Obama declares end date for Iraq combat missions

Operations to finish on August 2010 but up to 50,000 troops will remain in support and training roles

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Obama announces the end of US combat operations in Iraq Link to this video Barack Obama made a historic announcement today formally declaring US combat missions in Iraq will end in August next year.
"Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," the US president said in a speech at Fort Lejeune, North Carolina. It will the second time the US has declared its part in the hostilities over.
George Bush prematurely described the war as over nearly six years ago. He stood beneath a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier in May 2003. More than 4,000 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died since then.
Obama flew from Washington to North Carolina this morning to take a break from almost daily announcements on the economy to turn his attention to what has been the dominant US foreign policy involvement of the last six years.
He said that at least 90,000 of the 145,000 US troops will be withdrawn by next year, leaving about 35,000-50,000 troops behind, supposedly to help with training and to back up the government. The US may want to leave a large contingent in place to help maintain influence in a country that has proved so costly to control.
Obama spoke directly to the people of Iraq: "So to the Iraqi people, let me be clear about America's intentions. The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country. And going forward, we can build a lasting relationship founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect as Iraq takes its rightful place in the community of nations."
The president went on to lay out a broader plan for US foreign policy in the Middle East: "The future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader Middle East, so we must work with our friends and partners to establish a new framework that advances Iraq's security and the region's. It is time for Iraq to be a full partner in a regional dialogue, and for Iraq's neighbors to establish productive and normalized relations with Iraq. And going forward, the United States will pursue principled and sustained engagement with all of the nations in the region, and that will include Iran and Syria."
Democratic members of Congress, including the leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, expressed disappointment when Obama told them on Thursday that so many are to be left behind. Republicans including Senator John McCain welcomed the decision. The intention is that any remaining troops will have only a limited frontline role, meaning US casualties will drop.
According to one congressional official, lawmakers were told that General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, and General Ray Odierno, the top commander in Baghdad, believed the plan presented moderate risk but supported the 50,000 figure.
When Obama was on the campaign trail his promise to withdraw US troops was widely understood to mean all US troops, even though his advisers said a large force would be left behind to help with training, as back-up for the Iraqi government and to prevent a return of insurgent forces.
Before meeting Obama, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said he would convey his concern, saying that "talk about 50,000 - that's a little higher number than I anticipated".
John McHugh, the top Republican on the armed services committee, said Obama promised him to reconsider the new strategy if violence rose.
McHugh said he was worried the situation in Iraq remained fragile, especially as it approaches elections in December. "Our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to these challenges, and President Obama assured me that there is a Plan B," he said in a statement.
READ MORE - Obama declares end date for Iraq combat missions

British death toll in Afghanistan shoots to 148 after three soldiers are killed in Helmand blast

Three British soldiers have been killed by an 'enemy-improvised explosive device' in southern Afghanistan today.
The soldiers, from 1st Battalion The Rifles, were hit by a blast in Gereshk district in Helmand Province during an escort operation this morning, the Ministry of Defence said.
An emergency helicopter was scrambled but all three were pronounced dead.
Next of kin have been informed.
British soldiers in Afghanistan (file photo). Three soldiers have been killed in an explosion in Helmand today
British soldiers in Afghanistan (file photo). Three soldiers have been killed in an explosion in Helmand today
Commander Paula Rowe, spokeswoman for Task Force Helmand, said: 'Today has been incredibly sad for the whole of Task Force Helmand, and particularly for The Rifles.
'We will all feel the loss of these brave soldiers, whose role was to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army.
'But it is their family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers.'
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said the soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device.
Isaf spokesman Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette said: 'It is with deep sorrow that we announce the death of these soldiers and offer our condolences to their grieving families.
'Their valiant efforts will not be forgotten, and spurs us to continue our vital mission to bring security to the people of Afghanistan.'
It was the worst loss of life in a single incident for UK forces since December.
The deaths take the number of British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 to 148.
READ MORE - British death toll in Afghanistan shoots to 148 after three soldiers are killed in Helmand blast

Trial run of Iran’s first nuclear plant starts

Tehran, Feb 25 : The test run of Iran’s first nuclear power plant started here Wednesday, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported.
The test involved the use of non-nuclear material instead of enriched uranium.
The trial began as Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and Sergei Kiriyenko, chief executive officer of Russian nuclear company Rosatom, made a visit to the plant in southern Iran.

“We’re celebrating Bushehr’s pre-commissioning which means we are getting closer to the launch of the plant,” Aqazadeh said. “This virtual fuel testing was successful.”

The reactor’s operation is expected to begin later this year. In the first stage of operation, it will provide Iran’s southern provinces with 500 megawatts of electricity, Aqazadeh said.

“We hope that in a few months it will supply electricity to this region,” he added.
READ MORE - Trial run of Iran’s first nuclear plant starts

Bangladeshi mutineers 'surrender'

The army was called in to quell the unrest that left at least five people killed [AFP]
 
Mutinous Bangladeshi border guards, who stormed their headquarters and opened fire on their superior officers, have agreed to surrender after the government said it would grant them amnesty.

The agreement followed fighting earlier on Wednesday which left at least five people dead and 14 others injured.
Jahangir Kabir Nanak, a government minister, told reporters that the offer was made by Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, during an hour-long meeting with representatives of the Bangladesh Rifles, the official name of the paramilitary border guards, at her residence on Wednesday.

The guards, angry over their pay, seized their headquarters and a nearby shopping mall and clashed with the army which was called in to quell the unrest.

"The prime minister has announced amnesty for those involved in the trouble. We now hope to lay down our arms and go back to barracks," Mohammed Towhid, a spokesman for the mutineers, told reporters after the meeting.

Nicolas Haque, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Dhaka, said the Rifles wanted confirmation they would not be attacked by the army.

"They announced on a speaker phone that they would not open the gates until they had a written statement from the prime minister that they would be pardoned, and a written statement from the army that they would not attack the compound they're in."

Fierce fighting
For more than four hours intermittent gunshots rang out at the headquarters, while smoke billowed from the compound.

Guards reached inside the compound by phone said they were upset that their officers had not raised their demands for equal pay and working conditions as army soldiers when Hasina visited the headquarters the day before.

It was not immediately clear if the government would agree to all of their demands, that included more food rations and a chance to participate in lucrative, high-paying UN peacekeeping missions.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 150 million people, has a history of military coups and political assassinations.

