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6th Feb: Status of Seized Vessels and Crews in Somalia

India holds alleged Somali pirates after firefight

By Phil Hazlewood (AFP)

The Indian navy and coastguard captured 28 suspected Somali pirates after a firefight with a "mothership" on Sunday off southwestern India, the defence ministry said.

"A total of 52 men have been apprehended of which 28 are suspected to be Somali pirates," defence ministry spokesman Captain M. Nambiar said, adding the incident happened within Indian waters.

At least some of the other 24 men on board are believed to be hostages rescued as a result of the firefight, more than 1,500 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia.

All were found on board a Thai fishing vessel that had been hijacked up to six months ago off the coast of Somalia and is thought to have since been used as a floating base to mount attacks on shipping, a ministry statement added.

Mumbai police said they were expecting to interview all those detained when they arrive in the city.

Indian navy and coastguard were sent to hunt the pirates after the crew of a Greek-flagged vessel said they had been attacked some 100 nautical miles west of Kavaratti in India's Lakshadweep Islands, off southwestern Kerala state.

Two high-speed skiffs were located in the early hours of Sunday and chased back to the mothership. Coastguard and navy were fired on twice, the statement said.

"The resultant firefight was brief but decisive with the pirates quickly losing any stomach they might have had for a protracted confrontation and hoisting the white flag of surrender," it added.

"A mix of pirates and crew members being held hostage aboard the trawler were collectively recovered."

The incident occurred near international shipping lanes that pass close to the Lakshadweep Islands, the statement said without giving further details.

Fifteen suspected pirates -- 12 Somalis, two Ethiopians and a Kenyan -- face trial in India after they were caught in the same area on January 28.

They were also said to have used another hijacked Thai fishing vessel as a mothership.

Piracy has made shipping increasingly perilous off the Horn of Africa and led to the deployment of an international force to protect the key maritime corridor.

Sunday's operation comes after concerns voiced last month by US Vice-Admiral Mark Fox, who said that commercial shipping was under threat off India's coast.

He called for counter-terrorism tactics to combat pirates as they had extended their operations well beyond the coast of lawless Somalia and the reach of international naval patrols.

Indian forces capture another pirate ship, 52 arrested (timesofindia.indiatimes.com)

Anti-piracy operation off Lakshadweep

In a second major anti-piracy operation off Lakshadweep in 10 days, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard on Sunday apprehended 52 men including 28 suspected Somali pirates on board a ship after a brief gun-battle near the islands.

The forces foiled a pirate plan to attack a Greek-flagged merchant ship and apprehended Prantalay-11, the sister vessel of fishing trawler Prantalay-14 that was also being used as the mother ship by the sea brigands and was sunk by the Navy in the Arabian Sea earlier.

"Naval ship INS Tir and Coast Guard ship ICGS Samar intercepted the pirates' mother ship Prantalay-11 within Indian waters after a gun-battle and forced the brigands to surrender. A total of 52 men have been apprehended of which 28 are suspected to be Somali pirates," Navy spokesperson Captain M Nambiar said.

Officials said the operation had started last evening when the Navy learnt that MV Chios was being attacked by two pirate skiffs some 100 kms off the Kavaratti island.

After receiving the input, Navy's western command here directed the INS Tir and the ICGS Samar, who are already deployed in the region for anti-piracy operations, to rush to the site and apprehend the pirates and their mother ship, they said.

"After locating the skiffs, the two ships asked the pirates to surrender but they fired back at us and fled to their mother ship. After the two ships tracked the mother vessel, they were fired upon again by the pirates," they said.

"The Tir and the Samar returned fire briefly after which the pirates raised white flags to surrender," they said.

The pirates and the crew of the Prantalay 11 have now been brought to Mumbai for interrogation by police and intelligence agencies.

The agencies will also probe if the apprehended pirates have any links with Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The pirate ship apprehended today is part of the Prantalay family of ships which are distinguished from one another by their suffix numbers. Several of these trawlers are known to have been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, between four and six months ago.

After the recent spurt in piracy incidents, Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have maintained increased presence in the central Arabian Sea to nab Somali pirates who have started moving towards the country.

India has been deploying its frigates and destroyers in the Gulf of Aden as part of anti-piracy efforts since November 2008.

NAVY WARSHIP ESCORT REFUSED FOR YACHT COUPLE

Rene and Edith Tiemessen had sailed with British kidnap victims Paul and Rachel Chandler (Express.co.uk)

(British) ROYAL Navy commanders have ¬condemned a couple who demanded a warship escort across the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean.

Rene and Edith Tiemessen, who had sailed with British kidnap victims Paul and Rachel Chandler before the pair were snatched by Somali pirates, claim they have the right to protection as they make their way home from Thailand in their 60ft yacht, Alondra.

The Dutch couple, who are sailing with their two-year-old daughter Devi, want to cross the notorious waters despite repeated warnings for yachtsmen to avoid the area entirely.

Britain currently commands Operation Atalanta, the EU anti-piracy taskforce, which has 27 vessels from Spain, Germany, Italy and France patrolling an area larger than Europe. Royal Navy commanders turned down the request because they cannot spare a vessel.

Last night a Ministry of Defence source said: “We received communication from this couple, demanding protection from a naval warship, which they want to ¬escort them through a stretch that could take two or three weeks to ¬navigate.

Rene and Edith Tiemessen had sailed with British kidnap victims Paul and Rachel Chandler

“This is a totally unrealistic request. The naval vessels of Operation Atalanta have to prioritise their duties, and protecting merchant vessels leave them with little scope for protecting unnecessary sailing.” Speaking via satellite phone last night, Rene, 48, said: “We have been begging for help for months, because we knew we would have to make this journey.

“But now they have told us there is nothing they can do. It’s like asking for help from the police, and being told you are not eligible.” Rene and Edith, 41, sailed with the Chandlers, from Kent, two years ago. The British couple were released last year after 388 days in ¬captivity following the reported ¬payment of a £625,000 ransom.

Killing Pirates: Dilemma of Counter – Piracy By S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)

The recent storming of a hijacked ship off Somalia by South Korean navy commandos, resulting in the killing of eight pirates, has met with considerable acclaim. The success, however, has not resolved the debate over international counter-measures against piracy.

