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  Nation 2  


 

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 Thursday.
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 information.
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 reach.
“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.”
Shallow quake
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 Bokeo.
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, southern China.
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 guidelines
BBC: Many of Mexico’s leading news organisations have agreed common guidelines on how to cover drug-related violence.
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 Azteca.
But some leading newspapers - including Reforma, La Jornada and Proceso - did not sign up.
Intimidation
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 elsewhere.
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 risk.
Treat people arrested as suspects rather than presume they are guilty.
Not publish or broadcast information that endangers police and military operations.
Report any violations of human rights by government security forces.
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 of passengers.
“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 government says.
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 Africa.
South Africa has already announced a freeze of Libyan assets, although its president has also condemned the military action.
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 correspondent says.
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 its schools.
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 problem priests.
“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 Facebook ‘racism’

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 Thursday.
Australia has 1,550 troops serving in Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province.
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 “scared... mufti”.
“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 soldiers.
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 Abidjan.
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 producer.
“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 supporters
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.
Banks closed
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 line.
 

 

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 national grid.
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 carbon particles.


ICASL, ICAEW 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 October 2010.
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 160 countries.
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 grants.
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 rehabilitation camps.
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.


INTERNATIONAL BUDDHIST CONFERENCE AT PALLEKALE

The International Buddhist Conference was convened recently under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Pallekele.
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 lamp.
 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


SAJITH DISTRIBUTES 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)