Two of the South Asian nation's presidents have been slain in military takeovers, and there have been 19 failed coup attempts since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Television footage recorded from nearby rooftops showed some border guards with rifles moving around inside the compound. Army soldiers had there guns trained on the four gates leading to the compound.
READ MORE - Bangladeshi mutineers 'surrender'

Al-Qaeda ‘morphing into a monster and growing uglier’ due to drone strikes: Pak intelligence

Islamabad, Feb.25 : The US led drone attacks inside Pakistan’s territory on suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts may have reduced the outfit’s international presence, but Pakistani intelligence officials claim that Al-Qaeda is fighting to save its havens by distributing its operatives in small groups.
The officials said that though the missile hits were proving effective as at least 80 Qaeda militants were killed, it is also destabilizing Pakistan.
An assessment by the Pakistani intelligence revealed that Al Qaeda had adapted to these missile hits to its command structure by decentralizing its operations under small but well-organized regional groups within Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to The New York Times, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officials feared that the drone hits were transforming into a more dangerous situation with increasing resilience being offered by Al-Qaeda to the allied forces.
The Pakistani officials suggested that Al Qaeda was rebuilding its force with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes.
“It’s morphing into a monster and growing uglier,” a top Pakistani intelligence official said.
READ MORE - Al-Qaeda ‘morphing into a monster and growing uglier’ due to drone strikes: Pak intelligence

Country Profile: Bangladesh

Bangladesh was once a vital trading destination for European merchants [AL JAZEERA]

For centuries, the area now known as Bangladesh was recognised for its fertile land and the beauty of its textiles which were exported to Europe and the Americas.

This drew European companies to establish trading outposts there, and it became the first province to come under the rule of the British East India Company.

However, modern-day Bangladesh does not enjoy the economic prosperity of the Middle Ages.

According to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, nearly 40 per cent of the population live on less than $1 a day and spend 70 per cent of their income on food.

About a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon season, hampering economic development.
Rampant corruption is considered by many international agencies to be the greatest threat facing Bangladesh's economic recovery.

Various surveys have consistently rated it as the most corrupt nation. This, and the lack of basic infrastructure like clean drinking water, access to health care and access to education have together doomed most Bangladeshis to life of abject poverty and hopelessness.

In the 1990s, the government launched an ambitious plan to drastically lower the poverty level. It has set in motion policies which led to annual economic growth of nearly five per cent since 1990.

Since 1980, average household incomes have nearly doubled.

The government says it hopes to halve poverty levels by 2015.

History

Two nations were carved out of India when it declared independence in 1947; West Pakistan to the west and East Pakistan to the north were one nation, and India.

East Pakistan comprised the former Indian provinces of Bengal and Assam.

By the 1960s, however, economic disenfranchisement led to calls for greater autonomy in East Pakistan with the majority Bengalis urging independence.

The Awami League, a Bengali nationalist party from East Pakistan led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won an overwhelming majority in national elections.

However, Islamabad refused to recognise the Awami League's victory.

In 1971, Rahman led an uprising to break off from West Pakistan and declare independence.

The Pakistani army responded by cracking down on Awami League leaders and waged a brutal war in which thousands were killed. Rahman was arrested and jailed in West Pakistan.

Nearly 10mn Bengali refugees fled to neighbouring India. The Indian army intervened and backed Bengali nationalists.

On December 16, 1971, Bangladesh declared independence and became a parliamentary democracy with Rahman as its first president and then prime minister.

Military coups

Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975. His death led to a series of bloody coups and counter-coups with General Ziaur Rahman finally emerging the ruler.

He reinstated multi-party politics and founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), but was himself assassinated in 1981 in another military coup.

General Hossain Mohammad Ershad then came to power and ruled until December 1990, when he was forced to resign by opposition groups led by Ziaur Rahman's widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, and one of Mujibur Rahman's surviving daughters, Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh reverted to a parliamentary democracy. Since then Zia's widow, Khaleda Zia, and Sheikh Hasina alternated rule between them until 2006.

A state of emergency was declared following pre-election violence in 2007, prompting the military to intervene and appoint a caretaker government. General elections were held in December 2008.

The Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina, won in a landslide, taking 262 of 299 seats in parliament.
Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as prime minister in January 2009.

Quick facts
Population - 153 million (July 2008 estimate). Nearly 33 per cent of the population is under the age of 14; population growth stands at two per cent a year.
Ethnicity - Bengalis comprise 98 per cent and the remaining two per cent include tribal groups and non-Bengali Muslims.
Religion - 87 per cent of the population are Muslim; 11 per cent Hindu; 0.6 per cent Buddhist; 0.3 per cent Christian and 1.1 per cent ethnic minorities.
Language - Bengali, the state language.
Capital - Dhaka - population 12 million.
Geography - 143,998 sq km, bounded by India to the west and north, India and Myanmar to the east and the Bay of Bengal to the south. Most of Bangladeshi soil is just above sea level; flooding occurs nearly every monsoon season - June to September.
READ MORE - Country Profile: Bangladesh

Ban condemns attack against AU contingent

United Nations, Feb 25 : UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the suicide attack against an African Union (AU) contingent in the Somali capital Mogadishu that claimed the lives of 11 Burundian peacekeepers.

"There can be no legitimate justification for this and other recent attacks targeting AU forces that are deployed with the sole purpose of helping the Somali people bring peace and security to their country," he said in a statement.

Ban expressed his deep sadness at the loss of life and voiced his "heartfelt solidarity" with the AU and with the Burundian Government, which has "shown commendable and steadfast leadership in Somalia."

He said that he believes the continued commitment of the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, "must be backed by wider support from the international community so that it can effectively carry out its mandate under difficult circumstances."
READ MORE - Ban condemns attack against AU contingent

A look at North Korea's missile arsenal

A look at North Korea's missile arsenal:

_ TAEPODONG-2: North Korea's most advanced ballistic missile. Three-stage rocket with a potential range of more than 4,100 miles (6,700 kilometers) would put Alaska within striking distance. July 2006 attempt to test-fire missile failed, with rocket fizzling soon after takeoff.

_ ADVANCED TAEPODONG-2: North is believed to be developing advanced version of Taepodong-2 capable of striking west coast of United States. Planned satellite launch could disguise test of advanced Taepodong-2, experts say.

_ NEW MISSILE: North Korea has fielded a new type of intermediate range ballistic missile, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry. Missile with range of at least 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) would put Guam, northern Australia, most of Russia and India within striking distance.

_ TAEPODONG-1: Two-stage, long-range missile has estimated range of 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers), twice as far as Nodong missile. North Korea is believed to have test-launched missile in August 1998, calling it a satellite. Second stage landed in the waters off Japan's east coast.

_ NODONG: Japan is likely target of missile with range of about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers).
_ SCUD: South Korea is potential target of Scuds with range of up to 310 miles (500 kilometers).
READ MORE - A look at North Korea's missile arsenal

Police Board Vegan Pirate Vessel, Seize Video

Image...
Police boarded the ship of a militant anti-whaling group and seized videotapes of violent clashes between the activists and Japanese whalers, the group said Saturday.

Police said they were investigating the clashes after Japanese authorities reported them to Australian officials, but would not to go into further detail.

Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said Australian Federal Police agents with search warrants boarded the group's ship, the Steve Irwin, as it docked late Friday in the southern Australian city of Hobart.

