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March 5, 2010

BBC: Ethiopian famine aid \’siphoned off\’ to buy weapons according to rebels, report

BBC: Ethiopian famine aid ‘siphoned off’ to buy weapons according to rebels, report

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Ethiopia
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According to a BBC report, funds raised for famine relief aid in Ethiopia, such as those raised by the Live Aid benefit concert pictured here, were “siphoned off” by rebels to buy weapons.
Image: Squelle.

An investigation by the BBC has revealed that millions of dollars in famine relief aid money, including the money raised from the charity supergroup Band Aid and the Live Aid concert held by Bob Geldof, was “siphoned off” by Ethiopian rebels to buy weapons. One rebel said that at least US$ 95 million (£63 million) from — Western governments and private charities — was diverted into rebel coffers.

This was also noted in a declassified Central Intelligence Agency assessment of the famine situation titled Ethiopia: Political and Security Impact of the Drought, in which the report states, “Some funds that insurgent organizations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes.”

During the 1984–1985 famine, Ethiopia was fighting Eritrean and Tigray rebels in those two northern provinces, although Eritrea has since gained its independence. Since the countryside was out of the government’s control, aid was brought in from neighboring Sudan. Some aid came in the form of food, while other aid came as cash which would be used by the aid agencies to buy grain from Ethiopian farmers.

Rebels would disguise themselves as traders and merchants to get their hands on the currency. “I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs,” said Gebremedhin Araya, a senior member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Cquote1.svg Some funds that insurgent organizations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes. Cquote2.svg

Ethiopia: Political and Security Impact of the Drought, a CIA report

One such aid worker that brought the grain was Max Peberdy, who worked for the charity Christian Aid. Peberdy is seen in a photo with Araya buying grain.

Araya said that only some of the sacks were filled with grain; the rest were filled with sand. The transaction was overseen by a member of the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), the humanitarian wing of the TPLF. The money was then given to TPLF leaders, including chairman Meles Zenawi, who has been Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 1991. Zenawi has not commented on the allegations.

Peberdy disputes the claims that he was duped, saying, “As far as we were concerned and as far as we were told by REST, the people we were dealing with were merchants.” He added, “It’s 25 years since this happened, and in the 25 years it’s the first time anybody has claimed such a thing.”

Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 1991 and chairman of the TPLF since 1985.
Image: Helene C. Stikkel, Department of Defense.

However, an exiled TPLF commander who lives in the Netherlands, Aregawi Berhe, is backing Araya’s story. He said the group got their hands on over US$100 million (£66 million) of which 95% went to buy weapons and build up a hardliner Marxist party inside the rebel movement. The remaining five percent would go to famine victims. Berhe told the BBC that the group would put on a “drama” to get the money. Berhe said, “The aid workers were fooled.”

In response to the allegations, the charity Christian Aid issued a statement saying, “There are allegations in the story which are against all of Christian Aid’s principles and our initial investigations do not correspond to the BBC’s version of events.”

Cquote1.svg I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs. Cquote2.svg

—Gebremedhin Araya, senior TPLF member

Nick Guttmann, who is director of emergency relief operations for the group, says the “story has to be put into context”. “We were working in a major conflict, there was a massive famine and people on all sides were suffering,” Guttmann said, adding, “Both the rebels and the government were using innocent civilians to further their own political ends.”

Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who help organized Live Aid, said, “We are talking about a disgruntled, exiled general. The essence of the report also is not just about Live Aid. It’s that all monies going into Tigray — that would be Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF and Christian Aid — somehow, we were all duped and gulled. And that’s simply not the case. It just didn’t happen.”



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February 5, 2010

NTSB says pilot error caused crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407

NTSB says pilot error caused crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Aviation

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A Colgan Air Dash 8 Q400, in in Continental Connection livery, similar to the aircraft involved
Image: Rudi Riet.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that the captain of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed nearly a year ago outside Buffalo, New York during its approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, “inappropriately responded to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the aeroplane did not recover,” according to a statement issued by the NTSB.

The flight, operating as a codeshare with Continental Airlines under their Continental Connection brand, crashed last year on February 12, 2009 in Clarence Center, New York. The Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, crashed into a residence killing everyone on board as well as one on the ground.

