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4/25/2009

SOLOMON TSUNAMI SOMALI PIRATES’ LONE GUNMAN LEAVES 13 DEAD IN LAWLESS PAPUA BEGGARS’ LONGEST CROP WAR

Papua was on high alert as a range of incidents, including attacks on
police stations, claimed 11 lives to mar voting day in the country’s
easternmost province, still plagued by separatist threats.

Kenya, with nearly a quarter of its 38 million people facing severe hunger,
is now reporting a rapid spread of diseases affecting the country’s vital
wheat and banana crops. The crisis is being exacerbated by plummeting
public confidence in the country’s year-old coalition government.

To wage today’s battles against pirates who took control of 42 ships and
captured 815 sailors last year, the Royal Navy is combining machines and
methods forged during the Cold War with centuries-old naval warfare skills.
The Royal Navy is also hitting back at pirates by using some of the
pirates’ own tricks.

A lone gunman shot and killed at least 13 people in a “premeditated” attack
at an immigrant centre in upstate New York, before turning his weapon on
himself. The gunman first used his car to barricade the back door of the
American Civic Association in Binghamton, 140 miles north of New York City.

The South Asian nation of Bangladesh wants to do something about the
increasing number of beggars migrating into its cities from the
countryside. Legislation has been approved that could send many of the
country’s most destitute to jail for openly asking for charity. Some aid
agencies are skeptical this approach will solve the problem.

Mobile-phone users in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Nakuru will be able to
access Google Maps and search up-to-date online maps, look up businesses,
advertise free via Google Maps Local Business Centre, create their own maps
and even check locations while on the move.

It began with British betrayal after the Second World War and has
stubbornly outlived every other conflict. But now, as it marks its diamond
jubilee, the world’s longest-running war is nearing its endgame. The
guerrilla army of the Karen ethnic group, which has been fighting since
1949 for independence from Burma, is facing the greatest crisis in its
history. If Karen resistance collapses, as some believe is likely, it will
be a triumph for the Burmese junta as it consolidates its hold on power.

The incident is, by Port Moresby standards, neither here nor there. Coming
off an overpass and you notice people scattering in light rain. Blocking
traffic is an urban response-style light police truck, with a two-sided
troop seat in the back. A woman is running, followed by two police. One of
the officers punches her hard in the face, then she doubles over from what
appears to be a truncheon in the guts.

Now tsunamis won’t be able to catch you unaware, thanks to a mathematics
formula worked out by scientists that will give advance warnings and an
idea of their destructive might.

The incidents, however, did not prevent most Papuans from voting on
election day. According to National Police data, 75 percent of Papuans
voted at more than 6,000 polling stations across the province. The polls
had to be delayed in Yahukimo and Paniaki, with bad weather obstructing the
delivery of polling material to the two regencies.

Recent reports from Kenya’s breadbasket region of the Rift Valley have
confirmed what the country can ill-afford – the spread of a deadly strain
of a parasitic fungus called stem rust that is threatening to wipe out the
country’s wheat fields.

Most of the other warships deployed to fight pirates in the region are
concentrated north of Somalia, close to the Suez Canal, through which 10
percent of the world’s sea trade passes. Northumberland was the first
warship on the scene from a new European Union task force, charged with
patrolling the southern flank of the 2-million-square-mile piracy zone,
near Mombasa. It was here that pirates scored their biggest victory seizing
the supertanker Sirius Star, laden with $100 million in crude oil.

He calmly walked into the front of the building armed with two pistols and
began shooting, killing one receptionist and wounding another. Moments
later he marched into a nearby classroom and began spraying bullets into
people reportedly undergoing citizenship tests.

Ragged beggars are a common sight on the streets of Dhaka and other cities
in Bangladesh. The government wants to make their presence a rarity, if not
eliminate it totally. To that end, a new law curtailing begging in the open
and on crowded streets will be strictly enforced. Violators will face up to
three months in jail.