The police seized video being shot for the television series "Whale Wars" about the group's campaign to stop a Japanese fleet from killing whales in waters off Antarctica, the Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

The federal police said it had held discussions with crew aboard the Steve Irwin and was investigating events in the Antarctic Ocean "as a result of a formal referral from the Japanese authorities."
READ MORE - Police Board Vegan Pirate Vessel, Seize Video

Gaza case studies: Weapons use



Donatella Rovera interviewing Palestinian family Gaza
Donatella Rovera of Amnesty has been investigating Israel's weapons use

The BBC News Website looks at case studies of some of the weapons and tactics used in the recent Gaza conflict that human rights groups are concerned may have been violations of international law.

Interviews by Aleem Maqbool and Heather Sharp in Gaza City.


GENERAL ALLEGATIONS
Human rights investigators have been trawling through the rubble in Gaza and gathering testimonies in an attempt to piece together a picture of the way both sides fought and the weapons they used.
International law demands that a distinction is made between combatants and non-combatants, and civilian casualties proportionate to the military gains from the attack in which they occurred.
But Amnesty International has concluded that some Israeli attacks "were directed at civilians or civilian buildings", while "others were disproportionate or indiscriminate".

Dinstinctive white phosphorus shell bursts in Gaza
Amnesty has dubbed Israel's use of white phosphorus as a war crime
As well as the way Israeli forces used white phosphorous in the conflict, which Amnesty has dubbed a war crime, the organisation has also raised concerns about other weapons and their use. These range from the firing of high explosive artillery shells, which have a large margin of error, in populated areas, to concerns that Israeli forces were trigger-happy in their use of more precise weapons such as tank shells.
There has never been any doubt that Palestinian militants' use of rockets to target civilians in southern Israel was a violation of international humanitarian law.
Human rights investigators are also certain that the militant groups operated from civilian areas, although Amnesty and HRW are yet to publish detailed reports on the issue.
"The testimony and forensic evidence clearly shows Hamas was endangering the civilian population with its tactics," says Marc Garlasco, a senior researcher and military specialist with Human Rights Watch.

The violations of one side do not allow the other side to fight in an illegal manner
Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch
He says there were cases of Hamas firing from abandoned Palestinian homes. "I myself saw Qassam rockets rise up from populated areas, likely fired from between homes," he adds.
Israel says the blame for civilian casualties lies with Hamas for using such tactics.
But Mr Garlasco - echoing the views of several other human rights groups - says this "in no way justifies what Israel did".
"The violations of one side do not allow the other side to fight in an illegal manner."
Israel has not yet responded to the specific allegations, but says it acts to minimise civilian casualties, and that its interpretation of international law is in line with that of other Western nations.
The Israeli military also says it is conducting internal investigations into some of the claims and individual cases, including regarding the use of white phosphorous, that rights groups have raised.




FLECHETTE SHELLS

Flechettes recovered after fatal attack on Wafa Abu Jarad
Muhammad Abu Jarad still has a flechette lodged close to his spine
Flechette shells contain several thousand razor-sharp, nail-like metal darts, each about 4cm long. The shells explode in the air scattering the darts over the surrounding area - in a cone-shaped pattern 300m long and 90m wide, according to Human Rights Watch.
They are not banned under international law, but human rights groups say their indiscriminate nature makes them illegal if used in built-up civilian areas such as the densely populated Gaza Strip.
Although they were not widely used by Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict, Amnesty International has documented several incidents and says their use "contributed to unlawful killings" of Palestinian civilians.
The black darts can still be seen in the walls above the spot where Wafa Abu Jarad, aged 21 and three months pregnant, was fatally injured on 5 January 2009, outside their home on a residential street near Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza .
Her husband Muhammad, 24, said they had just had breakfast on the steps of their home, with their two-year-old son Khalil, and were walking among the lemon trees in their garden when they heard an explosion a few blocks away.
As they ran for cover in the house, Wafa with Khalil in her arms, there was another explosion above them. "All we could see were nails," said Muhammad, in reference to the flechettes.
"We were both thrown to the ground. She was bleeding from her head and chest," he said. "She fell unconscious immediately."

Muhammad Abu Jarad holding a photo of his dead wife, with Khalil, aged 2
Young Khalil Abu Jarad has not yet been told his mother died in the attack

Flechettes hit Khalil in the legs, Muhammad in the leg and back, and flew through the open door hitting Muhammad's father in the shoulder, he said.

Wafa died in hospital three days later.

The clean white line of a flechette can be seen close to a vertebrae on an X-ray of Muhammad's back. He says he cannot sleep because of the pain, and sometimes finds his right side temporarily paralysed.

"The doctors are afraid to take it out, it is too close to the nerve - they are afraid I could be completely paralysed," he says, as Khalil clings to his leg and breaks briefly into a howl.

"What can I tell him when he cries 'Mummy, Mummy'?", he asks. "Where am I supposed to bring his Mum from?"

He tells the toddler Wafa is "travelling". "But yesterday he picked up a picture of her, and was saying 'Mummy, Mummy' and kissing it. He said she had been hurt in the explosion."

In similar cases, Amnesty International has documented the death of a 16-year-old boy, another woman and a paramedic, and numerous more injuries.

Israel has used flechette shells in Gaza for several years. In 2003 Israel 's High Court rejected a petition to ban their use, saying it considered the military's guidelines on their use to be adequate.


TANK SHELLS
 
The Amnesty report says "tank rounds are precision munitions".

"The killing of so many civilians, many in their homes, indicates that these munitions were, at best, used in a reckless or indiscriminate manner," says the report.

Human Rights Watch military analysts say tank shells are so accurate they can be fired into a window from a distance of a mile (1.6km).

Both Amnesty and HRW investigators say there appeared to be a consistent pattern of Palestinian families being killed by Israeli tank shells fired into their homes, apparently as they approached windows or stepped on to balconies.

Haider al-Eiwa, 42, walks through the ruins of his family's top floor apartment in the eastern part of Gaza City .
Everything in the living room, dining room and kitchen has been reduced to a mangled, dusty mess.

A few weeks ago, he says, four of his children, aged between seven and 13, were playing by the kitchen window, looking out towards the Israeli border.


He says that, without warning, a tank shell crashed straight through the same window, killing his wife, and all four children.

"Of course they played near the windows, they are children," Haider says. "And the tanks were well over a kilometre away.

"They have destroyed my life. Why did they choose my house?" he says. "I am not Hamas, I don't belong to any group. They must have known there were children here."

Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch says: "I saw dozens upon dozens of homes damaged or destroyed by tank fire and our investigation noted numerous civilians killed in these cases."

"Though we don't know why they were killed, the Israeli army may have thought they were spotters for Hamas," says Mr Garlasco.

It seems that in some cases, Israeli forces were "looking through the vision system, firing at anything they saw moving", says Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.

In another such case, cited by Amnesty, the house of Dr Izz al-Din Abu al-Eish was hit. A tank shell was fired into his daughters' bedroom. Three of his daughters and his niece were killed.