SOUTH KOREAN NAVY commandos successfully stormed and secured the release of the chemical tanker, Samho Jewelry, early on Friday 21 January 2011 after it was hijacked several days earlier by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. Eight pirates were killed in the action, five were captured, and the master of the ship was shot in the stomach. In another equally dramatic raid, shortly before this incident, the Malaysian Navy successfully freed a hijacked Malaysian-flagged chemical tanker Bunga Laurel soon after it was seized by Somali pirates. There was no loss of life although three pirates were wounded.

Same Goal, Different Approaches

These two actions had marked differences. The raid to release the Bunga Laurel was launched within hours of the initial hijacking and only after the military was assured the crew was locked in a safe “citadel” and would not suffer harm. The action was similar to earlier successful operations to secure the release of hijacked ships. For example, in April 2010, Dutch marines released the German-owned container ship Taipan from pirate control. In a similar engagement in September 2010, US marines released another German ship, the Magellan Star. Both actions occurred without casualties. In another incident, the mere arrival of a warship drove pirates off a hijacked ship after the crew had immobilised the vessel before hiding away. The risks of casualties are much higher if an assault is delayed for several days. The pirates will be better prepared to defend the ship and may be holding the crew hostage after finding their hiding place or “citadel”. This appears to have been the case with the Samho Jewelry with reports that crew members were told to lie on the deck before the commando assault commenced. The release of the Samho Jewelry provided a morale boost for the South Korean military after last year’s sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the North Korean shelling of a border island. The South Korean foreign minister announced the successful operation at a diplomatic reception in Seoul, receiving cheers from those present. The action has been enthusiastically reported by the international media.

Risks of Escalation

Despite acclaim for the Korean action, it could have undesirable consequences. It opens up questions whether violent assaults should be made on hijacked ships in circumstances when there are high risks of loss of life to the assaulting forces, the ship’s crew and the pirates themselves. Such actions could lead to an escalation of violence off Somalia. Already there are reports of the Somali pirates threatening revenge against South Korean ships and crews. The international shipping community remains generally opposed to employing armed security guards onboard vessels passing through high risk piracy areas. Reasons for this include fears about the risks of escalating violence and of injury to the crew and damage to the ship, as well as the uncertain legal implications. Similar considerations apply to military assaults on the pirates holding hijacked ships. Following the Samho Jewelry incident, the European Union Naval Force operating off Somalia said it would not follow suit in storming ships to secure their release for fear of endangering hostages. It is a moot point now whether Somali pirates should be attacked and killed just because they have hijacked a ship. Ideally, Somali pirates caught in the act should be subject to proper trial despite the difficulties of bringing them to justice. The rule of law should prevail.

Collateral Damage

The storming of the Samho Jewelry was successful but it could easily have gone wrong with the death and injury of innocent crew members. Seafarers are potentially the innocent victims of piracy if violence is allowed to escalate in the fight against Somali piracy. From a seafarer’s perspective, it would be better to be held hostage onboard a ship anchored off Somalia for several months than dead! There have been other incidents when crew have been killed as a result of the military assaulting a hijacked ship. In November 2008, the Indian Navy sank a Thai fishing vessel believed to be acting as a pirate vessel with the death of the pirates and all but one of the vessel’s crew. In April 2009, a French military operation to free the yacht Tanit resulted in the death of the yacht’s skipper and two pirates.

Policy Implications

Dealing with piracy off Somalia is a vexed issue with widely diverging views on how best to deal with the pirates. However, it is important that the international community reaches some common ground on the preferred response to a hijacking incident. Both the UN and the International Maritime Organisation have been working towards that end but with mixed results so far. The escalation of violence should be avoided as far as possible. There are now warships from many countries conducting counter-piracy operations off Somalia. Some are coordinated as part of the European Union’s efforts or through one of the international task forces organised by the US Navy. Others operate independently. All have their own national rules of engagement (ROE) prescribing how and when force might be used. These differing ROE allow a variety of responses and this can lead to problems. The Koreans might argue that the release of the Samho Jewelry was their own business. The ship was Korean-owned, on the high seas, and Korean nationals were onboard. However, “spill-over” consequences of the action should not be ignored, particularly with regard to the possibility of escalating violence and of collateral damage to ships and their crews. International agreement on preferred actions to secure the release of ships hijacked off Somalia is essential. Sam Bateman is Senior Fellow in the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is a former Australian naval commodore with research interests in piracy and maritime terrorism.

Hostage on Dubai ship seized by pirates died By Carol Huang and Ramola Talwar Badam

Fathers of six Indian crewmen whose UAE-owned ship was hijacked last March say they will start a hunger strike outside the home of India's prime minister after months of appeals for government help failed.

The six men plan to fly from as far as Kerala and Mumbai to New Delhi to plead for help in the release of the MV Iceberg I (*).

The small ship, owned by the Dubai-based Azal Shipping, is one of the longest-held vessels off the coast of Somalia. One of its 24 crewman died in captivity of malnutrition last October.

Speaking by phone from Mumbai, Mansing Mittal Mohite, whose 24-year-old son Ganesh is trapped on the vessel, said: "Until someone listens to us, we will not move from the prime minister's house. I would have never dreamt something like this would happen."

Azal Shipping seems to have stopped negotiating, said Mr Mohite. Nor, he added, has it sent the salaries to the crewmen's families as is customary in the industry.

"We want our children more than the money, but we have got nothing from the company," he said. "Someone must take responsibility."

Azal Shipping declined repeated requests to comment.

The families have repeatedly petitioned top Indian authorities for help. They said they have pressured Azal Shipping to resume negotiations, but had not received replies.

They sought an audience with the prime minister Manmohan Singh and sent letters to him and the Indian President Pratibha Patil as well as other officials.

"We haven't got any response from the Indian government. Nobody is helping us. We are almost hopeless," said Sunita Tiwari, whose brother Dheeraj, 25, is on the MV Iceberg I.Her family of five used to rely on her brother's income but now depend on his father's less-substantial pension, she said, speaking by phone from Pune. Her father has retired from the army, her mother stays at home, and she and her sister are students.

"Many of the crew members belong to poor families," she said.

Ms Tiwari only learnt of the hijacking after calling Azal Shipping because her brother had not phoned for a few weeks, as he usually did, she said.

