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Archive for May 23rd, 2011

President Obama’s speech important for the Middle East peace process

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

“President Obama’s speech is the most important move he has made so far to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Norway supports his approach,” said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

In his speech on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama cautioned against believing that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians can remain unresolved while the whole region stands up to demand democracy. He called on the parties to act boldly without delay to resolve the conflict by creating two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace.

For the first time President Obama said that the permanent borders between the two states should be based on the on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. He stressed that the issue of Israel’s legitimate need for security must be resolved and that Israeli military forces must be fully withdrawn from Palestinian territory.

“The fact that the US and the EU are in agreement on the general framework for resolving the conflict provides a new basis for the parties to resume negotiations. I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to respond favourably to President Obama’s initiative,” said Mr Støre.

“Norway supports negotiations that could lead to the creation of a Palestinian state that can live side-by-side with Israel in peace and security,” said Foreign Minister Støre.

The Palestinian Authority has carried out comprehensive reforms with a view to establishing and maintaining modern government institutions. The progress that has been made has been recognised both by the main donor countries to the Palestinian Authority and by the World Bank, the IMF and the UN.

“As chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinians (AHLC), I will seek to ensure that the Palestinian Authority receives the donors’ full support so that it can continue its efforts to build the required institutions for a Palestinian state,” said the Foreign Minister.
By the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Duty Press Officer:Date:   May 19 2011

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A Kenyan scientist helped develop a groundbreaking new drug to treat Hepatitis C.

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

-Dr. George Njoroge, the Kenyan-born director of medicinal chemistry at the Merck Research Laboratories, was at the center of the development of Victrelis, which was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

-The development of Victrelis is the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of the Hepatitis C virus in the last decade. The first -of-its-kind pill has been shown to cure more patients in less time than other drugs presently used.

-“Victrelis is an important new advance for patients with hepatitis C,” said Dr. Edward Cox, director of the FDA’s office of antimicrobial products. “This new medication provides an effective treatment for a serious disease, and offers a greater chance of cure for some patients’ Hepatitis C infection compared
to currently available therapy.”

Send to API by Lisa Mendelson /Source:  Daily Nation

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Foreign Minister Støre condemns violence in Sudan

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

“The recent incidents of violence in Sudan, in the disputed area of Abyei, are clear and worrying violations of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

During the weekend, northern Sudan Armed Forces attacked and took military control of the city of Abyei. In addition, the authorities in Khartoum unilaterally decided to dismiss the region’s administration. The military offensive was prompted by an attack on a UN-led convoy of northern Sudanese forces, a transfer of troops that was approved in advance by both parties’ military authorities.

“Thursday’s attack on the northern Sudanese forces was unacceptable, and can also be considered to be an attack against the UN. The Sudan Armed Forces’ military assault on a number of targets in the Abyei area is nevertheless a gross overreaction and an irresponsible act that could, in the worst case, jeopardise the peace process. I urge the parties to withdraw all armed forces from Abyei immediately in accordance with previously concluded agreements,” said Mr Støre.

The conflict over Abyei has flared up at a critical point – less than seven weeks before South Sudan gains independence on 9 July.

“I am concerned about the consequences this may have for the negotiations on outstanding partition issues between the north and south,” said Mr Støre. “The short time remaining before Sudan is divided must be used at the negotiating table and not on the battlefield. The conflict over Abyei cannot be resolved by military means. I urge the parties to continue negotiations on all pending issues, including a permanent solution for Abyei in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the ruling of the arbitration court.”

By the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Duty Press Officer:Date:   May 22 2011

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Protestors demanded that the Kenyan and US governments live up to their funding pledges

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

KENYA: Protest as government grapples with HIV funding shortages

Protestors demanded that the Kenyan and US governments live up to their funding pledges

NAIROBI, 18 May 2011 (PlusNews) – Hundreds of Kenyan AIDS activists held a protest on 18 May in the capital, Nairobi to demand that the government meet its commitment to increase annual health and HIV funding.

“The Minister of Finance promised an annual budgetary allocation increase of 10 percent to health and HIV – we demand that this promise be kept,” Davis Njuguna, an AIDS activist with the National Empowerment of People living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK), told IRIN/PlusNews during the rally. “We cannot pledge to end AIDS without increasing funding to it. Access to HIV treatment is a right and we are not accepting lip service any more.”

Marching along Nairobi’s busy Thika Road, protesters waved posters urging Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and US President Barack Obama – who pledged during his presidential campaign to provide US$50 billion to fight HIV globally by 2013 – to keep their promises. Other placards read, “You Talk, You Talk, We Die!” and “Broken Promises Kill!”

Demonstrators cited recent groundbreaking research showing that antiretroviral (ARV) treatment drastically reduced HIV transmission among discordant couples as justification for more funding for the pandemic. An estimated 44 percent of new infections in Kenya occur among married or cohabiting couples.

“It is not enough to say putting people on treatment reduces their chances of infecting others, yet you are not providing the money to offer people the treatment,” said Emily Onyango, a 31-year-old living with HIV, who participated in the protest. “People will not come forward to accept they have HIV when they know that a number of others who have the disease are dying because they can’t access treatment.”

