News & Current Affairs

November 12, 2008

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

UN appeals for DR Congo back-up

Congolese government soldiers pass displaced people as they return from the front near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

Congolese troops have faced fresh allegations of abuses

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a fresh plea for 3,000 more peacekeepers to be sent to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In New York, Mr Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could urgently help “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-held areas near Goma.

A 17,000-strong UN force in Congo has been unable to stop the fighting or halt the rebel advance.

The UN Security Council is considering the call for reinforcements.

The UN head of UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, said there were currently only 10 UN soldiers for every 10,000 inhabitants in eastern DR Congo.

Rebel administration

He said this was not enough to protect the population from violence perpetrated by rebel groups and the Congolese army.

A displaced woman next to a UN armoured vehicle near Goma on Tuesday 11 November 2008

The UN presence in DR Congo is its largest mission in the world

Recent fighting between government and rebel troops has displaced a quarter of a million people in the strife-torn region around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Earlier, the rebel Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, said he had formed an alternative administration in the area of eastern Congo that he controls.

In what observers say is his latest direct challenge to the central government, 12 ministers will take responsibility for a range of functions including police and security.

The move appears to be pure propaganda.

‘Looting and raping’

Our correspondent says it may annoy the government but is likely to be insignificant unless the rebels follow it up with further military action.

Displaced people tap into a supply of water aid nearby the Nyiragongo volcano in Kibati

Meanwhile government troops have faced fresh accusations that they have been ransacking villages and raping civilians.

UN spokesman Lt-Col Jean Paul Dietrich said looting began around Kanyabayonga, 100 km (60 miles) north of Goma, on Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

He said UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army had been trying to intervene.

Rebel leader Gen Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels, who fled to DR Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

On Monday, he threatened to take over the whole country if President Joseph Kabila’s government continued in its refusal to negotiate with him.

FORCES AROUND GOMA
CNDP: Gen Nkunda’s Tutsi rebels – 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus – 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia – 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers – 1,000 in Goma, 6,000 in North Kivu (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army – 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

But a Congolese official said the government was still unwilling to talk to the rebel leader and accused him of war crimes.

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes during the latest violence.

Mr Kabila was elected president in 2006 in polls that were backed by the UN, and which international observers generally declared to be fair.

As in the four-year war that began in DR Congo in 1998, the recent fighting has threatened to draw in neighbouring countries.

Map of eastern DR Congo


What is your reaction to the situation in Congo? Can this region ever find peace? Tell us your thoughts

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August 25, 2008

No leads on Thailand disappearance

No leads on Thailand disappearance

Courtesy BBC News

Danny Hall on The Weakest Link

Danny Hall is a former winner of TV quiz show The Weakest Link

How can someone disappear without trace on a small island?

That is the question nagging the family and friends of Danny Hall, a British backpacker who went missing in the southern Thai resort of Koh Pha Ngan six months ago.

The disappearance of the 36-year-old – last seen on 25 February – has baffled investigators and loved ones alike.

A roadie and former winner of TV quiz show The Weakest Link, Mr Hall had been on his third trip to Thailand when he was last seen after the island’s world-famous Full Moon Party.

Every month, it is estimated up to 25,000 revellers descend on Koh Pha Ngan for the all-night beach rave.

For most of the party-goers their worst experience is likely to be waking up with a hangover.

But the British foreign office website warns that incidents of date rape have been reported at the event.

Danny Hall
I’ve kind of accepted I’m never going to see him again. But someone must have seen something, someone must know something
Roy Twemlow
Danny Hall’s friend

The Bangkok Post reported in April that a Koh Pha Ngan police chief had recently been transferred amid a rising crime rate and complaints about visitors’ safety.

Meanwhile, a number of accounts of tourists being attacked on the island can be found on internet travel chatrooms.

Mr Hall’s friend, Roy Twemlow, was one of the last people to speak to him when he rang Mr Twemlow from a bar, in the afternoon following the Full Moon Party.

The pair became friends at Birmingham University, where Mr Hall, from Norwich, England, graduated with an honours degree in history.

The 36-year-old said: “It was about 2pm when [Danny] rang me and he sounded fine, he didn’t sound panicked. It’s just not like him to vanish without trace.

“I’ve kind of accepted I’m never going to see him again. But someone must have seen something, someone must know something.

Full Moon Party reveller

“Danny’s very sociable, makes friends easily and is highly intelligent. He’s also very non-confrontational.”

On arriving in Thailand at the end of January, Mr Hall, who had worked as a roadie for The Rolling Stones and at England’s Glastonbury music festival, spent a week in Bangkok at Mr Twemlow’s home.

“He wasn’t moping around or depressed,” recalls his friend. “It was just the same old Danny.”

