18/09/08 (B465-B) Times On Line. Les autorités éthiopiennes accusées de sous-estimer volaontairement la famine et la soif qui touchent des millions d’habitants dans les régions, considérées comme « rebelles » au pouvoir, tandis que l’Armée détournerait l’aide humanitaire pour qu’elles ne parviennent pas à ces populations. Ethiopia accused of hiding famine as millions starve (En Anglais – Info lecteur)

Army ‘is keeping food from rebel areas’

A goat herder in the Ogaden desert. Herdsmen say that their children have died from eating poisonous buds from trees for lack of anything else to eat

Jonathan Rugman in Jijiga

Ethiopia has been accused of deliberately underestimating the scale of a deadly drought facing millions of its people, some of whom are being deprived of emergency food aid by the country’s military.

The humanitarian crisis, caused by three years of failed rains, currently affects about 4.6 million people, though the official number could jump to as high as 6.7 million this week.

United Nations agencies say that the real number at risk is above 8 million, an estimate disputed hotly by Addis Ababa, which is insisting on publishing a much lower figure.

“The figure has risen very substantially, maybe even doubled,” said Sir John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, who visited Ethiopia earlier this month. “Any government doesn’t want to be perceived as always in the position of receiving aid.”

The crisis is at its most worrying in the vast deserts of the Ogaden region, where the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says in a confidential alert to donors that it is receiving “increasing reports of hunger-related mortality”. About two million people are at risk until the main rains fall next spring – if they fall at all. The Ogaden is Ethiopia’s biggest and most remote state.

Nomadic tribes there are resorting to eating dead leaves and cactus fruit to survive the worst drought since the famines of 1984-85, when an estimated one million Ethiopians died.

A twenty-mile trek on foot into the bush revealed mediaeval mud-hut villages, where ethnic Somali herdsmen say that their children have died after eating poisonous buds from trees, for lack of anything else to eat. Others say that they depend on camel milk and meat because cattle, sheep and goats have perished in their thousands.

“I am ill and hungry,” said one man, removing his shirt to reveal his rib cage visible through taut skin. “Because of the drought we have nothing to eat. The only people who receive food are the military forces.”

The UN has raised about 60 per cent of $325 million (£181 million) it is seeking in emergency relief for Ethiopia and says that it is suffering a shortfall of about 300,000 tonnes of aid.

The WFP has told donors that it blames Ethiopia’s “delays in recognising the extent of need” for causing the rapid depletion of existing food stocks. But a Channel 4 News investigation tonight claims that the army has withheld food from villages in the Ogaden deliberately as part of a “scorched earth” policy against separatist rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Herdsmen in villages almost completely cut off from the outside world said that many of their animals had been killed by Ethiopian soldiers, who also deprived them of water.

“We walk for eight hours to collect water,” said Abdi, a villager about three hours from Jijiga, the regional capital. “Then the military take the water from us.

They say the rebels pass through our villages and that we give them supplies. But what can we give? We are dying of hunger. We have nothing to give to our own children.”

The UN says that it has negotiated with the Ethiopian army for the military’s role in food distribution to be kept to a minimum. “If there is a situation where food is taken by the military, we protest,” said Mohammed Diab, the WFP’s Ethiopia director.

However, a confidential investigation by USAid, the US Government’s disaster relief agency, complained in March that “literally hundreds of areas . . . have neither been assessed nor received any food assistance”, with “populations we met terrorised by the inability to access food”.

“This situation would be shameful in any other country,” the report concludes. “The US Government cannot in good conscience allow the food operation to continue in its current manifestation.” The US is spending more than £230 million on food aid for Ethiopia this year but is hamstrung from being too critical in public; Washington sees Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, as an ally in the War on Terror after Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2005, which ousted an Islamist administration from power.

Britain has doubled its annual aid to Ethiopia in the last three years to £130 million, including £15 million this summer through the UN’s Humanitarian Response Fund, while Save the Children (SCF) is halfway through a campaign to raise £10 million for the country. Two SCF workers were expelled from the Ogaden last year amid allegations – rejected by SCF – that they had diverted food to ONLF rebels. The British charity abandoned a full-scale feeding programme, fearing supplies could be diverted.

Jonathan Rugman’s report on Ethiopia’s drought
is on tonight’s Channel 4 News at 7pm
Source: Times online

12/09/08 (B464-B) Times On Line / Les tarifs des primes d’assurance maritime montent en flèche en raison de la vague de piraterie dans le Golfe d’Aden. Shipping insurance cost soars with piracy surge off Somalia

A dramatic increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia and a ten-fold increase in insurance premiums has sent the cost of sending ships through one of the world’s busiest transport routes, soaring, shipping experts said yesterday.

The warning came as pirates hijacked the latest cargo ship off the Horn of Africa yesterday. The South Korean vessel and its nine crew joined 10 other ships being held for ransom by pirates in Somali waters as the country suffers a crippling humanitarian crisis and its worst bout of insecurity since the early 1990s.

