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UN: Conditions in Afghanistan Deteriorating, Kids at Great Risk

The United Nations reports humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating, with children at great risk of dying at an early age from lack of health care and proper nutrition.  

The United Nations reports 9.3 million people in Afghanistan will need humanitarian assistance this year.  The world body has appealed for $550 million to support 5.6 million of the most vulnerable people.

U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Jens Laerke says this is nearly one third of the Afghan population and 13 percent more than the number of U.N. beneficiaries in 2016.

“We expect very high levels of conflict-induced displacement and already this year, over 38,000 people have been newly displaced,” said Laerke. “In addition to that, we expect more returns of vulnerable families from Pakistan who will in fact not return to their homestead, but continue to be displaced, but inside Afghanistan.  They return typically with very little, very few or no assets at all and they really need our support.” 

Laerke says it is likely more life-saving interventions will be needed to deal with acute health and nutrition emergencies this year.

The U.N. children’s fund says children and mothers will be at great risk.  The agency calls Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a baby, a child or mother because of limited access to health care.

UNICEF reports thousands of Afghan women die every year from largely preventable pregnancy-related causes.  In 2015, it says more than one in every 18 Afghan children died before their first birthday.  

UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac, calls malnutrition a silent emergency.  He says more than 41 percent of Afghan children under age five are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world. 

“Stunting, as you know, is a sign of chronic undernutrition during the most critical periods of growth and development in early life,” said Boulierac. “Children who suffer from stunting are more likely to contract diseases, less likely to access basic health care, and do not perform well in school.” 

Indeed, Boulierac notes Afghanistan’s education system has been devastated by more than three decades of conflict.  He says 3.5 million children do not go to school.   An estimated 75 percent of them are girls. 

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У Івано-Франківську відбулася хода на підтримку дітей із синдромом Дауна

Активісти громадських організацій та батьки з дітьми пройшли маршем центром Івано-Франківська до Всесвітнього дня людини з синдромом Дауна. Вони тримали жовті кульки, різнокольорові шкарпетки, а перехожим роздавали інформаційні листівки.

За словами голови громадської організації «Світанок» Анастасії Голинської, таку акцію у місті проводять вдруге, щоб «поширити інформацію про дітей, яких ще називають «дітьми сонця», вони добрі, життєрадісні і позитивні – тому і жовті кульки».

Як повідомила напередодні на прес-конференції спеціаліст з медичної генетики обласного департаменту охорони здоров’я Надія Фоменко, загалом зараз в області є 145 «сонячних дітей».

В суботу лікарі Івано-Франківська провели комплексний медогляд таких дітей. Для них також провели спартакіаду та перегляд вистави у ляльковому театрі. Перед цим розгорнули фотовиставку про дітей із синдромом Дауна

У 2006 році ООН проголосила 21 березня Всесвітнім днем людини з синдромом Дауна. 

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Pakistan to Reinstate Military Courts for 2 More Years

Pakistan’s National Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reinstate military courts in the country for two years, after a two months lapse.  

The courts were first introduced for two years in January 2015 to expedite the cases of hardcore terrorists after Pakistani Taliban attacked an army school in Peshawar killing more than 140 people, mostly children.

Almost all of the country’s political parties who voted for the constitutional amendment, including the ruling PML-N party, acknowledged setting up a parallel system of justice is not an ideal solution, but said the step was necessary to deal with the extraordinary level of terrorism in the country at the time.

But human rights activists complain the military courts fail to provide transparent justice and violate the suspects’ legal rights, unlike civilian courts.

 

“The Pakistani government has a responsibility to prosecute those committing violent attacks, but secret, rights-violating military courts raise serious questions as to whether justice is being done,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s administration had initially introduced the courts as a temporary solution, while promising to reform the country’s civilian justice system.

The argument at the time was the country’s civilian justice system was too corrupt, the courts too slow, police investigations too imperfect, and the system too prone to outside pressure at various levels, including threats from militant organizations, to be able to effectively try terrorism suspects.  Witnesses were often afraid to appear in civilian courts to give testimony against hardcore militants.

Meanwhile, legal activists complain little has been done to reform the police and the judiciary in the past two years.

“Bringing back military courts is an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue: the Government’s failure to enact reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system during the two years the 2015-2017 military courts were in operation,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia Director for the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations.

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ЄС закликав Македонію припинити політичні сварки

Єврокомісар у справах переговорів про розширення Йоганнес Ган, який прибув із візитом до Македонії, закликав цю країну стати вище від політичних сварок і якнайшвидше сформувати уряд, щоб розблокувати її шлях до членства в Європейському союзі.

Прибувши до столиці Скоп’є, він написав у твітері: «Шлях до ЄС для Скоп’є відкритий, але час іде. Необхідне державне мислення замість тактики. Це шкодить економіці».

