Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kidnapped aid workers freed, safe: Sudan

A Sudanese government official has confirmed that a Canadian nurse and three other aid workers who had been kidnapped in the Darfur region have been released."It is confirmed," Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol at the foreign ministry, told Reuters. "They have been released. They are safe. They are all right. They are still in Darfur but will be transferred to Khartoum."The four - Canadian nurse Laura Archer, an Italian doctor, a French field worker and the Sudanese guard - work for the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders. They were taken hostage Wednesday by "bandits," according to Sudanese authorities.Ahmed said the three foreign workers were freed around noon, and the Sudanese national had been released earlier.Avril Benoit, spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders, said Saturday that despite media reports, "we are not confirming.""We still have not got any confirmation that our people are free. We're still waiting for confirmation that we have actually seen them."The organization had earlier been grappling with conflicting reports earlier Saturday about the status of the workers.Armed men seized the staff from their base in north Darfur on Wednesday, sending shock waves through the region's humanitarian community.The kidnapping came a week after Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid agencies after the International Criminal Court ordered President Omar al-Bashir's arrest for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Surge 'no solution in Afghanistan'

General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, has said that a mass influx of troops like that during the so-called "surge" in Iraq is not the answer to Afghanistan's spiralling violence. Petraeus, who was commander of US forces in Iraq when the strategy was implemented in 2007, told an audience in the US state of Connecticut that the infrastructure was not in place for a similar effort in the Central Asian nation."You do need to tenaciously pursue the enemy and the extremists," he said on Friday."But you also need to be building, and to develop, and to assist, and to help and to partner."Last month, Barack Obama, the US president, ordered 17,000 more US troops to be sent to bolster the 38,000 already in Afghanistan. Ground commanders have reportedly requested that the US force be increased to 60,000 troops.Petraeus blamed the continuing problems on a "syndicate of extremists," financing from the drug trade, safe havens in Pakistan and frustration with the slow development of the country's fledgling government.
Worsening violence
His remarks reflect widespread concerns that the situation in Afghanistan is worsening as anti-government fighters gain strength in many areas of the country and violence reaches its highest levels since the US-led invasion of 2001.
'The Bulldozer' seeks Afghanistan's presidency
A United Nations report published on Friday said that security had deteriorated and could continue to worsen over the coming months."The government, security forces and population of Afghanistan, along with its international partners, face a critical test in 2009," it said."Security has continued to deteriorate. The results of government and international aid efforts have fallen short of popular expectations as Afghans suffer the effects of drought and a global rise in food prices."However, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said that extra troops to help train Afghanistan's security forces and provide protection for election scheduled for August could help the situation."A judicious deployment of additional international troops, with its primary goal being the security of the Afghan people,will be a welcome development," he said.
Civilian deaths
The UN report also identified the rise in civilian deaths as a major problem.Major military deployments in Afghanistan
With an additional 17,000 US troops expected in Afghanistan, the major military deployments will include:
US: 55,000 (north and east)
UK: 8,600 (Kabul, Kandahar, Helmand)
Germany: 3,500 (north)
Italy: 2,880 (west and Kabul)
Canada: 2,800 (south)
Netherlands: 1,650 (south)
France: 1,515 (Kabul)
Poland: 1,100 (mobile)
Australia: 1,070 (south)

The number of civilians killed rose 40 per cent last year to 2,118. Most of the deaths were caused by anti-government fighters, but 39 per cent were caused by international and Afghan government forces.
On Saturday, at least five people were killed in a military operation by US and Afghan troops in Logar province, south of the capital, Kabul.

The US military said that suspected fighters were shot after opening fire on the troops, but a spokesman for the provincial governor said a government delegation had confirmed the dead were civilians.Angry villagers held a protest near a government compound later in the day and police opened fire on them to prevent them from storming the building, Den Mohammad Darwesh, the governor's spokesman, said.
The US military said that the raid had targeted the leader of a group making roadside bombs."They were five armed militants that fired on a joint force ... when they went in to get a targeted individual,'' Colonel Greg Julian, a US military spokesman, said.After angry condemnations by Hamid Karzai, the president, following civilian deaths in US and Nato-led operations, Washington recently agreed to put Afghan forces on all of its missions.