She then notified the rest of the Indian families.

Mr Mohite said he last heard from Ganesh, the eldest of his three sons, last October. Ganesh asked his father to work urgently for their release as they were running low on food and water.

The other crew members on the MV Iceberg I come from Yemen, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Somali pirates have in the past year spread well beyond the Gulf of Aden, which is now patrolled by several warships. Instead of using small boats, they now use "mother ships" - presumed to be hijacked vessels - to reach the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

So far this year they have seized seven ships and 148 hostages, for a total of 33 ships and 758 hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre.

Nine of those ships belonged to UAE shipping firms or were seized en route to or from the Emirates. A tenth, the Korean tanker MV Samho Jewellery, was captured last month and then freed by a South Korean warship.

The expanding piracy threat has the shipping industry increasingly worried. Several executives gathered yesterday for a two-day international conference in Dubai to discuss options to combat piracy.

(*) MV Iceberg 1 is a Panama Flagged, Roll on Roll Off vessel with deadweight of 4500 tonnes. The vessel, with a crew of 24 and carrying a mixed cargo of general mechanical equipment, was bound for Jebel Ali in the UAE when hijacked.

UAE hosts global summit on piracy threat By Carol Huang (TheNational)

The Foreign Ministry [of the UAE] and DP World are organising an international conference to explore ways to safeguard shipping against the growing threat of Somali piracy.

The event, set for April 17 to 19, will bring together foreign dignitaries and industry experts to discuss a "regional response towards a joint approach against maritime piracy", said the state news agency WAM.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, extended the first public invitations this week to his Syrian and Lebanese counterparts.

"Piracy is a growing problem that is having a direct impact on shipping lines and an indirect impact on the supply chain as a whole," said DP World, the third largest ports operator in the world, based in Dubai.

The conference comes as the economic and humanitarian cost of piracy has reached record highs. This year, pirates have seized seven vessels and 148 crew members, for a total of 33 vessels and 758 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The number of captive ships and seafarers is at its highest yet, said Nato representative Cdr Stein Olav Hagalid, speaking on the sidelines of a piracy conference earlier this week. Average ransoms now top US$5 million (Dh18.3m) and average captivities last 210 days, he said.

The pirates have spread their reach from the Gulf of Aden into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, a much vaster area for naval forces to patrol. The UAE faces particular risk as a global shipping hub near those waters.

Nine of the vessels held captive belong to UAE firms or had been travelling to or from Emirati ports. Some of the longest-held seafarers, captured since last March, worked on the UAE-owned MV Iceberg I. One of its crewmen, from Yemen, died last October of malnutrition.

Firms based in the UAE, as elsewhere, must pay more to protect or insure their vessels and cargo.

The UAE "has been affected by this phenomenon, especially in the areas of exports and imports and the increase of maritime insurance," said Ahmed al Jarman, the UAE representative to the UN, at a meeting on the issue last November.

Representatives of the naval forces that conduct counterpiracy operations in the region have encouraged nearby nations to do more, even if they have relatively little naval power. "The region itself should take some kind of lead for actions in relation to capacity-building," said Cdr Hagalid.

Several countries worldwide have contributed warships, aircraft, personnel or other assistance to patrol the threatened waters. Most work under one of three joint naval forces led by the EU, Nato and the US. Others, including China, India and Russia, have sent warships that operate independently.

The UAE does not participate directly in any counterpiracy operations. In the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), it contributes to a task force that patrols the Arabian Gulf, but not a task force that tackles piracy in the waters nearby.

Since 2009, the UAE and its neighbours have considered forming a pan-Arab antipiracy task force, but have not yet done so.

Gulf nations can help in nonmilitary ways, such as altering laws to allow them to prosecute pirates, said US Coast Guard Capt Michael Lodge, the officer-in-charge of the Bahrain-based Maritime Liaison Office, which advises the CMF and shipping firms on piracy.

Many countries, including the UAE, say bringing pirates to justice is an important step, but they do not have the political will or legal basis to do so. Some national laws lack jurisdiction over suspected pirates or require that they be brought to court within a day - a difficult deadline for faraway nations.

Geographically, the Gulf nations were better placed to take on this role, said Captain Lodge.

"If they have a requirement to bring these prisoners before a magistrate in 24 hours, for instance, we could do that here in the UAE," he said. "It would be much more difficult to bring them to France."

Members of the shipping industry have urged Gulf countries in particular to do more since they depend on high volumes of imports and exports.

They had a keen interest in securing the oil trade, said one manager who declined to be named. "They have a lot of financial resources."

N.B.: The UAE could do a decisive first step to show that they are serious to curb piracy by no longer permitting the smuggling of illegal charcoal from Somalia into their country. Any charcoal export is strictly forbidden, because the felling of trees for the charcoal production is the major cause of the country's continuous disastrous desertification. UAE flagged vessels and others, who ply the routes between Somalia and the UAE continue to smuggle the contraband unabated mainly into the UAE and even are part of the hidden networks of the Somali pirates as well as terrorist groups with links to fundamentalist Al-Shabaab e.g. in Kismaayo or Baraawa - ports which the vessels from the UAE regularly visit. In addition the UAE host the offices of numerous clandestine shipping companies, and critics say: As long as there is money to be made - everything goes in the UAE.

While India and countries like Sri Lanka have banned their vessels from approaching these Somali coasts and there actually is an official ban also imposed by the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, ships of all sorts especially from the UAE are and continue to be the blockade breakers.

Without decicive steps undertaken by the United Arab Emirates to ban the illegal charcoal imports from Somalia and to stop UAE vessels from dealing with insurgent groups in the South of Somalia, the UAE will not be cleared from accusations, which say that certain UAE circles play a doublegame. Without clearing the name, the UAE must then also not hold a counter-piracy summit.

Somalia, Al-Shabaab And Preserving The Human Spirit By Patrick Ross

Canadians were captivated by the plight of Amanda Lindhout in 2008 and 2009. She was an Albertan freelance journalist taken captive in Somalia. Speaking in Edmonton this week, Lindhout recounted her experiences in Somalia, and spoke about the plight of women there. However, she did not omit any silver lining to the misogynistic cloud hanging over Somalia; hope remains.