У Скоп’є Ган зустрічається з політичними лідерами Македонії, щоб знайти вихід із політичної кризи.

Його візит супроводжують акції протесту громадянського об’єднання «За єдину Македонію», що підтримує донедавна владну консервативну партію «ВМРО-ДПМНЕ» і виступає проти можливого уряду, який, за словами його представників, «зруйнував би унітарний характер країни», запровадивши офіційний статус албанської мови.

Македонія після парламентських виборів у грудні досі не має уряду, який у нинішньому складі парламенту неможливо скласти без участі принаймні частини з трьох партій албанської меншини – які як передумову участі в урядовій коаліції висувають вимогу надати албанській мові статус офіційної в усій країні чи й другої державної.

Лідер досі владної «ВМРО-ДПМНЕ» («Внутрішньої македонської революційної організації – Демократичної партії за македонську національну єдність»), яка здобула найбільше мандатів, Никола Ґруєвський відкинув цю вимогу і не зміг створити уряду. Лідер досі опозиційного «Соціал-демократичного союзу Македонії» Зоран Заєв, партія якого є другою за числом мандатів, заявив, зі свого боку, що домовився з партіями албанської меншини про коаліцію – але президент Македонії Джорґе Іванов, сам із лав ВМРО-ДПМНЕ, відмовився надати йому мандат на формування уряду, заявивши, що мовне питання знищить незалежність країни, бо представляє «платформу іноземної держави» – маючи на увазі сусідню Албанію.

У Македонії останніми днями відбуваються масові протести супротивників запровадження двомовності.

Нині в Македонії, де місцеві албанці складають близько чверті населення, албанська мова вважається офіційною (поруч із македонською) в місцевостях, де албанці за національністю становлять понад 20 відсотків мешканців.

2001 року Македонія була на межі громадянської війни через збройні заворушення представників албанської меншини, що домагалися розширення своїх прав – і частково домоглися.

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Rohingya Refugees Worried About Bangladesh’s Relocation Plan

Bangladesh has proposed moving an influx of refugees from Myanmar to an isolated island that only emerged from the sea 11 years ago, partially floods at high tide and disappears completely for three months during the annual monsoon season.

Local officials say extensive time – likely years — and work would be required, at significant expense, to make Thengar Char habitable. The only regular residents now are a handful of water buffalo, though pirates and other criminals reportedly make use of it occasionally.

The prospect of living there is leading some of the ethnic Rohingya refugees to return to homes they fled due to rapes, arson and extrajudicial killings that they blame largely on Myanmar’s powerful military.

“There was a lot of concern among the refugees when they heard about it,” said Vivian Tan, a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative who has been involved in the Rohingya issue. “They heard no one lives there. They’re concerned about food. They’re concerned about drinking water. They’re concerned with where they can live. There’s a huge flood risk. It sounds like it’s not very hospitable.”

Thengar Char was formed by the 1 billion tons of silt that flow every year from the peaks of the Himalayas to the turbid waters of Bangladesh’s Meghna estuary in the Bay of Bengal. About 59 kilometers and a two-hour boat ride from the coast, it covers about 186 square kilometers, much of it marshy with a shoreline that looks ready to crumble.

The monsoons bring not only heavy rains that swamp the island, but strong winds that also concern aid agencies. Human Rights Watch has called it a “human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making.” There are no roads, let alone cell phone service.

One key reason for wanting to move the refugees is clear. Two camps of registered Rohingyas (there are about 6 other smaller camps with non-registered Rohingyas) are located at Cox’s Bazaar, a district that includes a long beach that Bangladesh would like to develop for tourism. But the government finds itself stuck between the needs of its own impoverished populace and international policies against forcing refugees to return to the conditions that they fled.

“UNHCR has been very clear: there has to be a feasibility study, there must be consultation, and it must be voluntary,” Tan said. “There needs to be a clear overview on what needs to be done for better planning.”

The estimated 1 million Rohingya, who are mostly Muslims, face official and social discrimination in Myanmar and are generally denied citizenship, even if their families have lived there for generations.

A wave of Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh from Rakhine state in 2012 to flee violence from the country’s Buddhist majority, and others have left since then. However, Rohingyas started to cross inside Bangladesh in 1978. Bangladesh broached the idea of a relocation plan in 2014.

On October 9, nine policemen were killed in Rakhine in an attack blamed on Rohingya insurgents. Myanmar’s military launched a “clearance operation” in the area to ferret out the insurgents. Soon after the four-month operation started, Rohingya began fleeing the area, accusing soldiers, police and local Buddhist groups who accompanied the forces during the raids, of abuses, including rapes, killings and arson. UNHCR has said the actions very likely constituted “crimes against humanity.”

Myanmar’s military has denied any abuses and says only 100 Rohingya were killed, while two senior U.N. officials working among the refugees said more than 1,000 may have died. About 100,000 are estimated to have left, 70,000 to Bangladesh and 30,000 elsewhere in Myanmar.

