brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

June 20, 2006

Belize shelters 19% of migrant birds

Filed under: belize — admin @ 5:21 am

The Birds Without Borders – Aves Sin Fronteras? (BWB-ASF) project has been doing bird research, education and conservation in Belize since 1997.

The group is sponsored by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, Inc. both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

We are proud to have worked closely with the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center on many aspects of the BWB-ASF project.

To learn more about birds found in forests along the rivers of central Belize, BWB-ASF studied birds in a forest on the Sibun River.

The study took place on the Runaway Creek Nature Preserve, which is located on the Coastal Road near the Belize Zoo and is owned and managed by the FWC.

Over a four-year period, BWB-ASF found 196 bird species in a small area of riverine forest (49 acres).

Amazingly, that’s 34% of the total bird species found in Belize! Most of the birds we found (77%) were familiar residents that live in Belize year-round, like the Plain chachalaca, Spot-breasted wren, and Yellow-tailed oriole.

But 19% of the birds that BWB-ASF found were migrants that travel 1,500 miles (or more!) to spend northern winters in Belize, like the Gray catbird, Wood thrush and Magnolia warbler.

The group found that 19 species of conservation concern (birds that need special protection), such as the Red-lored parrot and Worm-eating warbler, used this forest.

Another exciting discovery was that the Sibun riverine forest was home to five restricted-range endemics (birds found only in a certain area), such as the Gray-throated chat.

The Jabiru stork, one of Belize’s largest and most beautiful birds and also a species of special conservation concern, nested in the study area every year. Preserving the forests along the Sibun River will help all of these birds.

Even more birds will benefit if the forests found along Belize’s other rivers are preserved. (A paper summarizing this research will be published in the journal Ornitolog?a Neotropical later this year.

June 19, 2006

Immigration Officials to Be Sacked Over Fake Passports

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 3:01 pm

The government has announced that some civil servants would be sacked over the Armenian brothers’ saga, even as Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki called for the sacking of all those involved.

The Immigration and Registration of Persons assistant minister, Ananiah Mwaboza, said the first to go would be officials who issued the two brothers with Kenyan passports.

“Even the police officers who issued Artur Magaryan with a letter showing he is a deputy commissioner of police should go,” Mwaboza said at a press conference in Mombasa.

He said issuing a foreigner with a document he can use to even stop a pilot from taking off from Kenyan Airports was a serious matter. He said the civil servants who issued such documents were dangerous.

“This is risking the lives of Kenyans and visitors because even terrorists can have access to documents which they can use to bring into the airport dangerous items,” said Mwaboza.

He took issue with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials who took part in the verification of a controversial container, which was imported by the Armenian brothers. The minister said the verification of the container at the port was not done properly.

He said the basement of the container, which was covered by an iron sheet, should have been drilled to check if there were drugs underneath. Mwaboza demanded the removal of Custom officers who issued a report that the container had been verified, saying the officials could no longer be trusted.

Commission of Inquiry

Ndingi said those implicated in the activities of the alleged Armenian brothers, Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan, should be sacked immediately. He wondered how the two foreigners found their way into the country and engaged in various activities without the knowledge or connivance of Government officials.

Without mentioning names, Ndingi said he believed individuals who abetted the actions of the Armenians were known and should be held responsible. The Archbishop was responding to questions by journalists at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church at Buru Buru, Nairobi, after presiding over Mass.

He asked: “How did they come to Kenya? If those who brought them here are known, and I suspect they are known, they should be sacked.”

The two foreigners were deported last weekend after they caused a security breach at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) by drawing guns on Customs officials. Last week, President Kibaki appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the events leading to their deportation.

Kibaki also suspended Criminal Investigations Department (CID) director Joseph Kamau and 10 other Government officials, including police officers attached to JKIA. But leaders accused the President of going after small fry, leaving the big fish to go scot-free.

Politicians and civil society officials have demanded the sacking of Internal Security minister John Michuki and his Immigration counterpart, Gideon Konchellah. The ministers had defended the two Armenians as legitimate investors.

Containers left port

Meanwhile, conflicting instructions have stopped police from towing away the vehicles left by the Artur brothers at their Runda residence in Nairobi. The vehicles had fake registration numbers and their chassis numbers had been tampered with.