DRONE MISSILES

An Israeli pilotless aircraft or drone (top right) flies over Gaza (15/01/09) as a helicopter fires flares
Unmanned drones (one visible, top right) were used extensively by Israel over Gaza

Marc Garlasco of HRW says there is concern about the number of Palestinian civilians killed by missiles fired from unmanned Israeli aircraft, or drones, particularly because these can be precisely targeted and guided by an operator using imaging "like a TV camera" as they home in on their target.

In several cases, children were killed as they played on roofs, despite the fact that the operator should have been able to determine they were civilians and steer the missile away, he says.

"It appears there was this wider policy to kill anyone on a roof," he said.

Furthermore, investigators found that many of the missiles used in such strikes contained tiny, sharp-edged cubes of purpose-made shrapnel, which are scattered as the missile explodes.

Mr Garlasco says these were designed as anti-tank weapons, but are often used by Israel for targeted killings, as they "do they job well" - the blast is confined to a small radius, the missiles are relatively light and can be mounted on unmanned drones.

Mahmoud al-Habbash, 15, shows us the spot on a rooftop where his cousins were killed by a guided missile. According to HRW, the missile contained such cube-shaped shrapnel.

"We were feeding the chickens and playing," he says. "We did it every day and did not think we had any reason to be afraid."

"I looked to the sky and I saw a flame coming towards us and I shouted and ran. It was strange, I was suddenly sucked back forcefully, but I don't even remember hearing the blast," says Mahmoud.

"Shada, who was 12 and Isra who was 10 were killed. Jamila lost both legs, she is 14. Muhammad who is 16 lost one leg. Muhammad says when the explosion happened, it looked like there was a huge cloud of flies around us."

Qusai al-Habbash, 48, a science teacher and the father of the two girls who died, says the area had been calm and that families along the street had been going about their business as normal.

"Still, I thought of warning my children not to go outside, because of what was happening in other areas," he says. "But then I told myself that the Israeli weapons were very sophisticated. They can easily see who is a child and who is a militant. But they killed my children anyway."

Amnesty has listed many cases in which civilians were killed in this manner, including eight secondary school students who were waiting for the school bus to take them home
READ MORE - Gaza case studies: Weapons use

Exclusive: Footage of attack on LTTE plane


LTTE Plane Shot Down
READ MORE - Exclusive: Footage of attack on LTTE plane

Combat Outpost - Afghanistan

READ MORE - Combat Outpost - Afghanistan

Somali pirate patrol:

y inflatable alongside the skiff
The pirates are thought to have used this skiff

The BBC's Jonah Fisher has joined British Royal Navy frigate HMS Northumberland as it patrols the Gulf of Aden in an EU taskforce to deter Somali pirates.


In the fourth instalment of his diary from the ship's deck, our correspondent sees how the pirates are able to seize ships only a few miles away from naval vessels.


The day jolted into life with the news that the MV Saldanha had been taken by pirates.
The first realisation that the Saldanha, a Greek-owned container ship was in trouble came on the radar.

Skiff being destroyed
The ship's crew got in some target practice and sank the skiff
Instead of following the established shipping corridor through the Gulf of Aden it was heading directly towards Somalia.
The helicopter was sent up to take a closer look while the HMS Northumberland moved towards the Saldanha at top speed. Two miles away radio contact was established.
The frightened voice of the Saldanha's captain came over the airwaves.
A "hostage situation" had now developed, he said, with the pirates issuing the demand that the warship stay away.
There was little that Martin Simpson, captain of the Northumberland, could do.
He was forced to watch as the Saldanha with its crew of 22 below deck drifted past the bridge windows and on towards the Horn of Africa.
Ransom demands
The Greek owner will now be expecting the phone call that begins ransom negotiations.

Map
The mandate of the European Union taskforce - of which the Northumberland is part - is to act as a deterrent and try and stop acts of piracy in process or about to take place. It does not have the mandate or capability to retake captured ships like the Saldanha.
It appears that the Saldanha was seized either at night or at first light about 60 miles (100km) from the Northumberland's location.
Despite being relatively close in maritime terms, with no alarm being sounded there was no chance of the Northumberland being able to act.
Later in the day an abandoned skiff was spotted drifting. It appeared to be the launch vessel that the pirates had used.
On board was a large amount of fuel, a ladder with hooked ends, two RPG grenades and a quantity of money.
After having a close look at the skiff the decision was taken to sink it.
The ship's snipers and machine gunners were given the honour and some impromptu target practice eventually led to an explosion and the pirate boat going under.
Not for the first time on this three-month-long mission, the Northumberland has found itself in the same region as an act of piracy but without the advance warning to stop it.
READ MORE - Somali pirate patrol:

S Lanka rebels 'ready for truce'


Tamil Tigers
The Tigers are refusing to lay down their weapons
Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have told the United Nations they are ready to comply with international calls for a ceasefire with government forces.

But the rebels said they would not lay down their weapons, as the government has demanded.

The Sri Lankan military said again that this must happen before the rebels could take part in negotiations.

The Tigers have been driven from most of the territory they held by an army offensive in the past few weeks.

Many in the international community, including India and the leading international donor group headed by the US, EU, Japan and Norway have urged the rebels to lay down their arms.


'Painful'
The offer of a truce was made by B Nadesan, the political head of the rebels, in a letter to the United Nations and the international community.

"Already more than 2,000 civilians have been killed and more than 5,000 have been injured," Mr Nadesan wrote.


Sri Lankan soldier walking through ruins of Mullaitivu
The troops are pushing the Tigers into a shrinking territory
"It is painful to see the world maintaining silence on this immense human suffering as if it is amused by what is going on."

Mr Nadesan said a ceasefire was needed to end the miseries of the Tamil people.

"The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] desires that this effort for a ceasefire... grows further into peace talks to seek a political solution to the ethnic conflict," he said.

But he said that the Tigers would not consider disarming until "a permanent political solution is reached for the Tamil people, with the support and the guarantee of the international community".

Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brig Udaya Nanayakkara, told the BBC the government would not accept a conditional truce from the rebels.

"They must lay down arms before they can come for negotiations," he said.

Earlier this month the US, EU, Japan and Norway said the rebels should disarm and discuss ending hostilities in order to avoid more civilian casualties.

India has also called on the rebels to lay down their arms and says it will assist in a civilian evacuation if asked.
In recent weeks, a major Sri Lankan army offensive has inflicted a series of defeats on the Tamil Tiger forces, pushing the rebels into a narrow area of jungle in the north of Sri Lanka.

About 70,000 people have died in the past 25 years as the Tigers have fought for a separate homeland in the north and east of the country.