Al-Shabaab translates as “The Youth”. This militia group has been credited as having taken control of vast portions of Somalia, and has begun imposing a Taliban-esque interpretation of Sharia law wherever they can.

Al-Shabaab would later claim that Lindhout had given birth to a child while in captivity, allegedly fathered by one of their members. They claimed to have named the baby “Osama”. (Apparently, nothing in Al-Shabaab’s favoured version of the Koran forbids rape.) So one thing quickly becomes crystal-clear about Al-Shabaab. They’re a very classy bunch.

(Note that they made the claim after Lindhout had been released. There is no evidence to suggest that Lindhout ever gave birth to such a child, and she has never herself reported that she had been raped during captivity.)

Lindhout certainly has great insight to the plight of women in Somalia, a land where no law would protect the rights of women, even if any such law existed in any significant form. She nonetheless perceived many hopeful glimmers during her experience as a kidnapping victim; in the rare kindnesses offered to her by her captors (such kindness became more and more sparse following an escape attempt), from the efforts that a Muslim woman went to try to save her from her captors, and even in the youthful enthusiasm of Somali children.

“I’ve always been inspired by the dignity of the people there, and before I had ever even set foot in Somalia, I already felt great admiration for the Somali people, for enduring what appears to be insurmountable hardship on a daily basis,” Lindhout remarked.

“I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the country, flying in over the sunny coastline, white sand beaches below, the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean, and the breathtaking effect it had on me,” Lindhout recounted. “From the sky, it looked like paradise.”

“During my first days in Somalia the sight of young barefoot children running throughout Mogadishu’s war-torn streets was incredibly heart-warming, especially considering that one out of three children is severely malnourished. I was really fascinated by their ability to transcend the overwhelming difficulties of their daily lives through laughter, play and imagination.”

“I was deeply moved on my second day in Somalia when I visited a World Foot Programme feeding centre, the place where 8,000 women and children go for food supplies, to see how kind and generous Somali women are,” she recalled. “Even in the midst of famine, a young woman with an emaciated baby on her lap shyly asked if I was hungry, and if I would like to share some of her food. The watery porridge in the pail was all the food she would have for the next two days’ time, until she and her baby would again risk their lives walking through a war zone to stand in the blazing sun, waiting in a line for hours for that tiny bit of nourishment. You never forget a moment like that.”

Lindhout’s early enchantment with Somalia would soon be wiped away by her kidnapping.

On day three, she and her photographer, Nigel Brennan, left to visit a refugee camp. On the way there, they encountered a car pulled over on the side of the road as if broken down. The car was merely bait.

Gunmen emerged from their hiding place, and took control of their vehicle.

The youngest of Lindhout’s kidnappers was only 14.

Lindhout at first hoped that her empathy for Somalia would convince her captors to set her free.

“I was still clinging to the hope that there was some confusion and we’d be let go,” she said. “That they’d realize that I really cared about their country, their people, and the war that was happening there. But they didn’t care.”

“What Nigel and I represented to them, besides just money, was the western world that had failed them... They wouldn’t have been able to represent Canada on a map, but they knew that it was one of ‘those countries that had supported the Ethiopian invasion of 2006. I would later learn that several of my captors’ parents had been killed during that war.”

The leader of Lindhout’s kidnappers was not what one would expect. Approximately 25 years old at the time, this individual was well-travelled and seemingly well-educated.

Lindhout noted that the leaders of Al-Shabaab – like the leaders of so many Islamic extremist organizations – used their knowledge of the world to manipulate their followers, who Lindhout noted were “incredibly bright”.

“I was curious: what events in their lives had led them to fighting in such a militia group? The stories I heard from them were sadly common.”

The life story of each shared common threads: each of them born into war, having never known peacetime. Violence, hunger and disease have remained a constant throughout their lives, in a land that offers no peaceful job opportunities, and no opportunities to receive an education.

"Innocent young children become both the victims and perpetuators of violence," Lindhout remarked.

The comparisons between Al-Shabaab and the Taliban are far from spurious. As Lindhout herself noted, the ideology that animates Al-Shabaab is similar to that which motivates the Taliban in both form and origin: Islamist extremists import to Somalia not only their weapons to arm Al-Shabaab, but also their warped interpretation of Islam.

Lindhout seems to believe that the extreme poverty and war that Somalia have been subject to has made it a breeding ground for fundamentalist Islamic extremism. There is certainly a case to be made for this, but there should almost certainly be debate over whether or not the Somali historical scenario is more of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Does Somalia breed Islamic extremism because of poverty and war? Or is Somalia wrought with poverty and war because of Islamic extremism? It’s not an easy question to answer.

Lindhout’s experiences in Somalia may also shed some light on what the greatest challenge for women living under the thumb of groups like the Taliban and Al-Shabaab actually is: in Lindhout’s view, the greatest challenge is that of preserving the human spirit.

"The most difficult times were when my faith in human decency were lost,” Lindhout said. ”I could not understand how some people could reach those depths to inflict that kind of pain upon another."

For Lindhout, the answer turned out to be learning how to forgive her captors for the abuses they heaped upon her. She seems to feel that this has changed her for the better, and perhaps it has.

However, Somali women don’t really have the same option. It’s one thing for Amanda Lindhout, a foreigner who can be liberated by the payment of a ransom – and for the record, she agrees with the Canadian government’s policy of refusing to pay these ransoms – to adopt this stance.

For Somali women – and Afghan women – who cannot be liberated by any such means, forgiveness does not deliver them from the abuses they suffer under groups such as Al-Shabaab and the Taliban. It may help them preserve their human spirit, but it does not set them free.

Some of Lindhout’s current work with the Global Enrichment Foundation offers Somali women some light at the end of the tunnel. Through education scholarships and now micro-finance, the GEF offers them the opportunity to bring hope back to what is otherwise a hopeless land.

But it’s important to remember that Al-Shabaab, if allowed to spread its malignant dominance across Somalia, would turn out that light in a heartbeat. Amanda Lindhout is now doing wonderful work for Somalia – a land she can never return to – but Al-Shabaab poses a clear and present danger to her ability to continue helping a land that desperately needs it.

The question of what to do about Al-Shabaab is not one that is easily answered. If the western world were to deploy troops in every corner of the globe where this vile brand of Islamic militancy runs rampant we would quickly run out of troops.