Google has maps for Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, but the level of detail is
not what it is for Kenya. “Google Maps is not just searchable digitized
maps helping you to find a local place, service or product. Our goal is to
make information with a geographical dimension available to everyone and to
allow users to update the maps and develop.”

After a three-year offensive by the junta, the Karen National Liberation
Army (KNLA) has been forced into increasingly small pockets of resistance.
Deprived of funds and equipment, it is able to do little more than slow the
advance of the Burmese Army as it lays waste to hundreds of villages,
driving thousands of terrified civilians before it.

We go through a roundabout and come back. The woman is running now, arms
crazy above her head as the police truck pursues her over gutters. Soon
after, we find the woman and a group of her friends standing by the
roadside, panting and bleeding heavily. One man has a deep gash running
across his left cheek. The bashed woman is half-laughing, half-crying. They
are drunk on “steam”, the local metho-rated liquor cooked in secret stills,
flavoured with orange cordial and sold dirt cheap in the markets.

The research, led by a maths professor, was prompted by the 2004
post-Christmas tsunami that devastated coastal communities in Indonesia,
Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. In this instance, an earthquake in the ocean
depths triggered a long surface wave which resulted in six massive wave
fronts, one after the other.

The disruptions began when homemade bombs exploded under a bridge on the
border between Papua and Papua New Guinea. No one was killed, but police
found two unexploded bombs while sweeping the area. Unknown assailants
stabbed five ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers in Wamena, leaving four of them
dead and one in critical condition. A fuel storage tank at a state oil
company depot in Biak exploded during refilling, instantly killing a
bystander.

The strain was first detected in East Africa a decade ago. But it has
spread to other wheat producing areas in the world, largely because poor
farmers here have not been able to afford the fungicide needed to combat
the problem. “It started spreading very fast. We have it in Kenya. We have
it in Ethiopia, spreading toward the north [to] Egypt and it probably
reached India. It is a serious concern. Stem rust, of course, is
controllable with chemicals, but it is damn expensive. The only solution is
to bring in new varieties that are resistant to stem rust. We are at a
quite advanced stage.”

Somali sea bandits hijacked more than 40 large vessels last year, ransoming
about 30 of them for a million U.S. dollars or more. Sirius Star was
released in January after an estimated $3 million ransom was paid, but the
other ships, and about 200 crew, remain in pirates’ hands. The rise in
piracy, and consequent rise in the cost of shipping insurance, drove up the
cost of shipping petroleum, electronics and food.

In seconds, a dozen people were dead, another five were wounded, and more
than 30 had fled amid pandemonium. The gunman, believed to be a 42-year-old
Vietnamese American from nearby Johnson City, had recently lost his job
with IBM in his home town. “It was premeditated,” said the Binghamton
police chief. “The suspect had put a car against the back door blocking any
exit for victims.”

Parliament approved a bill cracking down on beggars and it will take about
a month to draft guidelines on how authorities will enforce the new law.
They note that some beggars seek pity by pretending to be ill or displaying
a disability. Sympathizers say most of those in such a condition on the
streets really have no alternative.

“We believe more accurate, representative local information can greatly
improve the breadth of information available about a given area, and in
turn can help efforts to bolster tourism and business investment.” Google
Maps is available in 23 African countries, but the company is providing
more detailed maps that go beyond the capital cities and include other
aspects of life. The company will divulge more information once the team
finalizes its plans.

Most serious of all, the Karen leadership is losing the support of
neighbouring Thailand, where it was formerly able to organise, arm and –
when necessary – retreat. Trapped between the Burmese Army to the west and
an increasingly unfriendly Thailand to the east, with hundreds of thousands
of their people in wretched refugee camps, the Karen are experiencing a
humanitarian and military catastrophe.

The man with the cut face is leaning through the window, spraying bloody
protestations of innocence. Asked why they didn’t just run away, all they
can repeat is: “It wasn’t our fault; we didn’t do anything.” Papua New
Guineans will stand before they fall. “The trouble is, they are Goilala,
which means they probably did do something, anything from holding up a car
to illegally selling betel nut by the side of the road.”