Guantanamo inmates no longer "enemy combatants"

WASHINGTON- The Obama administration stopped calling Guantanamo inmates "enemy combatants" on Friday and incorporated international law as its basis for holding the prisoners while it works to close the facility.

The U.S. Justice Department filed court papers outlining a further legal and linguistic shift from the anti-terrorism policies of Republican President George W. Bush, which drew worldwide condemnation as violations of human rights and international law.

"As we work toward developing a new policy to govern detainees, it is essential that we operate in a manner that strengthens our national security, is consistent with our values, and is governed by law," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Some human rights advocates said the shift by the new Democratic president did not go far enough in dealing with hundreds of suspected Islamist militants held, most for years without trial, at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"The government may have eliminated the term enemy combatant but it is still claiming the authority to detain people far beyond the traditional norms of humanitarian law," said attorney Devon Chaffee of the group Human Rights First.

The term "enemy combatant" was adopted by Bush after the September 11 attacks in 2001 to refer to prisoners held under military orders he issued to launch the war on terrorism. The wording became emblematic of his policies, along with razor wire and orange jumpsuits.

The policies were subject to numerous legal battles and Supreme Court rulings that rebuked Bush's administration.


The filing on Friday, in the cases of some 200 Guantanamo inmates seeking a court review of their detention, explains the standards of President Barack Obama's administration for holding terrorism suspects without court review.

It said those at Guantanamo will no longer be held on the exclusive basis of the president's authority as commander in chief.

Bush, who sought to expand presidential powers during his eight years in office, had asserted his war powers were enough legal reason for holding prisoners. Bush officials also said they were not legally subject to the Geneva Conventions on prisoner treatment -- a view the Supreme Court rejected.

The legal structure for holding the Guantanamo prisoners will now be based on laws passed by Congress and, by extension, international law including the Geneva conventions, the Justice Department said.

In addition, it said only those who provided "substantial" support to al Qaeda, the Taliban or similar groups -- or who were "part" of those groups -- would be considered candidates for detention.

It cited Obama's project to review the entire detention policy, as part of a plan to close the Guantanamo prison, and said further refinements of the standards were possible.

The Obama administration has said some of the Guantanamo detainees, now numbering about 240, will be freed while others will be put on trial. A third category involves some prisoners deemed too dangerous to be released.

Major human rights groups said the policies will still allow the United States to detain prisoners seized far from a battlefield and that key definitions were left out, such as what constitutes "substantial" support for a militant group.

"In key elements they are a continuation of the Bush administration," said attorney Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This is really a case of old wine in new bottles," said the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which represents a number of Guantanamo prisoners.

Holder had signaled at a Justice Department ceremony that much of his work would consist of scrapping Bush administration legal policy.

"There is an awful lot of work that we have to do," Holder said. "There are things, quite frankly, that we have to reverse, policy changes that we have to make."

No long march, sit-in to be allowed on Constitution Avenue: Rehman tells of bombing threats by terrorists