Funding crisis

Two consecutive rejections by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, flat-lined funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and an end to funding for paediatric ARVs from the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative have significantly dented Kenya’s ability to fund its AIDS fight.

The country has put more than 400,000 people on ARVs, but another 600,000 need the drugs and have no access to them; an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans are infected with HIV.

In 2010, the national budget set aside an unprecedented 900 million Kenya shillings – about $10.5 million – for the purchase of ARVs, and the activists said the government’s most recent application for $340 million for HIV from the Global Fund had been successful. However, this will still not cover Kenya’s funding gap for HIV, which is estimated at $1.67 billion up to 2013.

Civil society organizations are calling on the government to find ways to reduce the over-reliance on donors and ensure sustainable funding for HIV programmes. In 2010, the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) developed a raft of proposals for consideration by the Ministry of Finance which, if adopted, could go some way to offset the funding gap; however, few of these have been acted on.

''Access to HIV treatment is a right and we are not accepting lip service anymore''


Among the ideas proposed was implementing international funding mechanism UNITAID’s air ticket funding scheme, whereby a small levy on airline tickets and cargo goes towards HIV programmes, and enforcing a 2 percent tax on mobile-phone airtime. More recently, a taskforce formed by NACC suggested the government could collect millions in unclaimed assets lying in various financial and social welfare institutions and use them to pay for HIV treatment.

Government officials say it has not yet formed the partnerships required to implement these ideas.

“We have as a government received very smart ideas from different stakeholders on how we can fund our HIV and AIDS programmes, but we can’t rush to implement them because we need discussions on them from other players,” Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Minister of Medical Services, told IRIN/PlusNews. “If you say, for instance, that imposing some tax on air tickets is one of the ways, we need to discuss this with airlines because that might translate into them increasing their airfares.

“We have made proposals to the Ministry of Finance to increase funding – not just for HIV – but also to other health programmes, [for instance] increased contributions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund,” he added. “We can’t keep talking yet our people are dying, so let’s push on with what needs only government approval.”


Photo: Nic McPhee/Flickr
Kenya faces a funding shortfall of US$1.67 billion up to 2013

According to Eugene Wandere, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, the government must work harder to involve the private sector in public health programmes. “For instance, if you say you are going to increase tax on a particular commodity to fund HIV, then you must involve the producer on how you will cushion their profits and what benefits they stand to gain,” he said. “But the government appears to be engaging in lone-ranger tactics and they hit a brick wall every time they make a move.”

Wandere further noted that funding gaps could also be addressed by prioritizing HIV funding so that funds were redistributed to the areas that needed them most.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility of funding health and HIV lies with the government, says Catherine Mumma, a local human rights lawyer.

“The government has the ability to, and it must, increase its funding to healthcare while these other ways of getting funds are looked into,” she said. “Only sustained increases in government funding to cover healthcare programmes remain most sustainable.”

ko/kr/mw source

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Normality: The road ahead remains a long one

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

SRI LANKA: Long road to normality

The road ahead remains a long one

COLOMBO, 18 May 2011 (IRIN) – Traffic on Sri Lanka’s A9 highway reflects the increased mobility brought by peace, as hundreds of buses, cars and three-wheelers, packed to the brim, race each other along a road that cuts through the centre of the former conflict zone.

Two years after the government’s declared victory over the separatist Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) on 18 May 2009, the bustle paints a dramatically different picture from the nation paralyzed and divided by a 26-year civil war.

On a given day, tens of thousands of Sri Lankans – mostly those from the Sinhalese majority from the south – come and go in this region largely cut off for a quarter-century.

Northerners, mostly from the minority Tamil community, take the same road, which stretches for 110km through the area popularly known as the Vanni.

Seven months after the war ended in December 2009, the A9 was opened for private civilian traffic. Before that, it was closed or travel was restricted due to the conflict, which left tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands more fleeing in fear.

Two years on, most of the more than 300,000 who fled the last bout of fighting between mid-2007 and 2009 have resettled; however, 17,000 remain in camps, largely outside the northern town of Vavuniya.

The lifting of travel restrictions has allowed southerners to visit Jaffna, Kilinochchi and other parts, though some areas in the east of the Vanni, where the fighting was intense, remain inaccessible to civilians from the south, even Sinhalese, without special permission.

“I feel the opening of the highway is the best meeting point for these two communities kept apart for so long,” Denagama Dammika, an ethnic Sinhalese from the southern district of Matara, told IRIN.

Ramanan, a young man from the minority Tamil community in Kilinochchi, the former political and de-facto LTTE capital, agreed. “We never had any close interaction with people from the south during the war. It was as if a wall had been built,” he said. “The opening of the A9 has changed that.”

But both say the two communities remain wary of the other. “It will take time for the mistrust of over 30 years to go away,” Dammika said.

In the Northern Province, where the conflict was worst, many say life has improved, despite crippling unemployment and a devastated infrastructure: 160,000 houses were destroyed, no electricity lines were intact and the A9 was reduced to rubble.

Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
Sri Lanka’s 26-year-old civil war ended in May 2009

According to the UN’s latest Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update, thousands of returnees will have ongoing shelter needs until permanent housing recovery projects reach them.

“There is no tension in Kilinochchi. It is the total opposite to what it was two years ago and many years before that,” Ramanan said. He returned home in April 2010 after fleeing two years earlier.

Lopsided development

Rights activists, however, feel that remaining travel restrictions and heavy military surveillance have slowed a return to normality.

Ruki Fernando, the head of the Human Rights in Conflict Programme at the Law and Society Trust, based in Colombo, told IRIN: “The government doesn’t seem to realize that restrictions on travel, religious events, freedom of association and assembly that apply only to the North are abnormal in relation to rest of the country, and hinder a restoration of normality.”

Dammika, who has travelled on the A9 on several occasions, also feels that post-war economic development, accelerated in other parts of the country, has been slow to take off in the North.

There have been large development projects in the Vanni since the end of the war. The A9 was repaved and electricity supply restored to at least the main towns, but private investment and jobs have been hard to come by. 

Sithamparampillai Jeyanthi, 27, from Chavakachcheri, a town south of Jaffna, has been searching for a job since she returned home in late 2009 after a decade. She said there were hardly any permanent jobs despite Jaffna’s tourism boom.

“My family, we are farmers, but our fields have not been cultivated for over 10 years. Our houses are destroyed. There should be some special programme to benefit those like me,” she said.

Ramanan said despite the hardships, no one in Kilinochchi would want to return to what it was two years back.

“Peace is good. But for life to become normal and for us to regain trust, it will take time.”

ap/nb/mw source

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Hanging on to the money you have

Posted by African Press International on May 23, 2011

PAKISTAN: Driven out of Kurram Agency by violence

Photo: ReliefWeb
Kurram Agency is one of the seven tribal agencies on the Pakistan-Afghan border

PESHAWAR, 17 May 2011 (IRIN) – At a transport stand in Peshawar, Ali Junaid, 35, haggles with bus and truck drivers for the best rates to take him and his family to the southern city of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest urban centre.

“I need to hang on to what money I have,” he said. “It is not much, but I also want my family to be comfortable. It is a long journey, and my three children are young.”

Junaid would have been paying for one other family member to travel with them, but his four-year-old son died in January while they were living in the town of Parachinar in the restive Kurram Agency, one of seven tribal agencies on the Pakistan-Afghan border where a bitter war between Sunni and Shia Muslim sects has resulted in hundreds of deaths since the 1980s.

A complex set of geopolitical issues has influenced events in Kurram valley – an area central to the interests of Taliban militants because it offers easy access to Afghanistan. For example, the fiercely Sunni orthodox Taliban have faced consistent resistance in the region from Shia tribes, a factor which has contributed to sectarian conflict in the area.

Kurram’s population of 500,000 has a Shia majority, according to official statistics. Since 2007, things have been particularly grim. That year, the main road linking Parachinar on the Pakistan-Afghan border to Peshawar was closed due to militant activity, resulting in acute shortages of essential items in Parachinar, according to observers like the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The ongoing violence has resulted in hundreds of deaths and large-scale displacements from Kurram. One of those who died was Junaid’s son.

“He developed a sore throat and very high fever, but there were no medicines available in Parachinar,” Junaid told IRIN. “We found a doctor, who believed my child had meningitis, but without drugs there was nothing he could do for him. I considered trying to take him to a town with a running hospital, even through Afghanistan, but he was too weak to make the long journey and died.”

Leaving Parachinar

When the road was reopened briefly in February this year, before being shut down again in March after fresh sectarian violence, Ali Junaid chose to leave Parachinar.

“It is fortunate we did,” he said. “Now the road is closed again, even food supplies are short and no one pays any heed to demands that the road be opened.” Unable to find a job in Peshawar, Junaid, a mason, hopes for better luck – and a safer future for his family – in Karachi.

After the brief reopening of the crucial road, the prime minister announced a plan to support some 32,000 people displaced from Kurram Agency. However, the truce quickly broke down, prompting more people to want to leave both Kurram and the Tirah Valley area in the Khyber Agency, where there has also been an increase in tensions.

“Many people are trying to leave, but the security situation makes this impossible,” Hussain Abbas, who works with a community-based welfare organization in Parachinar, told IRIN.

UN Refugee Agency spokesman Duniya Aslam Khan said: “We do not have reports of any large-scale movements out of these areas, but people could be moving in with relatives rather than to camps.”

Some certainly have chosen this route. Zaigham Hassan, 40, and his wife, Shandana Bibi, moved out of Kurram Valley in 2009 and took up an invitation from a cousin based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa town of Mardan to live in his house. Hassan, who had considered going back to Kurram in March, has now abandoned any thoughts of doing so.

“It seems my four children are destined to grow up away from their homeland,” he told IRIN. “I would love to go back, but after the renewed trouble, I fear things will never get back to normal. The economy has slumped, and as a truck driver I have no work when key roads are closed.”

kh/eo/cb source

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