Police officers told The Standard that they had made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the vehicles, which remained under guard, as their seniors have been issuing conflicting instructions. Police sources also said there could be up to Sh40 million in foreign currency left in the house by the deported brothers.

The money was allegedly locked in a safe in one of the five bedrooms. It has emerged that 29 other containers suspected to have been imported by the two brothers had left Mombasa port.

Senior Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Alfonse Ntongaiti, said KRA discovered too late that the containers had been cleared without the brothers paying duty. He said KRA had seized three more containers reportedly imported by the brothers. Ntongaiti said one container would be opened on Monday to ascertain if it had drugs. On Friday, electronic goods were found in a container said to have been imported by the Armenians.

And a cleaner at the Immigration Department in Nyayo House, Nairobi, has been arrested over the issuance of fake passports to the Artur brothers. Police said that for a Sh500 bribe, she smuggled out blank passport materials, which were later handed over to the Armenians. The suspect allegedly gained entry to the strongroom on second floor at Nyayo House, while on duty and allegedly stole the passport numbers A1031194, A1031195 and A1031196 on May 2. Officials are said to have discovered the theft three days later.

An Immigration officer has also been suspended over the issuance of the fake passports, which were seized by police during a raid on the Arturs’ Runda residence.

The Sri Lankan crisis: Lives in exile

Filed under: india — admin @ 5:02 am

As Sri Lanka heads for yet another civil war, Tamil refugees have begun fleeing the fighting and taking shelter in Tamil Nadu.

They call it Black July. The date: July 23, 1983. What happened that day changed the face of Sri Lanka forever. It marked the beginning of full-scale ethnic war — an armed struggle between the minority Tamils and Sinhalese majority. Approximately 3,000 Tamils were killed, thousands of homes destroyed and a wave of Tamils forced to seek refuge in other countries.

Little has changed since. There has been on-and-off civil war, mostly between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who want to create an independent nation of Eelam in the north-east part of the island. According to estimates, this war has left 65,000 dead, apart from drastically damaging the economy.

In February 2002, a Norway-sponsored peace accord was put into place. However shakily, it lasted just four years. Peace talks now supposed to take place in Oslo have almost broken down. Fearing war yet again, the people have begun to flee.

In the last month alone, more than 2,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have crossed over to India. The distance from Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka to Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram, India, is a mere 18 kilometres. It is a hazardous 18 kilometres though. The refugees have to dodge the Sri Lankan and Indian navies, apart from dealing with the many dangers nature poses.

To go into the sea in pitch darkness — with no navigating lights, radar or modern gadgets — requires either courage or desperation. Here, it is desperation that drives these people across with their families. There are many reasons for their coming over, but the primary ones are the proximity and a common language — Tamil.

R Ramesh is a 26 year old who has been married for two years. Scared of the Sri Lankan army, he left his home in Triconamalee and came to India with his wife and 2-year old child.

“On the pretext of looking for LTTE cadres or sympathisers,” he says, “anyone can be arrested there at any time.”

He alleges the Sri Lankan army is capable of planting weapons in the neighbourhood, and then arresting you for possession.

Ramesh covered the 18 kilometres from his village to Thalaimannar by bus. The fare was around Rs 200, but the bus was checked by the army and, eventually, each person had to pay Rs 10,000 to get across the Palk Straits. The short distance took four-and-a-half hours to cover.

After their arrival in India, the refugees were taken to the nearest police station, registered and sent to the Mandapam relief camp. While Rameswaram is an island, Mandapam is on the mainland, about 20 kilometres from Rameswaram.

At the camp, Ramesh was interrogated by the police again, and then given quarters to live in. He is hoping to find a job, but has been unsuccessful so far. Back home, he worked as a fisherman. His family owned a motorised boat. His elderly parents and brother still live there. He arrived in India with two sovereigns of gold and Rs 2,000 in cash.

Ramesh’s wife Sumita is a graduate in economics. She was educated in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, as was her husband. He came to Tamil Nadu as a 10 year old in 1990 and stayed on until 2004, although he studied only till Class 10. At the time, he lived in a camp in Tirunelveli. He thinks it will be easier to find a job at the old camp, than at Mandapam.

S Selvaraj is a shopkeeper from Trinconamalee. He had a rough landing on the shores of Rameswaram as the boat he was in was spotted by the Indian Navy. All aboard were asked to get out in chest-deep water and walk, he says, and they lost most of their belongings in the process.

