|Burma earthquake: At
least 75 people killed
BBC: At least 75 people
are reported to have been killed and many more injured when
a powerful earthquake struck north-eastern Burma on
The magnitude-6.8 quake struck near the Lao and Thai
borders, and was felt as far away as the Thai capital
Bangkok, and in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
The town of Tachileik and surrounding villages in Shan state
appear to have borne the brunt of the earthquake.
There are fears the casualties could be much higher.
Burma is ill prepared to deal with natural disasters, says
the BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Bangkok.
Communication systems and infrastructure are poor and the
military government, still in charge until the handover to a
new civilian-led administration, tends to limit the flow of
It is likely to take some time before a clear picture of the
disaster emerges, our correspondent says.
Several hundred buildings collapsed north of the town of
Tachileik, in mountains near the border with Thailand.
Local people told the BBC that in the villages of Tarlay and
Mong Lin alone more than 60 people had been killed. Roads
and bridges have been damaged making affected areas hard to
“We are trying to reach the remote areas,” one official told
AFP news agency. “The military, police and local authorities
are trying to find some people injured in those affected
areas but the roads are still closed.”
The earthquake hit at 1355 GMT on Thursday and was centred
about 70 miles (110 km) from the northern Thai city of
Chiang Rai, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. The quake
was shallow, at a depth of 6.2 miles (10km).
The tremor was felt in many parts of neighbouring Thailand.
One woman was killed in the border town of Mae Sai and
slight damage has been reported to some buildings but major
towns and cities appear to have escaped relatively
unscathed, our correspondent says.
In neighbouring Laos, no casualties have been reported.
The head of the disaster preparedness for the Red Cross
there, Bountheun Menevilay, said the quake was felt strongly
in the thinly populated border provinces of Luang Namtha and
Earlier reports suggested there had been two strong
earthquakes moments apart in the same area, but the USGS
later clarified that there had been just one quake.
On 11 March, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck just north of
the area, 225km (140 miles) southwest of Dali in Yunnan,
That was the same day as the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami
hit Japan; however, Japan is on a different tectonic plate.
|Mexico media agree drug war reporting
|BBC: Many of Mexico’s leading news organisations have
agreed common guidelines on how to cover drug-related
Newspapers and broadcasters agreed not to glorify drug
traffickers or publish cartel propaganda.
They also promised joint action to protect journalists, at
least 20 of whom have been killed since 2006.
The accord defends the media’s right to criticise Mexican
government policy and actions in the drugs conflict.
More than 40 media groups, which between them own over 700
television networks, radio stations and newspapers, signed
the agreement at a ceremony in Mexico City.
Among them were the top broadcasters, Televisa and TV
But some leading newspapers - including Reforma, La Jornada
and Proceso - did not sign up.
The agreement was signed by media executives and journalists
at a ceremony in Mexico City.
“The power of organised crime to corrupt and intimidate has
become a threat to the institutions and practices that
sustain our democracy,” a joint statement said. “Today,
freedom of expression is at risk”.
The 10-point voluntary agreement says the media should
“condemn and reject” organised criminal violence, and cover
it in a measured way, putting it in the context of violence
It says the media must not allow itself be used to transmit
propaganda for the drug cartels, or make their leaders look
like “victims or heroes”.
The accord also notes that Mexico is one of the most
dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with more
than 20 murdered since 2006.
It says media organisations should do more to protect their
staff from violence, and respond in a coordinated way when
any individual journalist or media outlet is threatened,
intimidated or attacked.
In other points, it says news organisations should:
protect the rights of victims and children involved in the
violence and never release information that puts them at
Treat people arrested as suspects rather than presume they
Not publish or broadcast information that endangers police
and military operations.
Report any violations of human rights by government security
Encourage Mexican citizens to report crime and help reduce
violence without putting themselves at risk.
President Felipe Calderon has welcomed the agreement.
“Media participation is crucial in building state security
policy,” his office said in a statement.
“We encourage other sectors of society to promote
initiatives like this one to confront those who want to
destroy the peace and security of all Mexicans,” it added.
President Calderon has in the past accused the media of
exaggerating the scale of drug-related violence in Mexico,
and criticised them for publishing statements and threats
from the cartels.
|Pakistan:Convoy in Kurram agency
ambushed by gunmen
BBC: At least eight people
have been killed and 15 kidnapped as gunmen attacked two
vehicles travelling through a volatile district of
north-west Pakistan, officials say.