Of these waves it was the third and largest one that caused the most
devastation, hitting the beaches with terrifying speed. Reaching a height
of 20 metres or 65 feet, it hefted a train from its tracks as it travelled
along the Sri Lankan coastline, killing almost 1,000 people.

Police security posts at the Skaw Wutung border between Indonesia and Papua
New Guinea were attacked by unknown gunmen, with no casualties reported.
About 50 men armed with homemade bombs, spears, cleavers, bows and
cassowary bones attacked the Abepura Police station in Jayapura. The police
shot into the crowd, killing one attacker and injuring eight others.

In Kenya, most of the fields affected by the stem rust strain belong to
small-scale farmers, who grow 20 percent of the wheat consumed annually.
Although maize is the staple among most Kenyans, wheat flour has grown
crucial to the country’s overall food supply. Drought and post-election
violence in maize-producing areas of the country prevented many farmers
from planting crops. Domestic maize production was so poor, the government
had to begin importing corn to help feed some 10 million Kenyans facing
starvation.

To beat pirates in potentially violent showdowns, the Navy has adopted the
pirates’ tactics of using “mother ships” carrying fast boats to spring on
opponents. In the early days of Somali piracy, pirates ranged only a few
miles from their hometowns and threatened just a few thousand square miles
of ocean. The reason was simple: Most pirates were former fishermen and had
only the tools of a typical fishermen. Their personal firearms and their
small, motor-propelled wooden fishing boats, called skiffs. The skiffs were
too slow and too flimsy to catch anything but the most rickety of vessels.

The surviving receptionist, lying bleeding on the floor, alerted police
with her mobile phone and survived the ordeal. “After he shot her she
pretended she was dead. As he exited down the hallway she crawled
underneath the desk and sometime after that she called us.” Some of those
fleeing hid in the basement. More than a dozen hid in a cupboard. At least
five were wounded.

The Bangladesh Finance Ministry says it wants to emulate some neighboring
countries that have implemented plans to rehabilitate urban beggars by
providing them with employment training programs. Imprisonment and brief
training schemes will not solve the problem.

The company has boosted the popularity of the maps by including content
from local celebrities such as Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize winner),
Julie Gichuru (TV presenter), Churchill (comedian) and Humphrey Kayange
(Kenya Rugby 7’s team captain). Google Maps will help create a greater
understanding of the socio-economic situation in different regions.

“The military situation is as bad as it’s been at any time in the past 60
years. The Karen have less territory, fewer soldiers and fewer resources to
sustain resistance. The Burmese have them more and more surrounded, and
their backs are up against the wall.” A Karen leader on the Thai border
said that the KNLA and Burmese Army were fighting near the town of
Kawkareik, close to the Thai border. All year there have been reports of
Karen villagers being driven into the jungle by marauding soldiers.

Goilala are conspicuously short street dwellers originally from the Central
Province. They are branded Moresby’s most prolific troublemakers, first
suspects in any crime. Programs to rid PNG’s capital of crime are earnestly
afoot. It won’t be easy because criminal behaviour is not confined to
street people. Moresby’s police wield a brutal form of shoot-first,
ask-later justice, and some people see PNG’s politicians as notorious
pork-barrellers. When street people are asked to clean up their act, they
ask: What about them?

If we could understand more about how these long waves behave we could
predict where they might hit and how devastating they might be. The number
and height of the tsunami waves hitting the shoreline depends critically on
the shape of the initial surface wave in deep water.

At daybreak, the rector’s building at Cendrawasih University – about 5
kilometers from the Abepura Police station – was set ablaze by unknown
people. The fire razed important documents and badly damaged one of the
building’s three floors, but claimed no casualties. All the incidents,
except the explosion at the Pertamina depot, were intended to disrupt the
elections in Papua. The depot explosion was simply an accident.