Selvaraj first came to Tamil Nadu in 1985 and went home in 2004 after peace returned to Sri Lanka.

During his last stint in Tamil Nadu, he stayed at camps in Mandapam, Madurai and Tiruchi, making his living as a real estate broker. All his four children were born in India. His brother-in-law asked them to return to Sri Lanka in 2004 and also sent them money for the trip. He has now admitted his children to a school inside the camp. They study in classes 10, 8, 6 and lower kindergarten respectively.

G Gnanaganesan, 62, is a fisherman from Trincomalee. He has come with his wife, son and daughter. He was in India from 1985 to 1988, after arriving by boat at Nagapattinam. He was happy with the peace accord while it lasted. According to him, fighting accelerated after the new President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power.

As his family lived in an army-controlled area, they always feared reprisals. “If there was any disturbance elsewhere and army men were killed, they would come and shoot us. If they lost 10 people, they would kill 10 of us,” he says. Another reason he left was because fishing was not allowed, for security reasons.

R Sashimary, who comes from a small village near Vavuniya in Sri Lanka, has just completed her Class 12 here. She came to India in May 2000 and has been studying here from Class 7. She was accompanied by her mother and elder sister, and cannot recollect her father.

Her elder sister works for a non governmental organisation in Chennai. Sashimary is learning computers and hopes to get a job after completing the course. Her mother works on building sites as a labourer. The teenager has no intention of going back and says she likes it here.

S Masilamani taught tailoring in Thalaimannar, Sri Lanka. To augment her income, she used to sew dresses. She came to Tamil Nadu in 1989 with her husband and four kids. Her daughter went back first, followed by her husband and two children. She has stayed back with her son, who is in his third year at an engineering college in Andipatti, Tamil Nadu, former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s constituency.

“I plan to go back when he finishes college,” she says, “but Sri Lanka should become peaceful.” She continues her work as a tailoring teacher at an NGO and phones her family regularly.

Denied security in their homeland, they lead lives in exile. They spend their days trying to build their lives. At night, they dream of peace.

June 12, 2006

Thailand scores well on the gross happiness index because of the people’s love and loyalty for His Majesty the King

Filed under: thailand — admin @ 4:38 pm

Thailand’s gross happiness index in May is at a satisfactory level thanks to the people’s feeling of love and loyalty for His Majesty the King.

ABAC Poll manager Noppadon Kannika (นภดล กรรณิกา) said Thailand scored 6.59 of the full 10 points on the gross happiness index, which was measured from satisfaction in the environment, housing, personal finances, education, natural resources, politics, physical health, mental health, culture and tradition and justice.

Mr. Noppadon said positive factors attributing to Thai people’s happiness included Thailand’s beautiful culture and tradition, help for each other during difficult time, unity of the people and love and loyalty for the King.

Negative factors ruining the feeling of happiness of Thai people included ethical problems concerning politicians, the government and independent organizations, lack of transparency and integrity and violations of freedom of the press, he said.

How Top Officials Conspired to Grab Chunks of Forestland

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 4:34 pm

Thousands of acres of Mau Forest are now in private hands following a shady deal involving top Government officials and well connected individuals.

Investigations reveal that Government surveyors and other officials conspired to acquire forestland by illegally extending the boundaries of five group ranches neighbouring Mau forest.

This eventually led to loss of 14,103 hectares of forestland, which the rogue officers sold and issued the beneficiaries with fake title deeds without involving relevant Government departments.

A report compiled after the investigation says the officials subsequently prepared new forest maps to conceal their actions. However, the Government has dismissed the fake maps and is now drawing new ones.

The report, Maasai Mau Status Report, is authored by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority and the Kenya Forests Working Group.

Illegal settlement

It recommends the prosecution of Government officials – including surveyors, land registrars and district commissioners – who it says flouted the law to illegally subdivide the forest and give it out to individuals.

The Director of Survey, Joseph Mathenge, confirmed that eight officials, including three former land registrars, were under investigations and are likely to be charged.

Mathenge confirmed that the report’s findings tally with investigations by the Survey of Kenya. He said the Criminal Investigations Department was on the trail of some of the officials, who have now gone underground.

The officials’ actions led to invasion of Mau Forest by over 10,000 people, who the Government evicted last year. The report covers Maasai Mau, which straddles Narok District and is part of the Mau Forest Complex, one of Kenya’s biggest but fast disappearing forests.