Canada’s role in Somalia – which once included a peacekeeping mission (however poorly-planned and equipped) – is now miniscule. Somalia is not on the Canadian International Development Agency’s list of beneficiary states. Even if the government decided to amend this egregious oversight, it’s questionable if Canada could muster enough troops to protect any CIDA presence on the ground in Somalia. Perhaps especially when Afghanistan desperately needs the presence of Canadian troops as well, and the Sudan may quickly need them even more urgently.

There are no easy answers. But Somalia doesn’t need easy answers. It needs answers, period.

The Somalia in which Lindhout’s admirable humanitarian work can best be successful is one in which Al-Shabaab is marginalized and contained. Even if it’s easier said than done, it still needs to be done. If it isn’t, Amanda Lindhout’s experience will have been in vain.

It’s lawful to kill whoever works with the Somali Govt and the AU, say Al-Shabab officer By Mohammed Omar Hussein (Somaliweyn)

A prominent Al-Shabab officer by the name Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Qalaf has officially declared that the killing of whoever is known to be serving with the African Union troops on the ground and the Somali government is very lawful.

“It is Islamically allowed to kill whoever is working with this current apostate government of Somalia and the so called African Union troops, not only that they will be killed, but also their wealth can be confiscated, their wives are will no longer be theirs” said Sheikh Qalaf.

Sheikh Qalaf has also added that these people can be killed at anywhere they are spotted at, meaning shot on sight.

The other group of people which Sheikh Qalaf has also mentioned to killed are those kind people who lament that AU troops are here in Mogadishu in a legitimate way.

“Apart from those who are working with the so called government and the AU troops, the other people who should also be terminated are those who are lamenting that the AU troops have arrived in the country in a legitimate mandate” added Sheikh Fuad Qalaf.

He has also added that thy will continue the fighting in Somalia as long as the AU troops are troops and the Somali government are present in Somalia.

Several Somalis who have been working with the AU troops and the Somali government have been killed in Mogadishu, where the AU troops are present, but so far nobody has claimed their killings, but this words of Sheikh Fuad Qalaf clearly indicates that their faction has been behind of the killings which are related to his statement.

Donors wary of funding Somalia as crisis deepens, U.N. says By Katy Migiro (alertnet)

Aid donors are reluctant to fund Somalia because they cannot see its suffering for themselves, fear money may be diverted to Islamist fighters and prefer longer-term solutions, the U.N. humanitarian chief said on Thursday.

“The world must not forget Somalia,” Valerie Amos, the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press conference in Kenya after visiting the Horn of Africa country, whose already dire needs are being compounded by drought.

“We need to persuade our donors that this is a crisis and these are people that require our support. Quite frankly, it is more difficult to do it when donors aren’t able to go into the country and see the situation on the ground.”

Somalia is entering its worst drought in five years and faces a potential surge in conflict with the government’s mandate due to expire later this year.

Donors fear their money will be diverted to Islamist fighters of the Al Shabaab movement, who profess allegiance to Al Qaeda, following a scandal last March which led to the suspension of World Food Programme aid.

A local WFP contractor was exposed as a Somali businessman linked to Al Shabaab, illustrating that some U.N. agencies had unwittingly allowed aid for needy Somalis to enrich rebels.

U.S. government anti-terrorism sanctions prevent aid being given to hungry people in areas controlled by Al Shabaab, including half of the capital, Mogadishu.

At the same time, Al Shabaab will not allow food aid to be delivered in its areas, saying aid encourages dependency, though it does allow some other types of aid in.

U.S. agencies could face prosecution if their aid fell into Al Shabaab’s hands, regardless of intent, as Washington lists it as a terrorist group.

“No U.S. aid is going into those areas pending negotiations,” said Mark Bowden, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

“It’s a concern that one of the major donors, which had a very good record, is missing and we very much hope those negotiations can be concluded to resume their assistance.”

POLITICAL INSTABILITY

As the drought starts to bite, the United Nations says 27 percent of Somalis need emergency aid and this figure is set to rise.

Somalia has been without a functioning government for 20 years. It has a transitional government with limited authority but under the terms of a 2009 deal, its mandate expires on August 20.

“My big concern is that instability in the political process will lead to enhanced conflict and will therefore lead to enhanced humanitarian need,” said Amos.

“Donors want us to be able to shift from constantly focusing on humanitarian action, which by its very nature is very short-term, and moving to a situation where you are able to promote longer-term development and sustainability – and in a conflict situation as exists in Somalia this is very difficult to do.”

Stress at SA security firm in Somalia By Rowan Philp (TIMESlive)

Funding help from Blackwater in anti-pirate war - but company led by ex-CCB man denies mercenaries involved

A South African security company is training an army to fight pirates in Somalia - in defiance of an order by the East African country's government to halt the project, because "mercenaries" are allegedly involved.

"Politicians 'don't want to have anything to do with Blackwater' "

Led by former apartheid-era security officers and staffed "mostly" by South Africans, Saracen International has been secretly training a "coastguard" of over 1000 members in the breakaway northern Somali province of Puntland for the past four months.

A second contract for Saracen to train the presidential guard and renovate a hospital in the federal capital, Mogadishu, has also been cancelled.

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government ended the contracts after it emerged that a notorious US mercenary had helped arrange funding for the multimillion-dollar projects.

Now, authorities in Puntland are defying the fragile central government's order to end their anti-pirate operation with Saracen.

This week, pirates told Reuters news agency that they had been forced to flee one of their main bases in Puntland for fear of arrest or assault by the Saracen-trained troops.

The Somali government has confirmed that "other Muslim countries" funded the projects, reportedly providing money for 120 bakkies, six small aircraft and four armoured vehicles for the Saracen recruits to use on patrol.

But Chris Greyling, president of the Pan African Security Association, said an accreditation process had proved that "none of the Saracen trainers" were mercenaries and labelled the termination of the coastguard contract "ridiculous", saying it would be a "boost for pirates". Greyling's umbrella organisation provides accreditation and fights the "stigma" attached to paramilitary firms.

The South African company's involvement has become the focus of diplomatic and political disputes, with a US State Department spokesman warning the Somali government of the US's concern "about the lack of transparency regarding Saracen's funding, its objectives and its scope".