The ambush occurred in the Bagan area of the Kurram tribal
agency. About five others were injured.
Those targeted were Shia Muslims who recently struck a peace
deal with Taliban militants in the area.
The region also has a history of sectarian violence.
The gunmen fired on one vehicle, killing some passengers
inside and then set fire to it, local officials told the
BBC. They then hijacked a second vehicle carrying a number
“The attackers came in two vehicles. They opened fire and
fled, leaving eight people dead, including a woman and a
child,” local administration official Fazal Hussain told the
AFP news agency.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says it is very likely
the attack happened as a result of the recent peace deal
between Shia tribes in the area and the Taliban.
Our correspondent says that the peace deal was brokered in
February by Pakistani security forces and guaranteed by
members of the Haqqani network - a branch of the Afghan
Taliban based in Pakistan.
Shia Muslim tribes had been waging a three-year war to keep
the Taliban out of the area.
However, militant groups operating in other tribal regions
have launched a number of attacks in an effort to undermine
the deal, our correspondent says.
In mid-March gunmen attacked a passenger coach travelling
along the same road but in the neighbouring Hangu district,
killing 11 people.
Just weeks earlier gunmen from the North Waziristan tribal
region kidnapped 20 Shia residents of Kurram. There has been
no word of their release.
The latest attack occurred on the main road that runs
through the Kurram tribal agency connecting the regional
capital with the city of Peshawar.
Until the peace deal the road had been blocked by the
Taliban since November 2007.
|Uganda freezes Libyan
assets under UN sanctions
BBC: Uganda will
freeze Libyan assets worth $375m (£230m), mainly in the
telecommunications, hotel, banking and oil sectors, the
The BBC East Africa correspondent says this is not aimed at
putting pressure on Col Muammar Gaddafi but rather to comply
with UN sanctions.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has previously called for
an end to the Western air strikes.
Oil-rich Libya has used money to buy influence across
South Africa has already announced a freeze of Libyan
assets, although its president has also condemned the
The BBC’s Will Ross says the isolated Libyan leader will
still be hoping for diplomatic support within Africa.
The African Union is trying to organise peace talks between
allies of Col Gaddafi and the rebels in the Ethiopian
capital, Addis Ababa.
Col Gaddafi has sent several representatives to the meeting
but so far none of the rebels have turned up, our
There is a degree of reluctance in much of Africa to take
action against the Libyan leader, he says.
Col Gaddafi has used money to gain favour and the Libyan
government has invested heavily in at least 25 African
nations, so the conflict threatens to have a significant
economic impact across the continent, he says.
To avert fears of job losses in Uganda, International
Co-operation Minister Henry Okello Oryem said that, despite
the freezing of assets, the Libyan-linked businesses would
still be able to function.
But he said the money would be channelled into a special
account until sanctions were lifted.
|US Jesuits agree to
school sex abuse pay-out
BBC: An order of US
Catholic priests has agreed to pay $166.1m (£103.3m) to
hundreds of Native Americans sexually abused by priests at
The former students at Jesuit schools in five states of the
north-western US said they were abused from the 1940s
through the 1990s.
Under a settlement, the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province,
will also apologise to the victims.
The order had argued paying out abuse claims would cause it
to go bankrupt.
“It’s a day of reckoning and justice,” Clarita Vargas, who
said she and two sisters were abused by a priest at a
Jesuit-run school for Native American children in the state
of Washington, told the Associated Press.
“My spirit was wounded, and this makes it feel better.”
The province ran schools in the states of Alaska, Idaho,
Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Most of the alleged victims were Native American. Much of
the alleged abuse occurred on Native reservations and in
remote villages, where the order was accused of dumping
“No amount of money can bring back a lost childhood, a
destroyed culture or a shattered faith,” lawyer Blaine
Tamaki, who represented about 90 victims in the case, said
in a statement.
The pay-out is one of the largest to date in a series of sex
abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church.
|Australia apology over army’s Afghan
BBC: Australia has launched
an investigation into racist videos and comments allegedly
posted by troops serving in Afghanistan on the social
networking site, Facebook.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith says he has apologised to his
Afghan counterpart, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
The videos show soldiers using racist terms about Afghans,
with one describing them as “smelly locals”.
