Thursday, January 27, 2005


Child soldiers

This is an update from UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees, of which Angelina Jolie, one of my favorite people, is an ambassador).

Child Soldiers in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka

It has been almost a month since the devastating waves of the tsunami hit. UNHCR's shelter relief efforts are in full swing on the west coast of the Indonesian province of Aceh. Super Puma helicopters continue to fly in relief supplies on a daily basis. UNHCR is operational in three locations - Meulaboh, Calang and Lamno. Stocks have been helicoptered to Calang (4.5 metric tons), and Lamno (8.5 metric tons) for distribution in the coming days.

UNHCR will partner with CARE and Doctors Without Borders on distribution of relief items in small quantities in Meulaboh and around Banda Aceh. Many remote and isolated areas remain inaccessible for a host of reasons, such as washed out roads and bridges. Shelter remains a critical need.

In Sri Lanka the problem of child soldiering has re-emerged post-tsunami. Last week, UNHCR’s Erika Feller directly confronted the political chief of Sri Lanka’s leading rebel group, The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), charging they have recruited children into their ranks since the great waves. The fierce and secretive organization generally referred to as the Tamil Tigers, is believed to have the largest suicide bomber cadre on earth. The group has enlisted 3,500 children into their ranks in the last two years alone, that during a cease fire. The latest transgression since the natural disaster included forty children, one a child of thirteen, taken by the rebels.

The Tamil Tigers political chief, S.P. Thamilselvan, denied UNHCR’s Feller’s claim and attributed the charge to "mis-reporting by journalists." But all combatants are on notice that UNHCR’s relief personnel will loudly decry any attempt to use the chaos of the tsunami to recruit children into deadly conflict.

The Tamil Tigers took three children from a relief center for survivors in the northeastern region of Trincomalee and another from the neighboring Batticaloa district. The other children were recruited from areas of the northeast held by the guerrillas – in all 40 confirmed cases of child recruitment since the tsunamis.

To help UNHCR rebuild the lives of tsunami survivors click here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Greenpeace press release

Today's Greenpeace press release:

Greenpeace, Jose Bové protest against genetically engineered soy onhigh seas
Paris/Amsterdam, 25 January 2005 -

This morning the Greenpeace-ship Esperanza intercepted the bulk carrier 'Golden Lion' 140 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal. The Golden Lion is transporting 30.000 tons of genetically engineered soy from Argentina to France. On board the Esperanza are also leading representatives of the Frenchfarmers movement 'Confédération Paysanne' (part of Via Campesina) and the 'Les Faucheurs Volontaires d'OGM' activist collective.

"This GMO shipment should never have been sent to Europe, and we call on the French public to go to the port in Lorient on Friday to take part in a peaceful protest against GE soy entering the French foodchain," says Arnaud Apoteker. "Millions of tons of GE soy are imported each year to feed cattle, hogs and poultry in Europe. This is a slap in face for all European citizens who have rejected GMOs in their food."

The Golden Lion is expected to arrive in Lorient, France, Friday this week. The Monsanto 'Roundup Ready' soy on board the ship is destinedfor use in animal feed. The GMO soy expansion in Argentina has caused the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest and driven small farmers and indigenous people off their land.

In Europe, strong and consistent public opposition to GMOs has forced food producers and retailers not to use GMO ingredients directly in food, but a big loophole in EU labelling legislation means that eggs, meat and dairy products from animals fed with GMOs do not have to be labelled. As a consequence food producers are able to hide the use of GMO soy and maize in animal feed from consumers.

Together the three organisations demand a ban on the import of GMOs to France, and specifically call on the ports of Brittany to reject GMO imports in line with the wishes of the regional government, which recently declared its intention to become a GMO-free zone (1).

"GMO crops represent the ugly head of destructive industrial agriculture, threatening both the environment and the livelihoods ofsmall farmers," says Jose Bové. "We denounce the increasing dominance of a few transnational GMO seed and pesticide companies over the worlds farmers. We want to end this sick trade cycle where European farmers have become dependent on dirty protein crops shipped across the Atlantic. GMOs simply have no place in sustainable agriculture or in quality food production."

According to a study by U.S. agronomist Charles Benbrook published last week, the planting of 14 million hectares of herbicide-resistant soy in Argentina has created a highly vulnerable agricultural system that has also had severe social impacts (2). An estimated 2.3 million hectares of forest and savannah have been destroyed since 1996 to make room for new GMO soy plantations, and areas that used to grow potatoes, beans and rice and were pasture for beef and dairy cows hav ebeen replaced with soybean production destined for export markets.