On Friday, Saracen's chief operating officer, Lafras Luitingh, gave the Sunday Times details of the group's Somali contracts for the first time.

"The (transitional government) requested training for the presidential guard, logistical support for the construction of training facilities, basic training for a counter-piracy force, and refurbishment of a medical facility.

"Saracen's agreement with the Puntland government provides for the training of a regional counter-piracy marine force and construction of a training facility."

Luitingh was a major in the Civil Co-operation Bureau's apartheid hit squad where he was once the "handler" of Ferdi Barnard - the assassin of anti-apartheid academic David Webster in 1989.

Luitingh was also the CEO of the disbanded Executive Outcomes, which was once branded a mercenary outfit.

However, Greyling said Luitingh had won praise from the United Nations for executing UN security contracts in Sierra Leone and other countries.

Although he would not comment on the reasons for the cancellation of one of their two contracts, Luitingh said: "We are proud of the humanitarian assistance work we performed ... such as rehabilitating and equipping a hospital in Mogadishu and co-ordinating the delivery of relief supplies."

Greyling said the problem began because the Saracen deal had been signed by former members of Somalia's transitional government, and then reviewed by a new administration. "with their own agendas".

The deals became a political hot potato this month after a New York Times investigation revealed that billionaire mercenary Erik Prince - founder of the notorious Blackwater security company, whose employees were expelled from Iraq - helped arrange funding for the projects.

Somali politicians said that although happy with Saracen's work, "we don't want to have anything to do with Blackwater".

Despite Somalia's transitional government announcing that it had decided to "totally terminate operations of Saracen International in Somalia", Greyling said Sarcacen " haven't backed off in Puntland".

Meanwhile, Abdirizak Ahmed, chief of Puntland's counter-piracy programme, told AP that the region planned to defy the government order: "I don't think it will have an impact on the relationship Puntland has with Saracen ... it's not a (national government) issue."

The Saracen contracts are also under investigation by the UN as to whether the Somali arms embargo was breached.

Luitingh responded: "Saracen has sought to ensure that its work to fulfil the UN's calls for counter-piracy efforts in Somalia is fully consistent with UN resolutions."

- from the Rest of the WORLD:

Somali envoy barred from entering prison By Nation Correspondent

Somali ambassador Mohammed Nur wanted to visit more than 100 Somali pirates being held at the jail.

The diplomat was at the weekend refused entry at Shimo la Tewa Maximum Security Prison.

Somali ambassador Mohammed Nur wanted to visit more than 100 Somali pirates being held at the jail.

Frantic efforts by the envoy to enter the prison were thwarted by junior prison officers who asked him to first get clearance from their seniors or the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Prison sources told the Nation that the ambassador was expected to visit the facility on Friday.

“There is no way we can allow him in on a weekend without orders from our bosses,” said a senior warder who requested not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Coast provincial prisons boss James Kodieny could not be reached for comment.

Dejected, the ambassador left the prison for Mombasa’s Central Police Station where 14 Somalis are held for being in the country illegally.

The 14, whose cases have been concluded, will be moved to Dadaab refugee camp.

“I was not barred from entering the prison, maybe it is because today is not an official working day. I will stay around until Monday or Tuesday and try again … I wanted to see them and establish their well-being,” Mr Nur said.

The ambassador observed that piracy would not be eradicated in Somalia due to insecurity and illegal fishing.

He urged Somali refugees to obey Kenyan laws.

Death Squads Pushing Egypt Into a Civil War

by James Fielding and Hoda Ali (Express.co.uk)

EGYPT was facing the threat of all-out civil war last night amid reports that assassination squads were targeting top government officials. Security surrounding president Hosni Mubarak was stepped up after claims that vice president Omar Suleiman had survived an attempt on his life.

The “organised attack” was said to have taken place as his motorcade was driving through Cairo a few days ago. Two bodyguards were reportedly killed.

Earlier, an explosion rocked a gas terminal in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, sparking a huge fire that was only quelled when the gas supply to neighbouring Jordan and Israel was shut off. There were no reports of any casualties. The blast followed reports that extremist groups were urging followers to attack pipelines to Israel.

In a day of confusion and high drama that left Mubarak’s 30-year military regime close to collapse, Egyptian state television first said he had quit as head of the country’s ruling party, and later insisted he was still holding the reins.

The announcements followed the mass resignation of his executive committee, including his son Gamal.

Yesterday Mubarak, 82, who only a few days ago refused to step down because it would cause “chaos”, remained holed up in his huge palace in the smart Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, surrounded by armed guards, tanks and barbed wire.

In Egypt yesterday, reports that assassination squads were targeting government officials surfaced

He is under growing pressure from the West, in particular the US, to make way for a transitional government. But last night US sources said he should stay on to “steer the changes” that were needed.

Yesterday the Egyptian army tried to secure Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of protesters are camped.

The square has been the scene of bloody clashes between pro- and anti-government groups who have hurled rocks and petrol bombs at each other over the past two days. Hundreds of soldiers stood close to the Egyptian Museum trying to keep the peace between the protesters, who had ignored a night-time curfew.Yesterday most of them remained defiant. Leading Muslim Brotherhood activist Gamal Hishmat said: “We won’t have any dialogue with the current regime until Mubarak leaves. We are not seeking the ¬presidency as everyone thinks, we want what is in the best interests of the nation.”

Last night the second plane ¬chartered by the UK government touched down at Gatwick from Cairo carrying about 150 Britons who had been desperate to flee the violence in the city.

‘Even the dolphins cry for Doc Gerry’ By Agnes Prieto (PDI/Southern Luzon)

THE DOLPHINS were cavorting in Puerto Princesa bay that day as “Doc” Gerry Ortega in his role as ecotourism advocate explained how it was possible for tourists to be guaranteed a glimpse of these delightful but elusive creatures. In the past, one could sit in the boat all day in the sea with nary a sighting.

We had just planed in from Manila with Bantay Kalikasan advocates headed by Gina Lopez. Doc was Bantay Kalikasan head for Palawan and without much ado, after depositing bags in the hotel, hied us off to the pier for the dolphin-watch boats.

“It is a wonderful play of interdependencies in nature,” he said. “One species connecting with the next in a cycle of give and take.”