Australia’s Seven Network News broadcast the material on
Australia has 1,550 troops serving in Afghanistan’s southern
Smith said that any soldiers found to have posted offensive
remarks or footage would be recalled from Afghanistan.
In one video people are heard laughing at an Afghan man as
he fled from the site of an explosion and deriding him as a
“This action by a small number of people is appalling. I
condemn it absolutely,” Mr Smith told ABC radio.
“There is no place for our diggers on the ground in
Afghanistan to engage in cultural abuse, to engage in racial
abuse,” he said, using a colloquial term for Australian
Senior members of the Australian military would be leading
the investigation, he said.
The Afghan ambassador in Australia said that he was
satisifed an investigation would be carried out.
“It is very distressing, shocking and appalling, but I am
sure that this does not represent the whole Australian
forces’ professionalism,” Amanullah Jayhoon told the
Associated Press news agency.
|Ivory Coast: One million refugees
feared, UNHCR says
|BBC: Up to one million people may have fled their homes
because of violence following Ivory Coast’s disputed
elections, the UN refugee agency says.
The UNHCR says most had run away from recent violence in
Aid agencies are said to be unable to reach parts of the
west where forces loyal to disputed President Laurent Gbagbo
have been losing ground.
France has circulated a draft resolution at the UN calling
for sanctions against Mr Gbagbo.
This follows a calls for UN sanctions and tougher action to
oust him by West African leaders.
Fear of war
Gbagbo is resisting calls for him to cede power to his
rival, Alassane Ouattara - widely recognised as the winner
of last year’s election in the world’s largest cocoa
“The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being
fuelled by fears of all-out war,” said UNHCR spokeswoman
Melissa Fleming at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
She pointed out that the estimate of up to a million
displaced was double the figure from just a week ago.
West African migrants have been targeted by Gbagbo
Ivory Coast’s population is about 22 million.
Many of those fleeing are migrants from Ivory Coast’s poorer
northern neighbours, who went there looking for work when it
was West Africa’s economic powerhouse.
Some of Gbagbo’s supporters have accused the migrants and
their descendents of backing Ouattara and some have been
singled out for attack.
Meanwhile, a UNHCR spokesman in Abidjan has accused
mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia of taking advantage of
the lawlessness to loot, rape and kill in the Guiglo region,
not far from where the pro-Ouattara New Forces former rebels
seized the town of Blolequin earlier this week.
“They are neither pro-Gbagbo nor pro-Ouattara, they are
merely profiting from the situation,” Jacques Franquin told
the AFP news agency.
“Guiglo is in a lawless zone, there is no functioning
police, everyone does what they want.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the UN to impose
sanctions against Mr Gbagbo and his allies.
Reuters news agency says the draft resolution includes a
travel ban and assets freeze.
European Union and African countries have already taken such
measures, which have led banks to cease work in Ivory Coast
and severely hampered the cocoa trade and Gbagbo’s ability
to pay civil servants.
The draft resolution is also believed to call for a ban on
heavy weapons in the main city, Abidjan.
The 9,000-strong UN mission in Ivory Coast has accused
pro-Gbagbo forces of firing shells at pro-Ouattara areas,
causing widespread civilian casualties.
Some 52 people have been killed in Abidjan alone this week,
meaning 462 have died since the stand-off began in December,
according to the UN.
Gbagbo’s allies say some of the accusations have been made
up and accuses France of using the international community
to oust him.
France retains strong economic ties to its former colony.
Pro-Ouattara forces in Abidjan have also been accused of
killing supporters of Gbagbo.
The election was supposed to reunify the country which has
been divided since a 2002 civil war.
The New Forces remain in control of northern Ivory Coast.
They have recently gained some ground in the west, but most
of their forces remain to the north of the 2003 ceasefire
|Norochcholai adds 300
MW to national grid
Fulfilling a long-felt
need, the first phase of the Lakvijaya Coal Power Station in
Puttalam, also known as the Norochcholai Power Plant, was
inaugurated on March 22, 2011.
The plant is constructed in two phases and has added 300 MW
to the national grid with the completion of phase one, which
amounts to 17% of the total electricity requirement in the
country. This project is to be fully commissioned by 2014
with the completion of its final stage. Then, it will add
600 MV more to the grid.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the inauguration
ceremony said, measures were already being taken to expedite
Upper Kotmale and Broadland Power Stations, which were
expected to reach completion within the next few years.