Insurance companies have increased premiums for sending a cargo shipment through the Gulf of Aden to about $9,000 from $900 a year ago.Meanwhile, the pirates, who use speed boats and are armed with rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles, have become increasingly sophisticated in their attacks. Ships are typically held for at least three months before a ransom, which averages $1million, can secure their release.

Robert Davies, head of specialist risks at Hiscox, the London-based insurer, said that embattled ship owners are facing a big increase in ransom demands, as well as the cost of settling tense negotiations that last an averge 100 days. The average kidnap settlement is now $1 million. Previously, the pirates would have happily settled for payments “in the low hundreds of thousands”, Mr Davies said.

“It’s not just a growing frequency, there is also a growing cost of piracy, kidnap and ransoms,” he said. “The size of the ransom, depending on the vessel and its cargo, is growing. The time these things are lasting is also increasing. Before, they were quick in and out events. Now, the bad guys are a bit more sophisticated.”

Pleasure craft are also being targeted by the Somali pirates. A Kenyan-based shipping agency reported yesterday said that the bandits were demanding $1.4million for the release of a French couple seized last week as they sailed their yacht between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Jean-Yves Delanne and his wife Bernadette were dropped ashore on the Somali coast before being taken to a pirate hideout in the Xaabo mountains, according to the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme. It said that the group were also demanding the release of six pirates seized by French commandos in April as part of the ransom deal.

The organisation claimed the couple’s luxury yacht, the 24 metre (79 foot) twin-masted Carre D’as IV, was probably being used as a decoy vessel to capture other ships.

“It might very well be used as a decoy to approach other unsuspecting yachts or simulate and signal an engine failure or other emergency at sea, whereby it then would attack any ship coming closer in order to provide assistance,” it said.

“If you think about Somalia – it’s not really a country anymore. It is being controlled by a bunch of warlords. It has become a haven for lawlessness. If you are a shipowner and want to get your cargo east to west, you pretty much have to go through the Gulf of Aden,” Mr Davies said.

In the first half of this year, 94 crew and passengers were taken hostage while trying to cross the Gulf of Aden, according to figures compiled by maritime experts at the International Maritime Bureau, part of the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC-IMB).

A further 63 people have been taken hostage in Somalia over the same period, according to the ICC-IMB.

And the evidence shows that Somalia is by far the most dangerous location for commercial travel this year – considerably ahead of the Philippines and Indonesia.

11/04/08 (B443) Times on line / Des pirates somaliens tués par les armes françaises. Somali pirates ‘killed in French rocket attack’ (En Anglais – Lecteur)

Alexi Mostrous

Nicolas Sarkozy today strongly denied reports that three people were killed in a French military operation against Somalian pirates.

The French President « categorically denied » claims from eyewitnesses that French helicopters fired rockets at the pirates this afternoon, soon after they released 30 hostages from a captured luxury yacht off the Somalian coast.

Eight other people were reportedly wounded and eight more captured in the operation, which took place in the Garaad district of Northern Somalia.

“I could see clouds of smoke as six helicopters were bombing the pirates. The pirates were also firing anti-aircraft machine guns in reaction. I cannot tell the exact casualties,” Mohamed Ibrahim, an eyewitness, said.

The district commissioner of Garaad described how the helicopters landed and troops jumped out to grab members of a group of 14 pirates who had just come ashore.

“Local residents came out to the see the helicopters on the ground. The helicopters took off and fired rockets on the vehicles and the residents there, killing five local people,” Commissioner Abdiaziz Olu-Yusuf Mohamed said.

French officials said that the operation was conducted with minimal use of force for fear of causing collateral damage.

The pirates, part of a group known as “the Somali Marines”, seized the Le Ponant yacht last Friday in the Gulf of Aden. Onboard were 30 crew members, 22 of them French.

They sailed 32-cabin, three-masted vessel to Puntland, a breakaway northern region of Somalia. Francois Fillon, the Prime Minister, deployed France’s elite counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit to tracked the ship using helicopters and a naval vessel, but said authorities would not resort to force.

After protracted negotiations between the ship owner and the pirates, all 30 crew members were eventually released this morning.

In a statement, Sarkozy expressed “his deep gratitude to the French army forces and all the state services who helped bring about a quick end, without incident, to this hostage taking. »

The French authorities maintain that soldiers simply arrested six pirates and flown them to a navy ship. Jean-Louis Georgelin, chief of the armed forces, said a Gazelle helicopter with a sniper on board had fired at a vehicle containing a pirate but that “no shots were fired directly at the pirates.”

“The shot from the first Gazelle was enough to stop the vehicle and get out the pirates, who gave themselves up without too much difficulty,” he said.

Valerie Garrec, whose 20-year-old son Thibaut was among the hostages, praised Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis after receiving a call from the president’s office announcing the good news around midday today.

“They said they were free and safe and we don’t know anything more. Now I am waiting to speak to my son by phone,” Ms Garrec said from her home in Brittany, northern France.

Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister, said preparations were being made to return the freed hostages to France as soon as possible.

The hostages were apparently being held by the “Somali Marines,” described as the most powerful gang of pirates operating off the country’s coast.

Mr Kouchner on Friday urged the international community to take action to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast and said talks were underway at the United Nations on the issue.