Meanwhile, residents in western Kenya’s Nyanza province, hit hard by last
year’s poor maize harvest, are now reporting the outbreak of a disease that
is destroying banana trees there. Many Kenyans rely on bananas to
supplement their diets. But the once-plentiful fruit is prematurely
ripening and rotting on trees infected with a disease called banana
bacterial wilt. On some plantations, yield losses of 90 percent are being
reported.

Then the pirates innovated. They began capturing trawlers and small
freighters for use as motherships. When about a dozen armed Somalis
intercepted a ship, the pirates had no interest in its cargo. Instead, they
commandeered the harmless-looking freighter to launch their next attack. It
was more than three months before the pirates released the ship and her
crew.

Police arrived within two minutes and surrounded the centre, deploying FBI
hostage negotiators and a heavily armed Swat team. They established mobile
phone contact with 27 survivors barricaded in the basement and relayed
instructions about how to block the door against their attacker.

Every day thousands of beggars are coming to Dhaka city and other cities.
So it is not the solution by putting them in jail for three months or a
rehabilitation center for one month, two months. It is not the solution.
The government should focus on creating jobs in rural areas to stem the
internal migration by the poor into the cities.

One local company, KenyaBuzz, a community events, business and tourism
site, is already making use of the Google Maps API (application programming
interface), on its Web site. “Google Maps serves as a great platform
helping to provide accurate, comprehensive, location-based information for
our audience.”

“It’s a cat-and-mouse kind of struggle. The Burmese burn down villages and
relocate the people close to their own camps.” The Karen conflict has its
origins in the Second World War, when many Karen fought alongside the
British Army against the invading Japanese. The seven million Karen were
promised their own state by the British but when independence came in 1948
the promise was forgotten. A year later, in January 1949, the Karen began
the armed struggle that has continued ever since.

Trust between the citizens of PNG and the authorities is broken. That
explains why almost half of Australia’s annual $358 million in aid to PNG
goes to improving law and justice. Reinstating trust is crucial. Yumi
Lukautum Moresby (“You, me, look out for Moresby”) is making a difference
by building a bridge between the people of the notorious crime-breeding
urban settlements – in which there is no electricity, no toilets, and a few
shared taps for up to 5000 people – and the authorities.

From this it is possible to work out whether a ‘trough’ or a ‘peak’ is the
leading wave. In the case of a trough then the familiar sight of the tide
suddenly going out is the precursor to an approaching tsunami.

The Vice President said he had received a report from Papua Police
indicating efforts and a conspiracy to disrupt the elections. But the
National Police chief said the attack on the Abepura Police station had
nothing to do with the polls, adding it was a random attack aimed at
undermining security officers.

Wheat and banana farmers say they need the government to urgently release
funds to help fight the diseases threatening to impoverish them and to
leave east Africa’s largest economy in even greater need of food aid.
Middle-class workers say they, too, are struggling to put food on the table
because of persistent high inflation, mostly due to rising food costs.

It appears the killer turned one of his guns on himself. Police took nearly
an hour to search the building, amid concerns there may have been more than
one gunman, and then had to persuade 27 immigrants that it was safe to
leave the basement. A total of 37 people were hidden in various sections of
the building. The American Civic Association is a charity that helps
immigrants with naturalisation applications.

It is believed that several hundred thousand Bangladeshis live off begging.
A survey several years ago in relatively prosperous Dhaka found that the
average beggar there managed to collect about $1.5 a day. Approximately 40
percent of Bangladeshis get by on less than $1 per day.

The tourism sector, which has faced a slump because of the worldwide
economic crisis, is also looking to Google Maps for a boost. “Adding
tourism locations on Google Maps creates a free marketing channel and will
drive more people to our Web site and ultimately to the tourist locations.”

