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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reports Illuminates 2012 Somali Famine

A new report says as many as 260,000 people died from hunger in Somalia due to trepidatious aid on the part of relief groups and western governments. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) report, a full 133,000 of those that perished were children under five years of age. Those lost in the famine are in addition to the 290,000 “baseline” deaths in the same area during the same period. That baseline, which includes deaths related to the ongoing civil war, represents a mortality rate that is twice as high as the average for other African nations south of the Sahel. This is the worst famine globally, since an estimated 220,000 people died in the 1992 famine that broke out the year after the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre’s military government. While the report cited low aid levels as a major cause of deaths, Fews Net also found that the year prior to “the famine was the driest in the eastern Horn of Africa in 60 years. The result was widespread livestock deaths, the smallest cereal harvest since the 1991-94 civil war, and a major drop in labor demand, which reduced household income.” Commenting on the report, Rudi Van Aaken deputy head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said, “I think the main lesson learned is that the humanitarian community should be ready to take early action – respond early on.” Unfortunately aid groups had been barred from the areas where the famine was initially detected by al-Shabaab, a nationalist mujahideen group currently at war with the nominal Somali government.

New SARS-like Virus Kills Five

Last night the Saudi government announced five people have died from a new coronavirus akin to the virus that causes SARS. Two others remain under observation. The new virus, known as Human Coronavirus-Erasmus Medical Center (hCoV-EMC), was first identified last summer at Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after a 60 year old man succumbed to its effects. The Coronavirus is similar to the virus that causes SARS (SARS-CoV), which killed more than 800 people in 2003; just like SARS-CoV, hCoV-EMC also causes significant respiratory problems, but uniquely among human coronaviruses it also causes renal failure. Sixteen of the reported 23 cases have proven fatal. Human-to-human infection has not been proven, but evidence suggests the virus may have originated in, and easily cross over from, the Pipistrellus bat populations endemic to Saudi Arabia.

DPRK sentences U.S. Citizen to Hard Labor

North Korea sentenced a U.S. citizen to 15 years of prison labor today, for “hostile acts” against the DPRK. According to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) dispatch, Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea, was tried and convicted on Tuesday by North Korea’s highest court. “The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime,” KCNA said. Bae was a regular visitor to North Korea (DPKR), according to Do Hee-yoon, a member of Seoul-based activist group Citizen’s Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, Bae had been “supporting an orphanage and running a bakery with the North Korean authorities’ agreement.” In the past the DPKR has used American prisoners as bargaining chips in its efforts to win aid and security concessions from the United States. In the past five years, Presidents James Carter and William Clinton have both travelled to Pyongyang, North Korea to win the freedom of Americans. Prominent businessman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson tried to see Mr. Bae during a trip to North Korea in January, but were stymied but DPKR officials. Today, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, aired “longstanding concerns about the lack of transparency and due process in the North Korean legal system,” and asked that Bae be granted “amnesty and immediate release.”

Two Iranians Convicted of Bomb Plotting in Kenya

A court in Kenya has found two Iranian men guilty of possessing explosives and planning to bomb Kenyan cities. The two men, Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi, were arrested in Nairobi last June and had been accused by the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet of being “senior (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives who were in the midst of preparing a terrorist attack on an Israeli target in Kenya.” Kenyan authorities believe the duo came to Kenya with 220 pounds of RDX explosives, which is roughly 1.5-2.0 times as powerful as TNT. But when the pair were arrested, the police only recovered had only 33 pounds of explosives hidden at a golf course in Mombassa, Kenya. Some officials question if bombing originally blamed on Somalia’s al-Shabaab, were in fact the work of these Iranians. “I have no doubt in my mind that they were part of the group that placed explosives there,” Kiarie Wa Kiarie, the presiding magistrate, told the court in Nairobi. “I must appreciate our Kenyan security personnel for detecting and taking swift action to stop the catastrophe and ensure our country was safe.” In 2002, al-Qaeda-linked militants bombed an israeli-owned hotel in the costal city of Mombassa, killing 13.

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