Mr Twemlow, a teacher who has lived in Thailand for a decade, travelled down to Koh Pha Ngan to investigate after Mr Hall had been reported missing.

He expected to find police on the island in the midst of a full investigation when he arrived at the end of April.

‘Disgrace’

But he says: “When I got to Koh Pha Ngan, the police knew very little about the case, they hadn’t even searched the area where Danny was last seen. It’s a bit of a disgrace really.”

Danny Hall

Mr Hall (right) on the day he was last seen in the Backyard Bar

Mr Twemlow found his friend’s possessions – a backpack and an acoustic Yamaha guitar – left in his accommodation, a hut at the island’s secluded Hat Yao beach. But Mr Hall’s passport and money belt have not been found.

American backpacker Chris Chester, who met Mr Hall on Koh Pha Ngan a week before his disappearance, but did not attend the Full Moon Party, raised the alarm within three of four days of the Briton vanishing.

The 39-year-old said he and his German girlfriend had met up with Mr Hall almost daily, going to the beach, relaxing with a massage and shopping.

“He had been in regular contact with us the whole time, so when we didn’t hear from him for a couple of days I thought it was pretty strange. I started trying to find him and asking around,” he said.

Mr Chester checked hospitals and clinics on Koh Pha Ngan and neighbouring Koh Samui in his search for the missing tourist, but to no avail.

“There was nothing to suggest he was depressed. I really can’t fathom what happened to him,” he said.

‘Totally bizarre’

Mr Hall is known to have joined dozens of party-goers at the Backyard Bar for an “after-party”, on the morning after the Full Moon rave.

Danny Hall

Thai police say Mr Hall’s bank account remains dormant

Niki Kursakul, 45, from Sydney, Australia, who is married to the Thai owner of the bar, described Mr Hall’s disappearance as “totally bizarre”.

The mother-of-two, who has lived in Thailand for 16 years, said: “It’s very, very strange. The bar isn’t near a beach but I suppose it’s possible he could have wandered down to the sea, gone swimming and got into difficulty.

“But a body would usually get washed up if someone drowned. If he’d fallen or had an accident near the bar he would have been found by now.

“There can be the occasional fight [in the Backyard Bar] but no-one saw any argument taking place that day as far as I know.”

Bangkok’s ministry of foreign affairs said the Thai authorities were working closely with Mr Hall’s family and friends and the British embassy to investigate his disappearance.

Danny Hall

Mr Hall’s friends have launched an appeal to help find him on Facebook

Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said: “The safety of tourists in Thailand is a matter of great concern to the Royal Thai Government.”

He said the number of visitors to Thailand was on the rise and that the country’s popularity was “due, among other things, to the hospitality and safety tourists can expect when visiting Thailand”.

Thai Police Colonel Chataree Pandum said Mr Hall’s bank account remains dormant since he disappeared and investigators believe the Briton did not leave the island.

Norfolk Constabulary in England said they were treating Mr Hall as a missing person – as is the UK foreign office – but that officers currently had no plans to travel to Thailand.

In the meantime, the agony for Mr Hall’s loved ones continues.


Have you ever been to Koh Pha Ngan’s Full Moon Party? What was your experience? Tell us

August 5, 2008

Morgan Freeman in ‘good spirits’

Morgan Freeman in ‘good spirits’

Courtesy BBC

Morgan Freeman (file photo)

Morgan Freeman received an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in “good spirits” after being injured in a serious car accident near his Mississippi home.

Mr Freeman’s spokeswoman says he has a broken arm, broken elbow and minor shoulder damage.

She said the 71-year-old Dark Knight star is expected to undergo surgery and to make a good recovery.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

Mr Freeman’s car ran off the side of the road and overturned several times, landing upright in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to Memphis’s Regional Medical Center, about 90 miles (145km) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

“He is having a little bit of surgery this afternoon or tomorrow to help correct the damage,” his spokeswoman Donna Lee said. “He says he’ll be OK and is looking forward to a full recovery,” she added.

Earlier a spokesman at the hospital said the actor was in a “serious” condition.

Neither Lee nor the hospital had information about the condition of the woman, Demaris Meter of Memphis.

‘No freebies’

Both passengers had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Mississippi Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Williams.

FREEMAN FACTS
Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added. He said it was possible that the actor had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he added.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Bill Rogers, who saw the accident happen and was first on the scene, told BBC 5 Live that driving conditions on Sunday night were difficult.

“We had a rain storm that had just passed and so the highway was wet,” he said. “We were standing in water in the ditch.”

“When he became conscious Mr Freeman began asking the same questions over and over again: ‘Was I speeding, can I lay on the ground? Is everybody okay?'” Mr Rogers added.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency the actor later began “joking with some of the rescue workers.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors, says the BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles.

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