The NTSB has blamed pilot error and poor training for the crash, noting that the plane’s captain, Marvin Renslow, “had not established a good foundation of attitude instrument flying skills early in his career, and his continued weaknesses in basic aircraft control and instrument flying were not identified and adequately addressed.” Renslow’s career spanned two decades and had failed five performance checks during that time. Colgan Air was only aware of three. Colgan said had they known about the other two, they would not have hired Renslow in 2005.

Colgan Air responded to the NTSB report in a letter: “They [the pilots] knew what to do in the situation they faced that night a year ago, had repeatedly demonstrated they knew what to do, and yet did not do it. We cannot speculate on why they did not use their training in dealing with the situation they faced.”

The Board added that Renslow’s response to the “stick shaker activation should have been automatic, but his improper flight control inputs were inconsistent with his training and were instead consistent with startle and confusion. The 24-year-old first officer, Rebecca Lynne Shaw, was noted for her young age and lack of experience.

Cquote1.svg It was continuous and one-sided, with the captain doing most of the talking. It was as if the flight was just a means for the captain to conduct a conversation with this young first officer. Cquote2.svg

—Robert Sumwalt, NTSB board member

The Board also concluded that “the pilots’ performance was likely impaired because of fatigue.” Renslow and Shaw had spent the night at the crew lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport in violation of Colgan Air’s company policies. However, the board voted down making fatigue a contributing factor. Shaw, the first officer, had flown the previous night on two separate planes from the Pacific Northwest where she lived with her parents. Shaw also appeared to be suffering from a bad cold.

However, the report also criticized Colgan saying that the airline, “did not pro-actively address the pilot fatigue hazards associated with operations at a predominantly commuter base.” Adding that, “Operators have a responsibility to identify risks associated with commuting, implement strategies to mitigate these risks, and ensure that their commuting pilots are fit for duty.”

Another factor brought up the by the NTSB was the violation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) sterile cockpit rule. It was noted that first officer Shaw had sent two text messages before take-off at Newark. The second message was sent two minutes before take-off.

Cquote1.svg Recent NTSB investigations have identified personal wireless technology use on the job. This phenomenon is becoming more widespread, and these phone calls, texts and other distractions have deadly consequences and must be addressed with all due haste by the transportation industry. Cquote2.svg

—Deborah Hersman, NTSB Chairwoman

Prior to landing, the cockpit voice recorder recorded that the pilots were holding a conservation that potentially distracted the captain from operating the plane. Robert Sumwalt, a member of the NTSB board said, “It was continuous and one-sided, with the captain doing most of the talking.” He added, “It was as if the flight was just a means for the captain to conduct a conversation with this young first officer.”

An animated reconstruction by the NTSB, which shows the last 2 minutes of Colgan Air Flight 3407. (2:38)
Image: National Transportation Safety Board.

The chairwoman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, has noted that electronic devices are becoming a hazard to transportation. Hersman said, “Recent NTSB investigations have identified personal wireless technology use on the job. This phenomenon is becoming more widespread, and these phone calls, texts and other distractions have deadly consequences and must be addressed with all due haste by the transportation industry.”

The agency noted that distractions from electronics have played a part in many recent accidents and incidents, such as the August 2009 mid-air collision between a small private Piper aeroplane and a tour helicopter over the Hudson River in New York City killing all involved. The NTSB noted that one of the air traffic controllers was making a phone call and failed to warn the aircraft of the conflict that existed between each other in their airspace. However, this was disputed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association which represents air traffic controllers nationwide. The NTSB later retracted some of its statements.

The other notable incident was that of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 in October, that overshot its destination of Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport by 150 miles (241 km) before the pilots noticed. The pilots claimed they were checking schedules on their laptop computers in violation of basic piloting rules, the sterile cockpit rule and the policy of Delta Air Lines, who had recently acquired Northwest.

The NTSB’s last board meeting which was held two weeks ago, about the 2008 train collision between a Metrolink commuter rail train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, California also pertained to distractions by electronic devices. In the statement released by the NTSB for that meeting, the board stated that “according to records from the wireless provider, on the day of the accident, while on duty, both the Metrolink engineer and the Union Pacific conductor used wireless devices to send and receive text messages.” The NTSB has recommended that audio and video recorders be installed in locomotive and control cabs because of the collision.



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