MAP OF THE REGION
Map

READ MORE - S Lanka rebels 'ready for truce'

IAEA admits Iran now has enough U-235 to make A-bombs


Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities 200 miles (322 km) south of the Tehran, Iran on April 8, 2008. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran started installation of some 6,000 new centrifuges on Tuesday. (UPI Photo/President's official website)
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities 200 miles (322 km) south of the Tehran, Iran on April 8, 2008. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran started installation of some 6,000 new centrifuges on Tuesday. (UPI Photo/President's official website)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 -- Iran has confounded the U.S. intelligence community yet again: New revelations from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggest the Islamic Republic is far closer to being able to make its own nuclear weapons than the most recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published last year imagined. A new report from the IAEA, based in the Austrian capital, Vienna, said Iran's production of enriched uranium had been underestimated and Tehran has enough material for a nuclear weapon.
The report said Iran has now produced 1,010 kilograms of low-enriched uranium -- almost a ton. And more is certainly on the way. The IAEA said Iran now has 4,000 centrifuges operating to separate nuclear-usable uranium-235 from uranium-238, an increase in 200 centrifuges in only two months. And another 1,600 centrifuges are being constructed.
The IAEA inspectors also found Iran had produced 460 pounds more LEU within the overall total than was previously thought. "It's worse than we thought," Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, told The New York Times. (NYSE:NYT) "It's alarming that the actual production was underreported by a third."

IAEA officials say Iran is still some ways from a bomb. It would have to make changes to produce highly enriched uranium rather than the approximate ton of low-enriched uranium it has, and such a step would be apparent -- unless Tehran hid the uranium.

The IAEA's report will be an unpleasant embarrassment to the Obama administration, especially as it comes right after Israeli President Shimon Peres asked former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form the next Israeli government. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the fast-rising Yisrael Beiteinu Party, now the third-largest in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, following the Feb. 10 general election, also has said he favors making Netanyahu prime minister. Both Netanyahu and Lieberman have said Israel cannot afford to wait while Iran perfects the nuclear weapons and intermediate-range ballistic missile systems to carry them that could blast the Jewish state off the map.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have far preferred to deal with an Israeli government led by current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that would heed their calls for restraint against Iran. But that isn't going to happen.

Netanyahu has six weeks to form a government in Israel, and his prospects of succeeding appear very good. Then he will face the reality that Iran's nuclear and missile development programs have either reached, or are very close to reaching, the point where they could realistically deliver a nuclear weapon to Israel. Israel is even more vulnerable to other nations in such an attack because two-thirds of its population is concentrated in a densely populated strip only 60 miles long and 15 miles wide along the Mediterranean coast.

Obama and Clinton wanted time to develop a diplomatic dialogue with Iran. But the rapid advances in Tehran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs have deprived the new U.S. leaders of that time.

The new Washington policymakers will be critically and carefully watched not only by Israeli leaders but also by Arab ones. Moderate Arab leaders have been alarmed by Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons, but if they feel the U.S. government is appeasing Iran, or is ineffectual in stopping its drive to develop nuclear weapons, they may feel forced to cut their own deals with Tehran.

The revelation is also highly embarrassing for the International Atomic Energy Agency and its Director General Mohammed ElBaradei. They inspect the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz only once a year. Therefore, even though IAEA officials insist Iran is not secretly smuggling low-enriched uranium out of the complex to process in its massive and rapidly growing system of centrifuges to make weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, there in fact is no way they can truly know.

The IAEA's report, therefore, is a devastating blow to the credibility of doves on the Iran nuclear issue in the United States and Israel. And it will be as alarming to Arab mainstream leaders as it is to Israeli ones.
READ MORE - IAEA admits Iran now has enough U-235 to make A-bombs

Serbian hitman 'boasted of killing Jill Dando in revenge for Nato bombs'

Scotland Yard is investigating a fresh claim that BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was murdered by a Serbian hitman.
Detectives have been told a British petty criminal of Serbian descent boasted of the killing which he claimed was in revenge for Nato's bombing of Belgrade in 1999.
His alleged confession is said to have taken place during a drinking session at a bar in the Serbian capital in September 2001, more than two years after Miss Dando's death, in front of more than ten people.
Murdered: Jill Dando pictured on a boat in Skiathos, Greece
Officers from the Metropolitan police's murder squad are examining the new information which stemmed from a tip-off to the Crimestoppers hotline last month as part of their review into the shooting.
The 37-year-old Crimewatch presenter was shot dead on the doorstep of her home in Fulham, West London in April 1999 in broad daylight with a single bullet to the head.
Barry George, a local oddball with a history of sex offences and stalking women, was convicted of her murder in 2001 and jailed for life before being freed on appeal last year.
The theory of a Serbian link to Miss Dando's murder was examined by police after her death but had been ruled out by the time George was arrested in 2000.
Freed: Barry George leaves the Old Bailey in London after he was cleared of murdering Jill Dando
At his first trial, George's barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, contended that one possible motive for the killing was a Serbian death squad taking revenge for the bombing of a Belgrade television station days earlier which left 16 dead.
Mr Mansfield said the bullet used to kill Miss Dando bore crimping marks on it of a type often found in the former Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries.
He also produced a report compiled by the National Criminal Intelligence Service which said that after the bombing the Serbian warlord Arkan put out a contract on Sir John Birt, then BBC director general, whose security was stepped up.
As a result, the target was changed to Miss Dando.
Senior prosecutors and investigators with knowledge of the case have played down the Serbian link but the theory is now being looked at again following the tip off.
Avon and Somerset police have interviewed one individual who was present at the alleged confession at the Portobello bar in Belgrade.
Officers went to Leyhill prison in Gloucestershire to interview Christopher Barrett-Jolley, a former cargo aircraft captain jailed in 2002 for importing cocaine into Britain.
Barrett-Jolley made a statement and is expected to be interviewed by Scotland Yard officers shortly.
Two other witnesses have apparently confirmed his account.
One, a British businessman, told the Sunday Times: 'During the conversation with his friends it turned to what had happened in the UK with Jill Dando.
'The friends of his actually said, 'Well, this was the man that was involved in that.' He took a bow because he claimed he had something to do with it. he stood up and his friends applauded him strenuously.
'When we asked him afterwards, 'Surely you can't be serious about this', he claimed it was in retaliation over some Serbian TV star singer that was killed in the bombings.'
The second witness, a member of Barrett-Jolley's flight crew, said: 'Everybody who was in the immediate vicinity seemed to think [he was claiming responsibility].
'The glasses were all held up to him and he accepted the toast. I was given the impression he had taken part in this or done it.'
The man alleged to have made the confession, who is from the West Midlands, declined to comment when he was contacted at his home last week.
Commander Simon Foy, head of the Met's murder squad, said: 'Part of the review of the Dando inquiry has been to look at all new information that has come forward after the trial and to action and research that as best we can.
'But it wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment on specific lines of inquiry.'
READ MORE - Serbian hitman 'boasted of killing Jill Dando in revenge for Nato bombs'

'High cost' of victory over Tigers

The Tamil Tigers' air attack on Colombo is unlikely to herald a return to fortune for them [Reuters]
It will be tempting to assume that the audacious air raid on Colombo by the Tamil Tigers signals the start of a dramatic revival of Sri Lanka's deadly separatist group after a string of losses.