In the early decades of the war, the KNU dominated the Irrawaddy Delta,
close to the former Burmese capital Rangoon, as well as areas north of the
city and all of Kayin State. But in the 1990s an increasingly well-armed
Burmese Army made steady gains and in 1995 the KNU was driven out of its
capital, Manerplaw. Buddhists in the Christian-dominated KNU broke away to
form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which now fights alongside
the Burmese Army. Formerly, the KNU had operated as a quasi-government,
providing schools and clinics and receiving income from tax, as well as
from a profitable trade through Thailand in timber, gold, zinc and
antimony.

Overcrowded Moresby routinely features in top 10 lists of the world’s most
dangerous cities. These rankings are decided by business or travel
magazines, which see Moresby through the prism of tourists or expats, who
live safely guarded in hotels or behind razor wire with all-night security
guards. The real test should be whether Moresby is safe for locals.

‘If a peak is the leading wave, there is no warning except a
fast-approaching wall of water. Potentially this could provide vital
information for areas facing an impending disaster.’

“This was purely an act of violence committed by armed guerillas.” Police
have named six people as suspects in the attack and are questioning eight
others as witnesses.

The country’s growing crisis comes on the heels of allegations that top
politicians on both sides of the coalition government have been involved in
scandals aimed at enriching themselves at the expense of Kenyan taxpayers.

Warships assigned to piracy patrols rarely engage pirates on their own.
They deploy specialized search-and-seizure teams, which consist of marines
armed with rifles and machine guns, traveling in raider craft.

Two women and a man suffering gunshot wounds were being treated at Wilson
Medical Centre in nearby Johnson City. Binghamton, a quiet university town
with a population of 47,000, is the home of IBM and has a low crime rate,
enjoying the nickname Parlour Town for the handsome front parlours of its
elegant villas.

An official report from the Commission of Inquiry into the Solomon Islands
riots found there was no conspiracy behind the violence, blaming police
incompetence instead. Riots erupted after Snyder Rini was elected prime
minister by legislators. Dozens of Chinese-owned businesses were looted and
burned in the riots. Chinese businesses were targeted at least partly
because of allegations they had helped fund the unpopular Mr. Rini to bribe
legislators for support. The damage was estimated at $180 million Solomon
Island dollars but a commission warned that compensation would only trigger
more anger against the Chinese community.

Google is also working with local software developers by providing APIs for
Google Maps to help programmers, Web masters and designers to incorporate
the functionality of Google Maps on their sites and develop new services
based on local information.

The loss of territory brought a loss of funds, which made it harder to arm
and equip itself. The KNU claims to have 10,000 soldiers, including village
militia men, but the number of active fighters is probably between 3,000
and 5,000.

It is women who suffer most. Domestic and sexual violence is described by
Amnesty International as endemic. Women fear reporting domestic violence
partly because of their husbands, partly because police have a reputation
for raping female complainants.

Later the same day, a small aircraft operated by a local airline crashed in
Wamena, killing all six crew on board. The cause of the crash is currently
being investigated.

An opinion poll was released showing that 70 percent of Kenyans believe
that the coalition government, formed to help the country heal from the
ethnic bloodletting that followed the disputed presidential elections, has
achieved nothing since it took power.

A naval engagement with pirates often begins with a commercial ship
reporting an attack, using a radio frequency set aside for emergency calls.
Other times, a maritime patrol plane, usually flying from Djibouti, spots a
potential mothership or pirate skiff, identifiable not by its appearance,
but by its vector. A trawler speeding away from Somalia, toward a
slow-moving tanker ship, just might have hostile intentions.

President Barack Obama said last night: “Michelle and I were shocked and
deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence. Our thoughts
and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of
Binghamton.”

The Royal Solomon Islands Police had failed to do its duty in containing
the violence. There was confusion between local police and Regional
Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) police, who have access to
superior resources. RAMSI police and Solomon Islands police were not clear
on who was to take responsibility for containing the violence. It
catalogued a series of failures by the police that resulted in a security
breakdown, including a lack of credible intelligence information,
equipment, and organizational ability.