“The planktons that surface in these waters on certain days are food for tuna fish, which flock here to eat. The tuna fish, in turn, are food for dolphins that come around here for a meal. The birds that hover also feed on the fish,” he continued.

“The fishermen see the birds, which guide them to the location of the tuna and the dolphins around the feeding area. The fishermen are now equipped with cell phones, which enable tourist sightseeing boats to sail to the exact location where they may appreciate the presence of dolphins. And such is the cycle of nature, which now expands to include the human and technological resources.”

Doc Gerry has been a pioneer in practical ecotourism in Palawan through which there is respect for these cycles, the continued viability of nature resources is ensured, while allowing visitors to be educated and to marvel at them.

The wonder of the dolphins becomes an appreciation of the patterns of nature coming together, presenting the bigger picture of the why and the how.

Viable ecotourism

His vision of viable ecotourism veers away from the big business model, which comes in with investor money and concrete structures, trivializing the culture, the beautiful sites as mere commodities for which they charge more money, in the process opening pockets of exploitation, that eventually marginalizes the human factor on site.

We headed for lunch at a small islet, which is also a fish sanctuary, all the while listening to his narration of how communities were being activated to be tourism providers themselves, such as the fisherfolk who now earn extra income from being marine tourist guides.

This was the marine model, which, as the Palawan head of Bantay Kalikasan, he proudly espoused.

Fishing and tourist boats proudly manned by fishermen and their families had been allocated for the task.

Private sanctuaries

The next model was an inland manmade lake within an orchard in Irawan, off the city proper.

It was discovered that over time, various birds endemic to Palawan had been coming here to roost. Amid the mango orchard we sat, training our cameras on the birds, staying as quiet as possible as they swooped and dived into the clear waters in the sunset.

The storks, the wandering whistling ducks, the Malaysian night heron, the purple heron, the blue breasted quail, darters and more … they made this their homing grounds.

Doc Gerry was privy to little private sanctuaries such as this off-the-beaten tourist track. Born and raised Palawanon, he had his sights tuned to such manifestations. More than a school-learned environmentalist, he had at heart an appreciation for and a concern for the beauty of the land that went really deep into his “pagkatao” (persona).

Our next stop was the Iwahig River. It was dusk and the cicadas were filling the deepening darkness with their own brand of music. This was to be the firefly tour and the boatmen turned off their banca motors as we glided into that magical river bounded on both sides by the mangroves, which housed the fireflies.

Points of light

The skies in Palawan are full of stars, much more than we can ever imagine in the city. The constellations are all visible and in that boat ride in the twilight, it seemed that these flickers of light that blanketed the sky had actually descended to the level of the mangroves, all the way to the river so that there was an unending vista of tiny points of light from the heavens, down to the waters.

Starlight and firefly light. Words beggar the experience. Doc Gerry enabled us to understand the ecology behind all these—that the mangrove supported insect life like the fireflies, apart from being the lungs of the earth, serving to filter off pollution.
“If we cut away the mangrove, all the animal and plant life will wither away and die away. The fireflies will no longer come,” he prophesied.

We cap the evening with dinner al fresco and head off to bed early for the next day’s sights—the Underground River and a barangay in nearby Bacungan, which he helped develop as a pioneering community-based tourist destination. Instead of big business coming in to exploit the nature attractions, he moved people to initially appreciate what they had, right in their own backyards and to open these up to guests.

Natural hospitality

“The natural hospitality and warmth of the Filipino makes it a cinch to create a wholistic tourist destination, which not only focuses on the local attractions but integrates everyone in the community to offer their resources—their homes, their food, their gardens,” he explains.

The result is a fiesta atmosphere that has everyone from young children to grandparents putting in their effort to welcome guests. The home-stay programs assure tourists of warm welcome within the bosom of the local families.

The integration process that happens when people live and eat together, even if only for some days, has an impact unequaled by any stay in a five-star hotel. Memories are created and often, lifelong friendships develop.

Another community-based model is the Honda Bay fisherfolk ecotourism thrust. In the past, the fishermen were wont to use destructive methods of fishing, only to realize that these had a long-lasting damage on the very source of their livelihood. Doc Gerry had convinced the fishermen to protect the coral preserves that provided nurturing grounds for fish propagation.

Honda Bay

The beauty of a coral reef with gemlike colors of fish swimming is unrivaled and, today, the tourist program in Honda Bay involves the housewives, the fishermen and their children. Not only have their catch increased, their tourism efforts also add to the family kitty. They serve as guides to the 12 islands of Honda Bay.

The remarkable thing about Doc Gerry is that he did not preach or scold, but moved people by his dedication and focus. His volunteers for tourism attest to this, young people and not-so-young, who realize that Palawan can only be valuable as a tourist destination if everyone took the effort and has the heart for it. There is no exploitation; only integration and appreciation.

Through volunteer work, he created a larger cycle of interdependencies centered on respect and pride of place, knowing the value of what one had, and the willingness to share.

Now, Doc Gerry is gone. The cycle is truncated, the wheel of fruitful interaction, broken.

The seeds he planted though, will flourish. It is the promise we make, we who are left behind if only in gentle retort to his terrible death.

Even the dolphins are crying.

(*) Agnes Prieto says she is a neighbor in Puerto Princesa City of Gerry Ortega, who had requested her to write about his ecotourism vision long before he was silenced by a bullet in his head.

ECOTERRA Intl. sends it sincere condolences to the family of veterinarian Dr. Gerardo "Gerry" Ortega, the famous environmentalist, broadcast journalist and anti-mining activist. Our hearts go out to Gerry’s wife Patty and their five children Mika, Erika, Joaquin, Sophia, and Bettina.

Doc Garry was assasinated with 3 bullets of a heavy .45 calibre handgun in broad daylight at a market place in Puerto Princesa City. The policemen present in the area arrested the gunman, whose real name is Marlon Bechavez Recamata, after the shooting. He fled the scene of his gruesome murder, but was cornered by people in a nearby parking lot. The assassin admitted meanwhile to having been hired to kill Ortega.

Unlike most of the murders of journalists, human rights and political activists in the Philippines, where the perpetrators are never known, Ortega's murder is one of the few instances in which the perpetrator has been arrested, and he admitted to having been hired to kill Ortega.