But the bombing, in the centre of Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city, which killed two people and wounded another 50, will not derail the military's relentless and ruthless push into rebel territory.

With just 100sq km of mostly rugged terrain still under its control, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can expect only bleaker times as weeks and months roll by.
How all this happened is a remarkable story.


Seven years ago, the LTTE was on top, having scored spectacular military victories that forced Colombo to seek out a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with the Tigers.

That was in February 2002, when Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE founder and leader, was the undeclared king of Sri Lanka's north and east.
Many Tamils argue today that Prabhakaran, now 55, should have used the favourable times to graduate from a military leader to a politician, for the sake of the Tamil community.
The safari suit that Prabhakaran traded for his military fatigues in order to address journalists in the northern town of Kilinochchi in April 2002 - his last press conference - gave an impression that he was ready to make a change.
But that did not happen - and with disastrous consequences.
Intransigence
As Colombo and the LTTE met around the world for six rounds of seemingly promising peace talks, Prabhakaran remained adamant that he would settle for nothing less than an independent state for the Tamils.
This amounted to political hara-kiri.
Ever since he stepped into the world of militancy as a young man in the 1970s, opportunity and luck helped Prabhakaran gain stature.
But by 2004, the good fortune appeared to be deserting him.

In March that year, Karuna, one of his closest lieutenants who commanded the entire eastern region of Sri Lanka for the LTTE, broke away with thousands of fighters to create a deep chasm in the otherwise regimented outfit.

Thousands of soldiers have been killed in the campaign Rajapaksa launched in 2006 [AFP]
Two months later, neighbouring India elected the Congress party, bringing to power the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, who Prabhakaran had widowed in 1991 when he ordered the suicide bombing of Rajiv Gandhi, her husband and former Indian prime minister.

No one realised then how the change in government in New Delhi would one day prove detrimental to the LTTE.
Prabhakaran refused to compromise, continued his use of assassinations to further his cause and moved to turn the LTTE territory in parts of the island's northeast into a de-facto state.
Lost efficacy
This undid the peace process, isolated its broker Norway (which many Sinhalese said was biased towards the LTTE), weakened the government that had signed a peace deal with him and eventually turned many countries against the rebel leader.

In the process, the LTTE's arguments about Colombo's political insincerity, some of them valid, lost efficacy.
The cold-blooded killing of Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka's foreign minister, in August 2005 by a LTTE sniper, was a turning point.
Prabhakaran also told Tamils to boycott the presidential election in November 2005, thus ensuring the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has become the LTTE's nemesis.
Prabhakaran's reasoning was that a Sinhalese hardliner would help widen the ethnic divide and further the separatist drive.

Even Tamils sympathetic to the LTTE admit that the boycott decision was his biggest political blunder after the Gandhi assassination.

 Aid agencies say 230,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Tamils, are trapped in Mullaitivu [AFP]
Within a month of Rajapaksa's victory, Prabhakaran began provoking the military, which by then had teamed up with the breakaway LTTE leader Karuna.

In April 2006, a female LTTE suicide bomber almost blew up Sri Lanka's army chief, Sarath Fonseka, leaving him badly wounded.
He returned to his post with a vengeance.

Within months, the LTTE tried to assassinate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother and the spearhead of Colombo's war against the Tigers. He also survived.
The end result was a hardened Sri Lanka, which decided to formally ditch the Norway-brokered peace process and go for the kill.
Provocations
LTTE's provocations sparked off a full-scale war in 2006 that the Tigers initially thought they would be able to win.

But luck was no longer with the man who had chased the dream of an independent Tamil state from his teenage years.

With crucial support from Karuna, the military won control of the entire eastern province in 2007 – after more than a decade.

The military went on the offensive in the north in 2008, spectacularly capturing territory after territory the Tigers had lorded over for 10 years and shattered the myth of LTTE's invincibility.
By the end of the year, Prabhakaran was on the run.
But the LTTE is not finished. It is down, but not out. Not yet.

Friday's bombing of Colombo by the LTTE air wing – it is the world's only insurgent group with planes - only proves that the Tigers will never give up.

Prabhakaran still has hundreds of guerrilla fighters, although cornered in a mainly forested region of the northern Mullaitivu district. While many are perhaps as fanatical as their chief, there are a significant number of child recruits.
No resurgence
It is apparent that the LTTE will never be able to bounce back to its golden days when it lorded over a large swath of land, commanding a state within a state.

The military has made too many gains and seized massive quantities of arsenal, dealing crippling blows the LTTE will find it near impossible to recover from.

The global crackdown on the Tigers has also aided Colombo. It is now classified as a "terror group" in about 30 countries.

Even Norway has told the Tigers to sue for peace.
India, a key player in Sri Lanka, has gone to the extent of saying that LTTE has damaged the Tamil community and it should give up its weapons.
The LTTE does not have much of a choice.
Street protests by a section of political parties in India's Tamil Nadu state have not influenced New Delhi to lean on Colombo in support of a ceasefire, that most analysts feel would give breathing time to the gasping Tigers.

Sri Lanka is in no mood for any further talks with the LTTE and nor is it ready to halt its military onslaught.
So the LTTE will fight on with all its might.
In the process, the worst sufferers will be the mass of Tamil civilians still caught up in the war zone.

M.R. Narayan Swamy is Deputy Editor at IANS news agency based in New Delhi. He is the author of two books on the Tamil separatist fighting and writes regularly on Sri Lanka.
READ MORE - 'High cost' of victory over Tigers

UK agents 'colluded with torture in Pakistan'