The KNU suffered another blow when its respected and charismatic leader,
Pado Mahn Shar, was assassinated at his home in Thailand by unidentified
gunmen. Among many Karen there was a suspicion that the ease with which the
killers escaped, and the failure to apprehend them, reflected a cooling of
the welcome afforded by Thailand. Last month Karen military commanders were
ordered out of Thailand and back across the border. This probably reflects
the Thai Government’s increasing dependence on Burma for raw materials and
energy – the two governments are jointly planning ambitious hydroelectric
dams along the Salween River which forms part of their border.

Chamber of Commerce members are encouraged to give street people jobs. They
go through short skills courses and are placed with companies for work
experience. AusAid, pays the wages. “Some are the kids straight out of jail
and we’re always up-front with employers. But it doesn’t seem to bother
many of them. Last year we found 70 per cent of them were retained.”

Naval commanders, in touch with each other by phone, e-mail and satellite
network, sort through the roster of warships in the region to figure out
who might respond fastest. They call this “deconfliction.” When the
responding ship is close enough, it launches a helicopter to scout ahead
and confirm that the suspect seafarers are indeed armed, while preparing to
lower the boarding teams’ boats into the water.

The New York State governor called it a “senseless killing”, adding: “When
are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and
so rapid? We all have a profound sadness.”

A spokesperson from the RAMSI police force in the Solomon Islands says the
policing problems in the report have been fixed. The Assistant
Commissioner, Commander of the Participating Police Force in RAMSI says his
officers acted professionally and properly in discharging their
responsibility. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force has improved their
capacity to deal with riots, has more trained officers and equipment, and
has developed a call out system.

The border is a valuable conduit not only for the Karen but for Burmese
struggling to overthrow the military dictatorship. After the junta cracked
down on large pro-democracy demonstrations of monks and activists, many of
them escaped into Thailand.

Measures such as this are making Moresby safer. “We definitely think so.
There are perceptions and everyone’s got them. But right now as we drive
through one of the roughest areas of Port Moresby, Kaugere, and we don’t
see any rocks coming towards us. A safe place is good for all of us. It’s
incumbent upon us to get involved.”

The ship’s presence alone was often enough to prevent pirate attacks.
Beyond that, the helicopter might deter pirates simply by “flying close to
demonstrate the aircraft’s machine gun and giving the pirates warning of
their serious intentions.”

The attack is the third massacre in the US in a month. A gunman in Alabama
killed ten people and then himself. Another lone gunman killed eight in a
North Carolina nursing home.

“It’s a crucial route for information. If that’s closed down the whole
country will become much more isolated.” The United Nations has ruled that
the continued detention by Burma of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu
Kyi violates domestic and international laws. The latest one-year detention
period of Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house
arrest, expires in May.

YLM (Yumi Lukautim Mosbi) hunts corporate sponsorship, runs awareness
campaigns, gets kids playing sport and works with government. It has
organised a toll-free number to evacuate women and children from violent
situations using a private security company. In PNG, people can’t rely on
police to respond to 000. In Australia, this would be seen as a spectacular
failure by police. Two private companies, Protect Security and phone
company Digicel, donated the service, so we are not interested in exploring
the point. In PNG, do it however you can.

If the pirates persist, the boarding teams deploy, flanking the pirates’
boats to approach from both sides, moving fast with weapons at the ready.
If the pirates lay down their weapons, they are taken into custody without
a shot fired. If they shoot, the boarding teams fire back, then climb
aboard.

Not all art is strictly about the aesthetic, some pieces provide an
important function in the community like the large black and white
photographs installed this week on rooftops across Kibera, Kenya. The
intimate photos, taken by photographer JR, act as a second roof, protecting
the village’s delicate structures from water damage, a vital job in one of
Africa’s worst slums.

Everyone is saying Moresby is safer than five years ago, but you’ll still
hit the accelerator hard through the several well-known trouble spots. One
explanation for the lessening crime rate is that so many leading criminals
– they don’t much call them raskols these days, it’s seen as too cute – are
dead.

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