The illegal settlement opened the forest to human activity and seriously affected the source of water to millions of people living around the forest.

June 7, 2006

U.S. Gives Belize Thumbs Down for Human Trafficking

Filed under: belize — admin @ 4:55 pm

The government has enacted laws, empowered a task force, performed raids, charged traffickers…all that, but the U.S. State Department says this country is still not doing enough to curb human trafficking. A release issued yesterday by the U.S. State Department singles out three countries in the Americas, and its bad news for Belize that it now gets groups with the tow fiercest opponents of the United States, Venezuela and Cuba.

According to the U.S., “Belize, Cuba, and Venezuela…are not meeting minimum standards to fight trafficking in persons, a criminal practice which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says is “more than a human rights objective; it is a matter of global security.” Belize is now placed on what is called a tier 3 list, meaning that their governments are not fully complying with the minimum standards against trafficking in persons, and are not “making significant efforts to do so.” According to the release, the placement is based more on the extent of the government’s action (or inaction) to combat trafficking, rather than the size of the problem.

The report concludes that women and girls are trafficked to Belize and exploited in prostitution, while children are trafficked there for labor exploitation. It states that Belize failed to “show evidence of significant law enforcement or victim protection efforts” in 2005, and that the country’s laws against trafficking remained “weak and largely un-enforced.”

June 6, 2006

No stopping Sri Lankan Tamil flow to India

Filed under: india — admin @ 5:28 am

New Delhi/Chennai – Sri Lankan Tamils are continuing to flee by sea to India to escape the violence in their country and a senior Tamil activist based in Tamil Nadu says the inflow is unlikely to stop soon.

‘People will keep coming because they don’t think there is going to be peace in Sri Lanka; they think it is going to be war,’ said S.C. Chandrahasan, a Sri Lankan Tamil who heads OFFER, an NGO that looks after the welfare of Tamil refugees.

‘The people who are coming feel this (Sri Lankan) government is not going to protect them (from Sinhalese mobs) and there is no single person they can turn to for protection,’ Chandrahasan told IANS on telephone from Tamil Nadu.

He complimented the Indian authorities for taking care of the arriving Tamils and said large numbers were waiting in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar district after selling off all their belongings to illegally cross the sea to India.

By Sunday night, the number of Sri Lankan Tamils who have made it to Tamil Nadu fleeing direct and proxy fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was nearing 2,500.

Most of them are from the eastern district of Trincomalee where attacks on their settlements by Sinhalese gangs have spurred the refugee movement. They moved over to Mannar in the northwest by bus or through the forests.

‘Larger numbers are waiting in and around Mannar trying to get boats,’ he pointed out, though the outbreak of monsoon has made crossing the sea dividing Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu much more hazardous.

One woman who landed a week ago was nine months pregnant who was repeatedly tossed in the air as she made it to the Tamil Nadu coast in a crowded boat, fully drenched and barely able to breathe.

‘We asked her why she took the risk of travelling in this condition. She had a simple answer: ‘I want my child to live’.

‘You need to see the faces of those who are coming over. They are scared. They have lost faith in the (Sri Lankan) government. The hardcore ones have gone to (LTTE areas), the others to Mannar and then to India.

‘They have sold off everything they had and paid boatmen 6,000 to 12,000 (Sri Lankan) rupees depending on the number of people in a boat and depending on whether or not the Sri Lankan Navy is patrolling the sea.’

Chandrahasan said India had been magnanimous in taking care of the refugees.

‘Sometimes the boatmen dump these refugees on sand banks and little islets off Rameswaram,’ he said. ‘The Indian Navy and Coast Guard pick them up and really take care of them.

‘We have opened an office along the coast. We provide them drinking water and meals on their arrival. After which they go to refugee centres and get themselves registered.

‘The commissioner of rehabilitation (department in Tamil Nadu) and the collector of Ramanathapuram have been gracious. They have allowed the children coming over to get into schools in Tamil Nadu.’

Chandrahasan, whose outfit also runs offices in Colombo, Mannar, Vavuniya and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, said the only answer to end this humanitarian crisis was to create conditions in the island so that Tamils did not feel they had to leave their country.

‘Relief centres also need to come up in Mannar where the refugees can live without being disturbed by the security forces or the LTTE. If these happen, then people won’t come to India. Otherwise they will.’

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