• Intelligence sources 'confirm abuse'
• Extent of Mohamed injuries revealed

By Mark Townsend
A photograph of Rangzieb Ahmed's hands taken in September 2007, one year after he said his fingernails were removed. Photograph: Greater Manchester police
A photograph of Rangzieb Ahmed's hands taken in September 2007, one year after he said his fingernails were removed. Photograph: Greater Manchester police
A shocking new report alleges widespread complicity between British security agents and their Pakistani counterparts who have routinely engaged in the torture of suspects.
In the study, which will be published next month by the civil liberties group Human Rights Watch, at least 10 Britons are identified who have been allegedly tortured in Pakistan and subsequently questioned by UK intelligence officials. It warns that more British cases may surface and that the issue of Pakistani terrorism suspects interrogated by British agents is likely to "run much deeper".
The report will further embarrass the foreign secretary, David Miliband, who has repeatedly said the UK does not condone torture. He has been under fire for refusing to disclose US documents relating to the treatment of Guant√°namo detainee and former British resident Binyam Mohamed. The documents are believed to contain evidence about the torture of Mohamed and British complicity in his maltreatment. Mohamed will return to Britain this week. Doctors who examined him in Guant√°namo found evidence of prolonged physical and mental mistreatment.
Ali Dayan Hasan, who led the Pakistan-based inquiry, said sources within the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the Intelligence Bureau and the military security services had provided "confirmation and information" relating to British collusion in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.
Hasan said the Human Rights Watch (HRW) evidence collated from Pakistan intelligence officials indicated a "systemic" modus operandi among British security services, involving a significant number of UK agents from MI5 rather than maverick elements. Different agents were deployed to interview different suspects, many of whom alleged that prior to interrogation by British officials they were tortured by Pakistani agents.
Among the 10 identified cases of British citizens and residents mentioned in the report is Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, from Rochdale, who claims he was tortured by Pakistani intelligence agents before being questioned by two MI5 officers. Ahmed was convicted of being a member of al-Qaida at Manchester crown court, yet the jury was not told that three of the fingernails of his left hand had been removed. The response from MI5 to the allegations that it had colluded in Ahmed's torture were heard in camera, however, after the press and the public were excluded from the proceedings. Ahmed's description of the cell in which he claims he was tortured closely matches that where Salahuddin Amin, 33, from Luton, says he was tortured by ISI officers between interviews with MI5 officers.
Zeeshan Siddiqui, 25, from London, who was detained in Pakistan in 2005, also claims he was interviewed by British intelligence agents during a period in which he was tortured.
Other cases include that of a London medical student who was detained in Karachi and tortured after the July 2005 attacks in London. Another case involving Britons allegedly tortured in Pakistan and questioned by UK agents involves a British Hizb ut-Tahrir supporter.
Rashid Rauf, from Birmingham, was detained in Pakistan and questioned over suspected terrorist activity in 2006. He was reportedly killed after a US drone attack in Pakistan's tribal regions, though his body has never been found.
Hasan said: "What the research suggests is that these are not incidents involving one particular rogue officer or two, but rather an array of individuals involved over a period of several years.
"The issue is not just British complicity in the torture of British citizens, it is the issue of British complicity in the torture period. We know of at least 10 cases, but the complicity probably runs much deeper because it involves a series of terrorism suspects who are Pakistani. This is the heart of the matter.
"They are not the same individuals [MI5 officers] all the time. I know that the people who have gone to see Siddiqui in Peshawar are not the same people who have seen Ahmed in Rawalpindi."
Last night the government faced calls to clarify precisely its relationship with Pakistan's intelligence agencies, which are known to routinely use torture.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that an investigation by the British security services had revealed "there is nothing to suggest they have engaged in torture in Pakistan". He added: "Our policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment, for any purpose."
But former shadow home secretary David Davis said the claims from Pakistan served to "reinforce" allegations that UK authorities, at the very least, ignored Pakistani torture techniques.
"The British agencies can no longer pretend that 'Hear no evil, see no evil' is applicable in the modern world," he added.
Last week HRW submitted evidence to parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee is to question Miliband and Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, over a legal loophole which appears to offer British intelligence officers immunity in the UK for any crimes committed overseas.
It has also emerged that New York-based HRW detailed its concerns in a letter to the UK government last October but has yet to receive a response.
The letter arrived at the same time that the Attorney General was tasked with deciding if Scotland Yard should begin a criminal investigation into British security agents' treatment of Binyam Mohamed. Crown prosecutors are currently weighing up the evidence.
Hasan said that evidence indicated a considerable number of UK officers were involved in interviewing terrorism suspects after they were allegedly tortured. He told the Observer: "We don't know who the individuals [British intelligence officers] were, but when you have different personnel coming in and behaving in a similar fashion it implies some level of systemic approach to the situation, rather than one eager beaver deciding it is absolutely fine for someone to be beaten or hung upside down."
He accused British intelligence officers of turning a blind eye as UK citizens endured torture at the hands of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
"They [the British] have met the suspect ... and have conspicuously failed to notice that someone is in a state of high physical distress, showing signs of injury. If you are a secret service agent and fail to notice that their fingernails are missing, you ought to be fired."
Britain's former chief legal adviser, Lord Goldsmith, said that the Foreign Office would want to examine any British involvement in torture allegations very carefully and, if necessary, bring individuals "to book" to ensure such behaviour was "eradicated".
READ MORE - UK agents 'colluded with torture in Pakistan'

Most Wars occur in Earth's richest biological regions, reveals study

Washington, Feb 21 : A new study has found that more than 80 percent of the world's major armed conflicts from 1950-2000 occurred in regions identified as the most biologically diverse and threatened places on Earth.

Titled "Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots," the study by leading international conservation scientists compared major conflict zones with the Earth's 34 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International (CI).

The hotspots are considered top conservation priorities because they contain the entire populations of more than half of all plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates, and are highly threatened.

"This astounding conclusion - that the richest storehouses of life on Earth are also the regions of the most human conflict - tells us that these areas are essential for both biodiversity conservation and human well-being," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and an author of the study.

"Millions of the world's poorest people live in hotspots and depend on healthy ecosystems for their survival, so there is a moral obligation - as well as political and social responsibility - to protect these places and all the resources and services they provide," he added.

The study found that more than 90 percent of major armed conflicts - defined as those resulting in more than 1,000 deaths - occurred in countries that contain one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots, while 81 percent took place within specific hotspots.

A total of 23 hotspots experienced warfare over the half-century studied.

Examples of the nature-conflict connection include the Vietnam War, when poisonous Agent Orange destroyed forest cover and coastal mangroves, and timber harvesting that funded war chests in Liberia, Cambodia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In those and countless other cases, the collateral damage of war harmed both the biological wealth of the region and the ability of people to live off of it.

In addition, war refugees must hunt, gather firewood or build encampments to survive, increasing the pressure on local resources.

More weapons means increased hunting for bush meat and widespread poaching that can decimate wildlife populations.

"The consequences extend far beyond the actual fighting," said lead author Thor Hanson of the University of Idaho.

"War preparations and lingering post-conflict activities also have important implications for biodiversity hotspots and the people who live there," he added.

"The fact that so many conflicts have occurred in areas of high biodiversity loss and natural resource degradation warrants much further investigation as to the underlying causes, and strongly highlights the importance of these areas for global security," Mittermeier said.
READ MORE - Most Wars occur in Earth's richest biological regions, reveals study

Some bombs used by Taliban in Afghanistan made with British electronics: Report

London, Feb 21 : Some roadside bombs used by the Taliban in Afghanistan include electronic parts that originally came from Britain and were supplied by British Muslims, the Daily Telegraph reported Saturday.

According to the newspaper, which did not cite its source, the devices, which were used to activate bombs via remote control, were either sent to sympathisers in neighbouring countries or carried in by volunteers who flew to Pakistan and crossed the border into Afghanistan.

It reported that an explosives officer told Foreign Secretary David Miliband of the findings while the minister was in Afghanistan on a two-day visit this past week.

"We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain," the unnamed officer told Miliband during a briefing.

