t say they are dead. But we are fearing the worst.”

Navy chief DK Joshi said Wednesday no sign of life had been detected on board.

“While we hope for the best, we have to prepare for the worst,” he told reporters in Mumbai, adding that there was a possibility some crew might have found air pockets but “the indicators are negative”.

The blast came days after New Delhi trumpeted the launch of its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier and the start of sea trials for its first Indian-made nuclear submarine, described by Singh as a “giant stride” for the country.

The world’s biggest democracy has been expanding its armed forces rapidly to upgrade its mostly Soviet-era weaponry and respond to what many in India perceive as a growing threat from regional rival China.

Amateur video footage showed a fireball in the forward section of the Sindhurakshak, where torpedoes and missiles are stored as well as the battery units.

A board of enquiry has been established to probe all possible explanations for the explosions including sabotage, but “the indicators at this point of time do not support that theory”, Joshi said.

Other sailors on vessels berthed near the INS Sindhurakshak were admitted to a navy hospital in Mumbai with burns.

In February 2010 the vessel suffered a fire while docked in Visakhapatnam city in southern India, killing a 24-year-old sailor and leaving two others with burns.

The Indian navy has 15 submarines, but only between seven and nine are operational at any one time because of regular repair and refitting operations.

Joshi admitted that the loss of the Sindhurakshak had left a “dent” in the navy’s capabilities.

The disaster had echoes of a tragedy in Russia in 2000 when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea with the loss of all 118 crew on board.

Russia is still the biggest military supplier to India, but relations have been strained recently by major delays and cost overruns with a refurbished aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya.

Thursday 15 August 2013

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