ISLAMABAD :Terming the lawyers' long march a big challenge, Rehman Malik, Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior, said on Saturday that the government was ready to take the challenge of long march, and no sit-in would be allowed at Constitution Avenue.
"There are threats of target killing, serial bombing, and suicide attacks during long march, which have forced the government to withdraw forces from terror-hit areas of the NWFP", he said while talking to media after the launching of 'Polio Campaign 2009' at National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra)."I am not terrorising the lawyers or political activists, but we have received clear information of terrorist strikes during long march from elite intelligence agencies of the country", Rehman said, adding that political leaders "are under threat", and he had already informed the political leadership.About statement by Nisar Ali Khan, regarding entry of criminals of Sindh in Punjab for killing PML-N leaders, he said that he would personally talk to Nisar, and review the information. "I request Chaudary Nisar on behalf of the government to share such information with it", he added.He asked lawyers to postpone the long march for the sake of the country, and said that enemies of Pakistan were bent upon causing damages to Pakistan, and degrade it internationally. "When our enemies attack Sri Lanka cricketers, then long march could also be an easy target for them, and it could be huge life loss", he added.Rehman said that under the present challenging situation, the country could not afford any long march or sit-in. "When the country is facing challenges of terrorism and economic disorder, there should be a 'march for unity' for economic strength. There should be 'march' towards FATA, Swat and other terrorist-hit areas to bring peace and normalcy to these areas", he said.In place of Parade Ground, lawyers should chose any other place, "and we will assure them all facilities, including live coverage on national media," he said. The Advisor said: "Diplomatic community in Islamabad has expressed concern about the long march and sit-in, and I given them written assurance that routine life would go on normally, and Constitution Avenue will not be closed."
He said that no one would be allowed to move on Constitution Avenue as any law and order situation in that area would bring bad name to the country. He said that alternative places had been offered to the lawyers, but they refused it. The Interior advisor appealed to the masses not to take part in the so-called long march and sit-in.The lawyers were offered an alternative venue for the sit-in, but they rejected the offer, Malik said. He said that the government did not want politics of confrontation, but reconciliation, for better future of the country. He added that the issues should be resolved through political means.Rehman said that the government has not imposed curbs over any private news channel. "It will be a fault of the cable operators, and it will be checked", he added. Earlier, addressing the gathering, he said that was good to see that the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Health had joined hands to eradicate polio from the country.He assured that Nadra would utilise all its resources to reach every corner of the country and make it polio-free. Ejaz Hussain Jakhrani, Federal Minister for Health, said that "through this platform, I call upon provincial governments at all levels and all sectors, media, partner agencies, the private sector, community leaders and especially parents to ensure that each and every child is immunised during the campaign on March 16-18".He appreciated and thanked Nadra on taking this very important initiative to save the future generations of Pakistan from the clutches of the disease and disability caused by polio. Interior Secretary Kamal Shah, Nadra Chairman Ali Arshad Hakim, Unicef/WHO representatives and officials of Ministry of Health were also present on the occasion.

Pakistan:Presidency announces concessions

ISLAMABAD :Pakistan People's Party believes in reconciliation and dialogue, and due to it federal government has decided to file a review petition in Supreme Court against disqualification of Sharif brothers. President Asif Ali Zardari stated this while addressing party legislators at presidency on Saturday.

He said that the present tirade against him is not new as his opponents had been doing this in the past as well to drive a wedge between the workers and the party leadership. Zaradri said that in 70s our opponents had said that PPP was acceptable but without Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

He went on saying that then these opponents said that they had no quarrel with the party, provided the workers got rid of the leadership of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who was dubbed by them as 'security risk'. "The same refrain still continues and I am the target of the opponents", he added.

He asked the party legislators to beware of the conspiracy against PPP and to educate people about the machinations of the opponents to discredit the party. The meeting also adopted a unanimous resolution reposing complete trust in the leadership of co-chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari.

AFP ADDS: President Asif Ali Zardari late on Saturday offered key concessions to Nawaz Sharif in a bid to defuse the political crisis. The decisions were taken in a meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the President, presidency sources said in a statement released after officials said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had telephoned the rival leaders.

But PML-N said it would wait for action, not words. Opposition party workers and lawyers are gearing up to march on Islamabad by Monday to demand that Zardari should act on promises to reinstate the sacked judges. The presidency announced that Zardari and Gilani agreed that the "issue of judiciary and restoration of judges would be resolved in accordance with the principles laid down in the charter of democracy".

"The federal government will file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Supreme Court, disqualifying Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif from electoral politics," the statement said. The statement was released shortly after local officials announced that Hillary had called Zardari and Sharif, as efforts mounted to find a solution to resolve the crisis.

Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for Nawaz, said he would wait to see how the announcement on the restoration of judges would play out, but welcomed the appeal to the Supreme Court. "We will see how these things happen. How judges will be restored... It is not yet clear,

British soldier killed in Afghanistan

A British soldier was killed while on foot patrol in Afghanistan on Saturday, bringing the total number of British service personnel killed in the country to 150.
The soldier from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Regiment was injured in an explosion in Musa Qala District Centre, Northern Helmand, said the Ministry of Defence.
Medics battled to save him but he died at the scene. His death brings the number of British service personnel killed in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001 to 150.Commander Paula Rowe, spokesman for British troops in Afghanistan said: "Task Force Helmand feels the loss of every serviceman and we mourn the death of this brave soldier."We send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends at home and all those who served alongside him at this desperately sad time."The soldier's next of kin have been informed but there will now be a 24-hour grace period before he is officially identified, the Ministry of Defence said.Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said: "We are saddened by this brave soldier's death, and offer our heartfelt condolences to the soldier's family and friends."Through our grief, we are strengthened in our resolve to help bring security and stability to Afghanistan."The news of the soldier's death came as the Ministry of Defence described how a Royal marine had foiled a roadside bomb plot in Afghanistan single-handedly.While on guard duty, the Royal Marine Commando from 45 Commando spotted three men digging on a track near a British army base in Sangin, northern Helmand. The marine used a shoulder-launched missile to kill the three men and destroy the device.