Miliband subsequently asked how the parts would have reached Afghanistan, the officer replied that they had either been sent there or had been physically carried into the country by Britons.

"The insurgents in Afghanistan have changed their tactics meaning they now use more and more improvised explosive devices than before," a Ministry of Defence spokesman in London said.

"IEDs pose a significant threat to the safety of our forces and we are looking at ways we can improve protection from them."

There are around 8,300 British soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), many of whom are based in Helmand, where the Taliban is waging a bloody insurgency against Western and Afghan security forces.

Last month, Defence Secretary John Hutton signalled he was considering boosting the number of British troops and equipment there, saying his top priority was protecing the country's soldiers against IEDs used by the Taliban.
READ MORE - Some bombs used by Taliban in Afghanistan made with British electronics: Report

Kyrgyz issues eviction notice to US

Kyrgyzstan ordered U.S. forces on Friday to depart within six months from an air base key to military operations in Afghanistan, a move omplicating plans to send more troops to battle rising Taliban and al-Qaida violence.
A top U.S. military official said, however, that neighboring Uzbekistan had granted permission for the transit of non-lethal cargo to Afghanistan - a small victory in the hunt for new supply routes.
The U.S. has had fraught relationship with Uzbekistan, one of the most politically repressive of the former Soviet states. Most of President Islam Karimov’s opponents have been sent to jail or into exile. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said that Uzbek prison authorities routinely abuse and torture prisoners.
Anger over Western criticism of a crackdown on an uprising in eastern Uzbekistan prompted the government to evict U.S. troops from an air base near the Afghan border in 2005, leaving the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan as the only U.S. base in Central Asia.
In rcent months, militants have stepped up attacks on convoys traveling through the primary route - Pakistan - pushing U.S. officials to secure alternative, northern routes for Afghan cargo through Central Asia.
The Kyrgyz move to close Manas - a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each monthheading to Afghanistan - caught the United States by surprise and made the search more urgent .
U.S. officials have said they consider the future of Manas still open for negotiations, indicating there could be talks about the amount paid for maintaining the base.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sad Thursday that the United States would consider paying more in rent but would not “be ridiculous about it.”
Kyrgyzstan’s president complained when announcing the closure this month that the United States was not paying enough rent for the base. The announcement came shortly after Russia said it would gie $2.15 billion in aid and loans to the impoverished Central Asian nation. U.S. officials suspect that Russia, long wary of U.S. presence in ex-Soviet Central Asia, is behind the decision to shut the Americans out.
“This was not an unexpected move, however we have not received formal notification of the ecision from the Kyrgyz foreign ministry,” Michelle Yerkin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, said Friday. “The 180-day clock begins upon formal diplomatic notification.”
As part of efforts to secure new routes, Washington received Moscow’s permission for non-lethal cargo to be shipped across Russia. Central Asia’s largest country, Kazakhstan, has also agreed.
However, there’s been uncertainty about how the cargo would get across former Soviet Central Asia, particularly given uneasy relations between Washington and the country straddling the easiest route into Afghanistan - Uzbekistan. The commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, traveled to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, earlier this week to meet with Karimov.
No details of his visit were released.
But on Friday, U.S. Rear Admiral Mark Harnitchek - a military transportation officer - said that Uzbekistan had reached a deal for cargo to be shipped across its territory.
“We have a tentative agreement with Uzbekistan on transit,” he said during a visit to another Central Asian nation that borders Afghanistan, Tajikistan. His comments were shown on Tajik state television.
Some of the goods will be transported from Uzbekistan onward through Tajikistan, which also shares a direct border with Afghanistan, Harnitchek said.
“We plan to move between 50 and 200 containers to Afghanistan through Tajikistan every week,” he said.
It was unclear why the cargo would not be shipped directly from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan. U.S. Embassy officials in Uzbekistan declined to comment, as did the Uzbek Foreign Ministry. U.S. Central Command officials could not be immediately located for comment.
President Barack Obama announced earlier this week that he would send 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to augment the 33,000 already there.
READ MORE - Kyrgyz issues eviction notice to US

New image of North Korean missile site shows activity

WASHINGTON–A U.S. firm that operates high-resolution imaging satellites released a photo Thursday that shows increased activity at the Musudan-ri missile launch site in northeastern North Korea.

It has been reported that North Korea has moved equipment to the Musudan-ri site and appears to be preparing to test-fire a missile.

The image, taken Tuesday by DigitalGlobe Inc., shows many people in front of a missile assembly and inspection building.

GlobalSecurity.org, a U.S. military think tank, said the photo shows an unusual level of activity.
The Musudan-ri launch site is the facility from which North Korea launched a Taepodong-2 missile in 2006. The site also contains a missile control building and a launchpad.
The image shows the size of the missile assembly and inspection building was extended by about 30 meters when compared with pictures of the facility taken in June. The enlargement of the building corresponds to a possible larger missile, GlobalSecurity Senior Fellow Tim Brown said.
READ MORE - New image of North Korean missile site shows activity

Colombo air strikes were suicide attacks: LTTE

COLOMBO, Feb 21 : The LTTE on Saturday said the air strikes carried out by it over capital Colombo killing two people and injuring 54 others were suicide
LTTE chief Prabhakaran
Recent picture of LTTE chief Prabhakaran with the suspected bombers of the air attacks in Colombo. (Pic courtsey Times Now
attacks by its elite 'Black Air Tiger' squad.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said two men from the "Black Air Tiger" suicide squad piloted the two light aircraft that carried out the attack on Friday night.

"The aircrafts dived into Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Headquarters in Colombo and into the SLAF base at Katunayaka at around 0915pm(local time) last night carrying out successful air raids," a pro-LTTE website reported.

However, the government had last night said it shot down one aircraft and the second one was disabled by the anti-air gunfire. It also said the pilot of one aircraft was killed.

The pro-LTTE website also published a photograph of the two suicide pilots together with Tamil Tigers supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran said to have been taken shortly before they set off on the suicide mission.

The military has recovered the wreckage of the aircraft and a body of the LTTE pilot from Katunayake area. The military, quoting initial investigation, said in a statement that that the pilot, whose body was found intact, had a large quantity of explosives and bombs inside the aircraft.

READ MORE - Colombo air strikes were suicide attacks: LTTE

Obama widening missile strikes inside Pak: Report

NEW YORK, Feb 21 : The Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inside Pakistan by attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Two missile strikes over the last week, on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud, represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft, the influential US daily said in a report from Washington.

Under President George Bush, the US frequently attacked militants from al-Qaida and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.

The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, the Bush administration policy of using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign, the Times said.

Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and wife of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

Bush included Mehsud's name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the CIA and American commandos were authorised to capture or kill. The Times said it was unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mehsud's network.

The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mehsud, but he was not killed, the Times said citing Pakistani and American officials.

The Monday strike, officials cited by the Times said, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant.

By striking at the Mehsud network, the US may be seeking to demonstrate to Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader. But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk, the daily said.

The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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