In most cases, even if the identity of the gunmen is known, they could not be prosecuted because of lack of witnesses. Witnesses are too frightened to testify in most investigations conducted by the authorities of the Philippines.

Though Patricia Ortega, assisted by lawyer Harry Roque, sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in protecting witnesses in the killing, they were apprehensive about the resolution of the case because a rich and powerful ranking provincial official could have masterminded the assassination. “Our fear now is the possibility of a whitewash," Roque said. Local police already had bungled up in the beginning by naming the arrested shooter as Marlon Dicamata de Chavez, alias Marvin Alcaraz - which turned out to be both false names.

But the fleeing killer had been caught on CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera, which also showed that another man - identified as Dennis Aranas - gave the waiting murderer some money for lunch.

A P2-million reward has been put up for information leading to the identification and indictment of the mastermind in Ortega’s killing.

The “missing link” in the murder case of Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega has now surrendered to police late Saturday, 5. January 2011. Rodolfo “aka Bomar” Edrad, Jr., who supposedly has direct contact to the murder’s mastermind, surrendered to Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn and agents of the National Bureau Investigation in Gumaca, Quezon. It was supposedly Edrad who gave the alleged murderer the money. Edrad was also the former aide of Marinduque Governor Jose Antonio Carrion and a Marine soldier discharged from the service following the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003. He does not want to be brought to Palawan because he is afraid of former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes’s men.

Also the Asian Human Right commission believes that the murder was a result of Ortega's advocacies for protection of the environment, particularly the impact of mining; and that the arrested gunman had been hired to silence him.

Everybody is aware of Ortega's environmental advocacy, particularly the negative implications of mining on the indigenous community in the Palawan peninsula.

Ortega is a known pro-environment advocate and has worked with various environmental groups and associations on pro-environment and community-based projects. He gained local popularity as a wildlife veterinarian and became known as “Doc Gerry.”

The 47 years old stout defender of what is right, and manager of the Philippine Ecotourism Palawan of the ABS-CBN Foundation is listed as the 142nd victim of violence against media workers in the Philippines since 1986.

Ortega's murder demonstrates the ugly reality of the loss of value of human lives in the Philippine society. The value of human lives has become only an idea rather than fact because the system in which lives should have been protected is either deeply flawed or non-existent in its real sense, as ECOTERRA Intl. and the East African Seafarers Assistance programme also can confirm for the appalling mistreatment of tens of thousands of Pinoy seafarers, who are treated like slaves by the international shipping industry.

Ortega’s friends and environmental groups have also launched a Facebook campaign (http://www.no2mininginpalawan.com) to gather 10 million signatures to convince the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, to stop the detrimental mining activities in Palawan once and for all. -jb

A Small Cross Section of Species Extinctions 1979-2010 (Earth-First)

Alaotra grebe (2010) Madagascar

Madeiran large white butterfl y (2007) Portuguese Archipelago

Po’ouli bird (2004) Hawaii

Spix macaw (2004) Brazil

Australian gastric-brooding frog (2002)

Southern day frog (2002) Australia

Zanzibar leopard (1996) Tanzania

Saint Croix racer (1994) Virgin Islands

Lake Tahoe benthic stonefly (1994) California, Nevada

Ochlockonee moccasinshell (1993) Florida, Georgia

White catspaw mollusk (1993) US Midwest

Fresno kangaroo rat (1992) California

Chiricahua mudwort (1992) Arizona, New Mexico

Four angeled palea flower (1991) Hawaii

Curtus’s pearly mussel (1990) Alabamba, Mississippi

Golden toad (1989) Costa Rica

Little aguja pondweed (1989) Texas

Amak Island song sparrow (1988) Alaska

Cuyamaca raspberry (1988) California

Dusky seaside sparrow (1987) Florida

Eskimo curlew (1987) North America

Large Kauai thrush (1987) Hawaii

Valdina farms salamander (1987) Texas

Bishops ‘O’-bird (1986) Hawaii

Narrow-leaved hoary pea (1985) Florida

Oregon giant earthworm (1985)

Rich Mountain cave beetle (1985) West Virginia

San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly (1985) California

Guam white-throated ground dove (1984)

Guam cardinal honey-eater (1984)

Little Mariana fruit-bat (1984) Guam

Black spotted damsel-fish (1984) Galapagos

24-rayed sun-star (1984) Galapagos

Hoffman jewel-flower (1984) California

Haha flower (1983) Hawaii

Breckenridge Mountain slender salamander (1983) California

Texas Henslow’s sparrow (1983)

Tecopa pup-fish (1982) Mojave Desert

Giffard’s ‘Ohe' hedyleptan moth (1982) Hawaii

Emerald sea-slug (1981) Florida

Virgin Islands screech owl (1980)

Penasco least chipmunk (1980) New Mexico

Dutch Alcon blue butterfly (1979) Netherlands

Javan tiger (1979) Indonesia

N.B.: ACTIVISTS WANTED willing to help any Somali species from getting extinct.

Please contact office[at]ecoterra-international[dot]org

Bush cancels Swiss visit over arrest fears (PTI)

Former US President George W Bush has reportedly cancelled a visit to Switzerland amid concerns that he could be arrested for allegedly authorising the torture of prisoners.

The former American leader was due to speak at a charity gala, making the keynote speech at Keren Hayesod's annual dinner in the city of Geneva on February 12, the 'Sky News' reported online.

Human rights groups in the country, however, have been calling for the Swiss government to arrest Bush over allegations he had ordered the torture of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Court officials have said criminal complaints against Bush have been lodged in Geneva, but Swiss officials said that he would enjoy diplomatic immunity as a former head of state, the report said.

In his memoirs and television interviews, Bush has admitted to ordering use of waterboarding, which simulated drowning, as an interrogation technique.

Waterboarding is considered a form of torture which is a crime under international law, and human rights experts say absolute prohibition is very clear. Some left-wing groups had also called for a protest on the day of his visit.

Even Keren Hayesod's organisers said they felt the atmosphere had become too threatening.

"We didn't want to put people and property in Geneva at risk. The gala is maintained but George Bush will not take part. The criminal complaints did not weigh in the decision," the group's lawyer Robert Equey was quoted as saying.

ENDS

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