Russian strategic bombers could use Cuba airfields

"We are ready to fly there," Russian Air Force official says
Cuba has four or five fields that suit Russia, military official says
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also has offered a military airfield
MOSCOW, Russia-- Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
"There are four or five airfields in Cuba with 4,000-meter-long runways, which absolutely suit us," Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev told Interfax.Zhikharev, who is the chief of staff of the Russian Air Force's long-range aviation, said, "If the two chiefs of state display such a political will, we are ready to fly there."Zhikharev also told Interfax that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered a military airfield on La Orchila island as a temporary base for Russian strategic bombers.
"If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible," he said, according to Interfax. Zhikharev said he visited La Orchila in 2008 and can confirm that with minor reconstruction, the airfield owned by a local naval base can accept fully-loaded Russian strategic bombers.

Minister concerned over rising polio cases

PESHAWAR: Voicing concern over the growing number of polio cases in the province, the NWFP Health Minister Syed Zahir Ali Shah Saturday directed the officials concerned to delve into the matter.

Addressing a press conference at the press club, the minister held the inefficiency of the officials responsible for failure to keep polio at bay.

“Ineffective implementation of polio eradication programme is behind the growing number of polio cases,” he said.

He asked the Health Department officials to find out the causes of increase in polio cases, adding that they should come out with a well-contrived policy to contain the disease.

“We’re going to launch an accountability mechanism in the health department to place responsibility on those who were not taking the efforts to eradicate polio seriously,” he said and added departmental inquiry would be initiated against such officials.

The minister, however, said that deteriorating law and order situation in certain parts of the province was the major reason behind growing number of polio cases because anti-polio vaccination could not be carried out in these areas properly.

“We may witness some polio positive cases in the province because of the mass exodus of the people from the militancy-plagued areas,” he said.

But almost in the same breath, he said that no stone would be left unturned for eradication of polio in those areas where polio teams are not facing any hindrance.

He stressed upon the media-persons to play their effective role in creating awareness among masses about the effects of polio on life of a victim.

He said majority of the population in the province was illiterate and they could be sensitised about the seriousness of the disease only through media.

Earlier, EPI NWFP Deputy Director Dr Mujahid told the participants that during the three-day polio vaccination drive, starting from 16th the instant, about 5,621,439 children below the age of five years would be administered polio vaccine.

In NWFP, he added, about 16,229 teams had been constituted for administrating polio drops. He informed that last year about 118 cases of polio were reported in the country - 16 in Sindh, 53 in NWFP, 11 in Balochistan, 29 in the Punjab and five in Islamabad.

Taliban in Darra announce ceasefire

KOHAT: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Darra Adamkhel announced on Saturday unilateral ceasefire till March 30 as part of confidence-building measures.

Sources said that the Taliban announced the ceasefire after meeting representatives of the army, political administration and the government, adding that before engaging in formal negotiations they would see how things develop in the wake of the ceasefire.

A 10-member committee headed by Noor Zaman Afridi and comprising elders from five tribes of the Frontier Region of Kohat conveyed the ceasefire decision to Political District Coordination Officer Siraj Ahmed.

Army called in various districts of Punjab

ISLAMABAD:The government has called army in various districts of Punjab, Aaj TV report said on Saturday.
According to this report, federal government has called for military assistance to control the law and order situation.The troops would be deployed initially along the routes of the long march.

PPP CEC meeting postponed

ISLAMABAD :The Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting of Pakistan Peoples Party scheduled to be held on March 16 (Monday) has been postponed.
Party spokesmen Farhatullah Babar has confirmed the postponement of the meeting, however, he did not gave the reason of postponement.