“There have been immense obstacles to the development of the
country due to the lack of consensus. This is evident when
considering the history of the Norochcholai Power Plant
Project. I feel that this project had many setbacks on
various occasions because people’s needs were shrouded by
political expediency,” the President said.
The plant is being built (including the second and third
phases) at a cost of US$ 455 million on a concessionary soft
loan from China facilitated by China’s EXIM bank. The main
contractor of the project is China National Machinery Import
and Export Corporation. Upon completion of all the three
phases, the project will generate 900 MW power to the
Sri Lanka uses around 28 GW hours of power daily and the
contribution through thermal power is over 60 per cent. Due
to recent heavy showers, the CEB shut down all thermal power
generation plants and wholly depended on hydropower as all
reservoirs in the country were at spill level. As a result
the board could save over Rs. 100 million daily.
Coal for this project is obtained from Indonesia by Lanka
Coal Company. Over the years, there have been a number of
protests by environmentalists, pointing out the damage that
could be caused to the environment by the carbon particles
that will be released by this power plant. However, the
government has assured that the ash produced from the plant
would be arrested by an equipment called Electro Static
Precipitator, which they said, could arrest 99.2% of the
discussions to further develop chartered accountancy
The country’s national accounting body, the Institute of
Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) together with the
Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales
(ICAEW), a world leader of the accountancy and finance
profession has pledged to further develop chartered
accountancy in the two countries as a result of the
reciprocal agreement signed between the institutes in
At a presentation which showcased the benefits and scope of
the ICASL-ICAEW reciprocal agreement, Justin West, ICAEW’s
Head of New Business Opportunities declared that the two
institutes were looking at going beyond exchanging
membership and was seriously focussing how the two
institutes could share talent, ideas and technical expertise
which would help take the profession forward.
In a detailed presentation, West who articulated the
international recognition possessed by ICAEW and thereby the
benefits that members could enjoy with an ICAEW membership,
disclosed that within the next six months, both institutes
would make an announcement on the tangible benefits that its
members can enjoy which would help in the further
development of their professional goals.
“We have had positive discussions on how to take this
agreement forward with deeper collaboration and we hope to
make an announcement in around six months on the tangible
benefits of this agreement,” West noted.
The ICASL is among just a handful of national institutes
which enjoys an agreement of such magnitude with ICAEW,
which boast of a membership of more than 136,000 from over
President of the ICASL, Sujeewa Mudalige stressed that the
ICASL and ICAEW shared an impressive relationship which went
back many decades.
“The ICAEW helped to establish the ICASL in 1959 and
incidentally, all our founder members were members of the
ICAEW and this agreement further cements the linkage we
share with ICAEW,” he disclosed.
He emphasised that the ICASL was looking for deeper
technical collaboration with the ICAEW, so that the ICASL
could enjoy access to ICAEW’s technical databases and
conference literature which would be extremely useful to the
institute and its members.
He also announced that since the signing of the agreement
between the institutes last October, a large number of ICASL
members had decided to obtain membership from the ICAEW and
several members from the ICAEW had also applied for the
membership from ICASL.
“For younger members who aspire to work in the United
Kingdom or in the continent, a membership from the ICAEW
will indeed be very useful and helpful,” Mudalige noted.
Meanwhile, the ICAEW has extended the fee waiver valued at
£900 offered to all ICASL members till September 2011, who
wish to join the ICAEW.
|ICRC to operate
exclusively from Colombo
In November 2010, the
Sri Lankan government asked the ICRC to close its offices in
Jaffna and Vavuniya and to conduct its operations
exclusively from Colombo. The ICRC head of delegation in Sri
Lanka Yves Giovannoni reflects on ICRC operations in Sri
Lanka, past and future.
Q: What has the ICRC been doing in Sri Lanka,
particularly in Jaffna and Vavuniya?
The ICRC has been working in Sri Lanka for more than two
decades, starting with the uprising of the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front – JVP) at the end of the
eighties and then continuing through the insurgency of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Our humanitarian
activities have focussed on protecting and assisting
civilians, prisoners, the wounded and the sick – on all
sides. In many cases, we worked with the Sri Lankan Red
Cross Society, and restoring links between separated family
members is a good example of an area where they played a key
role. We have always operated with the approval of the
government, and have often been able to act as a neutral
intermediary between opposing sides.
Q: What role can the ICRC play in Sri Lanka at the
moment? Are there still humanitarian needs in the country?