"Cutting down rainforests and threatening the home of jaguars and pumas only to produce animal feed for European factory farming is down-right crazy," says Arnaud Apoteker. "I don't think any food producer or retailer in Europe can defend forests being destroyed to produce animal feed used to make their food products, and we expect the food industry to move swiftly to protect their reputation among consumers."

Greenpeace, Confédération Paysanne and Les Faucheurs Volontaires are calling on their supporters and the public to join a peaceful and non-violent protest against the import of GMO soy in the port of Lorient on Friday morning when the Golden Lion is due to arrive.

For more information, footage and stills, please contact
Dan Hindsgaul, GE campaigner Greenpeace International, +33 144 640 207or +45 2810 9021
Anne Castelein, Greenpeace France press desk, + 33 1 4464 0215 or 33 68425 0825
Maartje van Boekel, Greenpeace International press desk, +31 6 4616 2021

For reports, updated weblogs and cyber action:

Notes to the editor

1. With EU governments on the verge of caving in to US and WTO pressure to allow (more) GMOs, European regions, cities and rura lcommunities have responded by taking their own steps to keep GMOs away from European fields and dinner plates. Brittany is the 17th out of France's 22 regions that has adopted a form of anti-GMO resolution, thereby joining a rapidly growing movement in Europe where now 100 regions and 3500 sub-regions have declared themselves as GMO-free zones. For more information on French and European GMO-free zones, see, and

2. Benbrook, C.M. (2005), "Rust, Resistance, Run Down Soils, and rising Costs: Problems Facing Soybean Producers in Argentina", Ag BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 8, see

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation that uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force the solutions which are essential to a greenand peaceful future.-

--Maartje van BoekelMedia Officer
Greenpeace International
Tel: +31 (0)20 7182098Mobile: +31 (0)6 46162021
Ottho Heldringstraat 51066 AZ Amsterdamtel: +31 (0)20 5148150fax: +31 (0)20 5148151


URGENT--Plea for volunteers--any of my readers in U.K.

This is from the Beeb, of course. VSO ( urgently needs volunteers to work with Sri Lankans and others in the aftermath of the tsunami. Please visit the above link, which I will also post in the link bar at the left.

Tsunami volunteers put skills to test
By Lincoln Archer BBC News

One month on from the devastation of the Asian tsunami, development charity VSO says more than 200 volunteers are desperately needed to work in affected communities. While thousands of people offered to help the relief effort in the immediate aftermath of the Boxing day disaster, the focus is now turning to long-term projects requiring specific skills, with teachers and mental health workers in particular demand.

Daniel Da Costa, 32, of Faversham in Kent, is a psychiatric nurse planning to put his experience to the test in Sri Lanka.

He decided almost a year ago that he wanted to spend two years volunteering in a foreign country.

He had already accepted a posting to Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, when the tsunami struck.

"I saw the news but it didn't really hit home until the pictures came in and the scale of what happened became apparent," he said.

"It hit me for six, but it didn't weaken my resolve. In fact it probably strengthened my desire to go."

Thousands were killed in the area and even more were made homeless. Mr Da Costa said they would start returning to their flattened villages in the coming weeks.

He will arrive around the same time, after a final training course in Sri Lanka's south.

Once in Jaffna, he will immediately start work with psychiatric patients suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar illnesses and - after years of civil war in the country - post-traumatic stress disorders. He said the tsunami's impact on such patients' health could be immensely destructive, particularly in a culture where mental illness is not always accepted.

"There's a strong link between stress and mental health. Things were already bad because of the civil war so who knows what it will be like now," Mr Da Costa said.

Mr Da Costa, who has six years experience as a psychiatric nurse, has undergone weeks of training to prepare him for the posting.

Successful applicants are taught how to cope with such a daunting change, as well as how to adapt their professional skills to working in the developing world. The VSO said some people could complete the process in four months, but most take a little longer.

The charity also insists successful applicants have all the necessary vaccinations and medical check-ups before they leave.

As his departure date nears, Mr Da Costa is preparing to nurse himself through jabs for hepatitis B, encephalitis and rabies. Since the tsunami, the VSO recommends a vaccine for oral cholera too.

At the same time, he has had to tie up all the loose ends of his life in Britain.

