Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Earthquake creates chaos on Nias

BBC Report

Flying over Gunung Sitoli, the main town on Nias, you could see multi-storey buildings had collapsed, one floor falling down into the other. Clusters of people stood on top of what was left, combing the wreckage.

At a monastery, nuns attempted to find food for scores of badly injured people who had taken shelter there. They complained that they had no access to medicine and very little food.

The earthquake is believed to have claimed 500 lives already. And that figure will only grow because people are trapped under piles of rubble.

The arrival of an aid helicopter drew hundreds to a soccer field. One woman stopped to ask me if there would be cooking oil. Another man showed me a gash in his head where he said the corner of a building had fallen on him.

There is no electricity and a lack of shelter, with main roads and bridges shattered by the force of the earthquake. Aid agencies have described the situation as critical.


I've seen many wounded people walking in the dishevelled streets, asking for water.

All around there's a deep sense of shock as if people cannot believe what has happened to them. To compound the problems, the destruction has made access much more complex.

The air field has suffered severe damage so fixed wing planes, to deliver critical supplies, are unable to land. Collapsed roads have cut off areas from immediate help. Many have great cracks running through them.

The aid agency Oxfam has been ferrying the wounded back to mainland Sumatra and bringing essential medical supplies to the island's hospital.

But that has also been badly damaged and is staffed by a single doctor and nurse. Where possible the seriously injured are being brought in by motorbike but fuel is in short supply.

The high street of Gunung Sitoli is a scene of disaster. Smoke billowed from collapsed houses as survivors of the wreckage staggered away to find help.

The people of Nias are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake. The extent of the damage is so great it is difficult to understand where to begin.

There may be people trapped in the rubble anxiously hoping that they'll be saved. But combing through the unstable wreckage may be too dangerous without the right equipment.

Some related links:

pictures of the quake

Friday, March 25, 2005

Large autonomy would help settle Sahara dispute, former UN official

Morocco-Algeria, 3/24/2005

Former chief of the UN mission in the Sahara, Erik Jensen has suggested that the three-decade long Sahara dispute opposing Morocco to Algeria-backed separatist movement "Polisario" could be settled through granting a large autonomy to these Moroccan Southern Provinces.

Speaking at a meeting hosted, Wednesday, by the International Peace Academy in new York, Erik Jensen who led the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara - known by its French acronym "MINURSO"- said it's high time to find a negotiated political solution to the Sahara conflict. Morocco retrieved the former Spanish colony in 1975 under the Madrid Accords it signed with Spain and Mauritania. However, the Polisario front, backed by neighbouring Algeria, has been claiming the separation of these Provinces from the rest of the Kingdom.

Jensen who spoke about changes at the international level, citing in particular the end of the Cold War, said that the more time passed, the more difficult it became to carry out a referendum in the Moroccan Sahara.

He noted that initiatives undertaken by the UN to settle this dispute, "have led to nothing so far," suggesting in this regard, that the granting of a large autonomy to the Sahara provinces, would help settle this issue and contribute to the rise of the a Maghreb entity.

Erik Jensen also underlined the suffering endured by the population "living in the refugee camps," in an allusion to thousands of Moroccan-Sahara natives held against their will by the Polisario in the Tindouf Camps, south-western Algeria. He warned that "the young generations who grew up there may not know anything else but those camps."

During the meeting, the audience was handed a copy of Jensen's new book on the Sahara "Anatomy of a Stalemate."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Israel, Morocco to renew relations

Israel and Morocco are set to renew diplomatic relations next month, ending a freeze that lasted for more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, an Israeli television station said Saturday.

Citing an unnamed "senior Moroccan source," a Channel Two TV report said an agreement to renew ties was reached last week between Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres in Madrid. Both men were in the Spanish capital for ceremonies marking the first anniversary of train bombings that killed 191 people.

The report said Peres would soon pay an official visit to Morocco. It added that initially Morocco would be represented in Israel by a charge d'affairs, one notch below an ambassador.

The two countries established similar-level relations in the mid-1990s. But Morocco, along with Tunisia, broke off formal ties after the September 2000 outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, although some commercial relations remain.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev could not confirm the report but was optimistic that a thaw could be near. "Israel would hope that Morocco will shortly be renewing relations," he said.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has been in telephone contact with Moroccan Foreign Minister, Mohamed Benaissa, since the summit, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Despite the diplomatic chill, Shalom visited Rabat and met the king in September 2003

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Ex-terror suspect to be deported

The Associated Press

DETROIT — An immigrant tried for terrorism in a case marred by prosecutorial misconduct will plead guilty to insurance fraud and be deported, his lawyer said.

Ahmed Hannan, 36, of Detroit, is tired of fighting the legal system, defense lawyer James Thomas said Thursday.

“After coming to court for five bond hearings and not being able to obtain a bond — and after having been assaulted by another inmate at Wayne County Jail and losing his front teeth — he decided that continuing the legal battle wasn't worth it anymore and he wants to go home,” Thomas told the Detroit Free Press.

Thomas said Hannan will admit his role next week in the fraud case and is expected to be sentenced to time already spent in custody and be deported to Morocco.

Hannan and three others were accused of being part of a “sleeper” cell and charged with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists. The charges stemmed from a Detroit raid six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Hannan was acquitted in 2003 of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists but convicted of document fraud.

However, in September, the U.S. attorney's office admitted prosecutorial misconduct in the case, saying potentially exculpatory evidence was not shared with the defense. At the government's request, a judge ordered a new trial on the document fraud charge.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Morocco voices readiness to receive ICRC visit to former Guantanamo prisoners

Morocco voiced readiness to authorize the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit the five Moroccans who were repatriated from the US Guantanamo base.

The pledge was made Tuesday by Moroccan Justice Minister, Mohamed Bouzoubaâ, at a meeting with the chairman of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, on the fringe of the 61st session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Last August, the USA handed over to Morocco five men who have been held at the US base in Cuba since their arrest in Afghanistan more than two-and-a-half years ago. They will stand trial end of this month.