There certainly are humanitarian needs in Sri Lanka. Some
needs arise suddenly and require a rapid emergency response,
like the floods at the beginning of the year. Others are
more long-term, and require a sustainable solution.
The ICRC continues to address humanitarian needs resulting
from the armed conflict, just as we do in many other
countries where active hostilities have ended.
People who have lost limbs will, of course, require
artificial limbs for the rest of their lives. The ICRC will
continue to support the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability
Rehabilitation until 2014. The centre is looking after about
2,000 people, mainly in the Jaffna Peninsula.
Many households remain vulnerable. Some because the main
breadwinner is dead, missing, or in prison. Others because
they have to support a relative disabled by a mine. The
SLRCS and the ICRC hope to provide these vulnerable
households with micro-credits, vocational training or
The ICRC will continue to assess conditions of detention and
detainee welfare at most places of detention throughout the
country. We will continue to submit our observations to the
authorities in the form of confidential reports. This
confidential dialogue between the ICRC and the authorities
is in line with our standard procedure. It enables us to
maintain the trust of the authorities and to visit people
who have been affected by the conflict. Additionally, the
ICRC and the SLRCS together provide travel allowances, so
that people can visit relatives held in prisons or
During the recent floods, the ICRC supported the efforts of
the SLRCS and other Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement partners
to help the people and communities affected. It is quite
unusual for the ICRC to get involved in dealing with a
natural disaster, as the local Red Cross or Red Crescent
Society normally takes the lead in this type of situation;
but, of course, we could not ignore the size of this
humanitarian emergency and assisted where we could.
Q: How will the ICRC meet humanitarian needs in Jaffna
and Vavuniya without being present in the area?
In November 2010, the government asked us to close our
offices in the North and to conduct our operations solely
from Colombo. We have been working closely with the SLRCS to
set up procedures that will allow us to pursue our
humanitarian programmes with a reduced field presence.
We will continue to support families where the main
breadwinner is no longer present because of the conflict,
where a relative is disabled because of the conflict or
where family members remain separated or unaccounted for.
The authorities have allowed us to continue our technical
and financial support for the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for
Disability Rehabilitation until 2014, and we will be
conducting our humanitarian visits to people detained in
these areas from Colombo.
Q: What is the future of the ICRC in Sri Lanka?
We strongly believe there is still sufficient work to
warrant maintaining an ICRC delegation in Sri Lanka for the
foreseeable future. At the same time, we are working with
the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies and other partners in the Red Cross Red Crescent
Movement on the process of restructuring the SLRCS, a
process that should result in a stronger Red Cross Society.
Longer term, a lot will depend on how soon the remaining
consequences of the armed conflict are resolved. In turn,
this depends on the quality of the dialogue on humanitarian
matters with Sri Lankan institutions and partners.
We shall continue to work with the Sri Lankan government,
academia and other bodies to promote humanitarian norms and
their inclusion in the rules and regulations of the armed
forces and police. This is especially relevant in view of
Sri Lanka’s major role in United Nations peacekeeping
operations, where these international norms apply.
CONFERENCE AT PALLEKALE
The International Buddhist Conference was convened
recently under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa
The President and other distinguished guests inaugurated the
session by lighting the traditional oil lamp. Picture shows
Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs lighting the
Also in the picture are President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime
Minister D.M.Jayaratne, Minister of Petroleum Industries
Susil Premajayantha, Deputy Minister of Buddha Sasana and
Religious Affairs M.K.A.D.S. Gunewardene, Indian High
Commissioner in Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha, and Nilanga Dela
Bandara, Diyawadana Nilame of the Temple of the Tooth Relic
SCHOOL BOOKS IN HAMBANTOTA
Sajith Premadasa, MP for Hambantota district has initiated
many projects to develop and enhance infrastructure and
livelihoods of all communities in Hambantota district. The
picture illustrates Sajith Premadasa distributing children’s
accounts books and school equipment to the children of the
Wallasmulla area of Hambantota district
|CLEANING OF DUTCH
CANAL IN GALLE
The Dutch canal running through
Galle over 24 KM is being cleaned up after a period of ten
years. It has been considered one of the reasons behind
Galle going underwater during the rain.
Welson City of the Netherlands contribution of an excavator
machine is being loaded into a buoy to taken out to remove
mud from the canal.
Galle Mayor Methsiri de Silva said three days were taken for
the operation. (NS)