He will be given a crash course in the Tamil language when he arrives in Sri Lanka and he has also been learning how to ride a motorbike, albeit without immediate success. "I've had a couple of lessons and I've rode off the tarmac. I don't exactly have total control over the clutch yet!"

But serious concerns also remain about how he will cope without the support of friends and family, and whether he will be able to last two years in such a difficult environment.

"I really don't know. I feel it's going to be a huge test of my character and ability to cope," he said.

"I feel as ready as I can be, but I don't think you can ever be 100% ready for this kind of thing until you are there."

You can watch a BBC News Special "Asia One Month On" on this website, BBC1 and BBC World at 1930GMT.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/26 03:53:23 GMT© BBC MMV


InterWorld Radio bulletin

Today's bulletin (again, this stuff is great, it's short and to the point, not long and blathering, and you can look up the topics if you'd like more details):

The international Famine Early Warning System Network says 2.7 million Kenyans face severe food shortages. The agency says last year’s drought has reduced Kenya’s food stocks and unless Kenya can import more maize, it will start running out of food in April. But neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda have stopped exporting maize. Tanzania is protecting its own food supplies and Uganda’s maize surplus is being bought by the World Food Programme for its Sudan operation.

Children in the Indonesian province of Aceh have returned to school for the first time since last month’s tsunami. More than 100 school buildings reopened today and many more schools are operating out of tents. Almost a third of all children in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh died in the tsunami. The official toll of dead and missing in Indonesia as a whole is now 225,000.

The president of the Maldives has announced plans to establish a multi-party democracy within a year. Opposition leaders have welcomed the plans put forward by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The reforms will include creating the post of prime minister and having a directly-elected president. Mr Gayoom came to power in 1978 and is Asia’s longest-serving political leader.

The Swiss government has announced it will return stolen funds to Nigeria. The country’s former dictator Sani Abacha is believed to have taken more than 500 million dollars in Nigerian government funds and put it in a Swiss bank account. General Abacha was leader from 1993 until his death in 1998 and Nigerian authorities estimate that he and his associates took as much as 2.2 billion dollars during that time.

Cuba, the home of the cigar, is to ban smoking in public places. From February 6th smoking will not be allowed in offices, shops, cinemas and buses. More than half of all adults in Cuba are smokers and the authorities want to reduce the country's health problems caused by the habit. President Fidel Castro gave up smoking in 1986, and has famously said the best thing to do with a cigar is to give it to your enemy. Cuba earns 200 million dollars a year from exporting cigars.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


InterWorld Radio News

This is a cool e-mail update thingy that I've subscribed to--brief bits of information, but informative nonetheless! Today's:

An international report has warned that global warming is reaching a critical point of no return. The report, produced by an international climate change taskforce says that if global temperatures rise by another 1.2 degrees Celsius, then widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea-levels will be irreversible. The experts claim that this could happen in less than ten years. The report urges the world’s richest nations to step up their use of renewable energy.

The Bolivian Catholic Church has appealed for calm after days of protests rocked the city of Santa Cruz. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets over rising fuel prices. They are also demanding autonomy for the region which is one the country’s wealthiest. The protesters are backed by powerful local business leaders who also want greater autonomy. A special parliamentary commission has been sent to Santa Cruz to try to settle the dispute.

The official Sudan News Agency has reported that Darfur rebels have burnt down eight villages in western Sudan. However the two main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement, have denied any involvement in the incidents. The reports come a day after the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, said fighting between the government forces and rebel groups had decreased over the past month. He added that pro-government Arab militias are still attacking villagers. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people since it began in 2003.

The international medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres has criticised the Western media for ignoring major crises. The organisation says that millions of people are living through catastrophes in places that are never mentioned. These include ongoing conflicts in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chechnya and Colombia, as well as soaring death rates from tuberculosis in Asia and Africa.

The Microsoft company magnate Bill Gates has given 750 million dollars for vaccines in the world’s poorest countries. Mr Gates says that every year 27 million children go unvaccinated against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and yellow fever. The Gates fortune is estimated to be worth between 47 and 52 billion dollars.

Governments in Namibia and Mozambique have warned people living near the Zambezi River that it may be about to flood. Heavy rains are expected to cause the river to rise and people have been asked to move to higher ground. Agencies are preparing to send tents and food aid to the affected areas as soon as the river begins to flood. Last year 20,000 people were affected by flooding.

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