Bangladesh doesn’t really know how big the refugee issue is and has been conducting a census of the Rohingya. Unofficial estimates put their number at 200,000 to 500,000.

About 33,000 registered refugees live in the squalid, overcrowded Cox’s Bazaar camps, mostly in shelters made of bamboo and plastic the thickness of garbage bags. Several other camps have sprouted up, and some refugees have found temporary homes among the native Bengalis.

Despite criticism of the plan to move the refugees to Thengar Char – an earlier proposal to shift them to a populated island was abandoned — the government has said it plans to push ahead, though there is no timeline or other specifics.

At the bare minimum, aid officials say, the government would need to build an embankment around the island to prevent flooding and create shelters from cyclones. There’s no fresh water. Other infrastructure would be needed, including schools. Security would have to be bolstered.

The government has put out feelers for outside aid or grants to fund the project, presumably hoping the refugees would leave at some point, allowing Bangladeshis to take advantage of the improvements.

As they wait to learn Bangladesh’s plan for them, the Rohingya continue to be victims. The conditions they live in leave them open to disease. Some have become prey for human traffickers and drug smugglers, and that would likely continue if they move to an island already used by criminals.

It’s unclear if those who crossed back into Myanmar plan to stay or just want to get their families and whatever is left of their possessions before leaving again. If that’s the case and they are forced or coerced into moving to the island, they could launch a second exodus by sea to India or Indonesia, shifting their burden elsewhere.

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Pakistan Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan Hails Positive Movement in Tensions with Afghanistan

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British Home Secretary Rudd on Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations

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North Korea Defector: Keep Pressure on Kim to Contain Nuclear Ambitions

The only way to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is to eliminate the Kim Jong Un regime, the high-level North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea last year told VOA, suggesting the U.S. should continue deploying pressure tactics against Pyongyang.

As multiple nuclear and missile tests have taken place since Kim succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011, the U.S. and South Korea have been ratcheting up pressure against North Korea, calling for a commitment to denuclearization before the resumption of any dialogue. This seems to still be the position of the Trump administration, which is reviewing “all options,” including U.S. military intervention against the North.

“North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction,” said U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson in Seoul on Friday during his first official Asia trip.

Kim, however, has been trying to “break the formula” of securing a commitment to abandon his nuclear weapons program for any type of U.S. outreach, defector Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador in London, told VOA. 

According to Thae, Kim is urging adversaries to halt their annual joint military drills and lift sanctions on North Korea in return for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs. Such compromises will serve only to legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, Thae added.

‘Compromises only serve Kim’

“If we recognize the North as a nuclear state, we are providing clear justification for its nuclear and missile tests and admitting its claim that it is developing a nuclear arsenal as a result of external threats [from the U.S. and South Korea],” explained the diplomat, who defected to Seoul with his family in August 2016. 

“Kim Jong Un will never give up the nuclear program. As long as Kim Jong Un’s regime is in place, there is no solution for [the North Korean nuclear issue] and any kind of compromises would only serve Kim,” Thae added.

Pyongyang is inching closer to a regime collapse as it attempts to conduct increasingly more powerful nuclear tests, the former envoy said.

The Punggye-ri nuclear test facility in northeast North Korea sits on a swath of land that connects the capital, Pyongyang, to North Hamgyong Province on the border with China. Any failed nuclear test in the area could potentially cause two disasters, Thae said. One would be large-scale environmental contamination, affecting all of North Korea. The other would be what China has long feared — a flood of refugees crossing the Yalu River.

Kim’s downfall also could come from the growth of a market economy within North Korea, said Thae, who is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

Impact of semi-legal markets

Thae told VOA he believes the continued expansion of jangmadang, North Korea’s semi-legal markets where individuals buy and sell goods they have produced themselves or imported from China, can prompt disillusionment among the North Korean people.

“North Korea is changing in a way that its people no longer rely on the state and the leader for their survival, but rather on themselves,” Thae said. “If this process continues, the country will reach a tipping point where the people begin to stand up for not just their economic rights, but also their political rights.”

In the same vein, VOA and other outside media play a vital role in helping the North Koreans see the reality of the reclusive regime, under which a ruler is deified and acts of inhumanity, repression and corruption are rampant, Thae said.

While he was the deputy head of the North Korean Embassy in London, Thae said he visited VOA’s Korean Service website “almost every day” and that North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also monitors VOA and other media outlets such as Japan’s state broadcaster NHK every day.

“The North Korean regime pays great attention on the content of VOA,” said Thae, who listened to the Korean language broadcasts before he defected. “So I think it’s very important the VOA further strengthens its activities.”

Park Byungyong and Brian Padden in Seoul contributed to this report, which originated with the VOA Korean Service.