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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Militant group: hostages alive in Kenya mall

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 04:16 Published in National News

   NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The militant group that attacked a Nairobi mall and killed at least 60 people says it is still holding hostages alive inside and that its fighters are "still holding their ground."

   The Twitter messages posted Tuesday by the al-Qaida-linked rebel group al-Shabab came after Kenyan government assurances of success in the fourth-day of the standoff.

   Al-Shabab says the hostages "are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive."

   A security expert with contacts inside said Monday night there were at least 30 hostages when the assault began Saturday and at least 10 were believed to be still inside the upscale mall. Officials did not give a figure, saying only that "most" hostages had been released.

   Sporadic gunfire could be heard from the building Tuesday as government forces pressed on inside.

South Korea rejects Boeing in warplane purchase project

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 04:08 Published in Local News

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says it has rejected Boeing Co.'s bid to build and supply 60 new fighter jets — even though it was the sole contender in the bidding process.

   Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said Tuesday that South Korea has decided to delay naming a winning bidder for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) weapons purchase project.

   Boeing offered its F-15 Silent Eagle, but South Korean critics say the plane lacks state-of-the-art stealth capabilities and cannot effectively cope with North Korea's increasing nuclear threats.

   Kim says South Korea must have better air power and Boeing's rejection was made in consideration of North Korea's nuclear program and other factors.

   Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon earlier competed with Boeing but were eliminated for exceeding Seoul's budget cap.

   The F-15s would have been built at Boeing's St. Louis plant.

AP Interview: UN aid official demands Syria access

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 04:04 Published in National News

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Aid workers must be given access if parts of Syria come under a cease-fire to allow chemical weapons experts to try to bring the country's stockpile under international control, the head of the U.N.'s World Food Program said.

   Ertharin Cousin told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that an agreement under discussion now envisions a cessation of hostilities so chemical experts can travel across the country, including to many conflict areas where WFP and other humanitarian workers have been unable to bring in desperately needed aid.

   "So this is an opportunity for us to hopefully overcome the hurdle that today we've been unable to achieve," Cousin said.

   The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but U.N. diplomats say they are at odds on details of a U.N. Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria doesn't comply.

   Cousin urged the international community to demand that the Security Council make any cease-fire a broad one.

   "When you talk about a cessation of hostilities to allow access for the chemical (weapons) workers, that cessation in hostilities should also allow access for humanitarian workers," she said.

   WFP is currently feeding 3 million people inside Syria and 1.2 million in neighboring countries. Cousin said the goal is to step up supplies so that 4 million internally displaced people and 1.5 million refugees are getting food by the end of October.

   While the agency is working in all 14 Syrian governorates, Cousin said there are pockets in many of them that humanitarian workers can't reach because of fighting.

   The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused government forces Monday of tightening their siege during the past month in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where U.N. inspectors reported that chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack.

   "Assad's forces are starving people to death in those areas," the coalition claimed. "The specter of famine looms in the horizon as more than 2 million people remain under siege."

   Cousin said WFP hasn't had access to an opposition-controlled area in Ghouta called Muhammadiyah, which is besieged by government forces. She also pointed to an area in the Kurdish-dominated Hasaka region in the northeast controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and an opposition-controlled area on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo where the agency has had trouble operating.

   Cousin said the bullets that have been fired at WFP trucks trying to get into Ghouta and other conflict areas "don't say 'I came from the regime' or 'I came from the opposition.'"

   "The reality of it is there's enough complicity to go around," she said.

   WFP has tried to identify third party monitors who can access these difficult areas, Cousin said.

   "The challenge is the same — getting third party monitors and food into these areas," she said. "So it's an awful Catch-22. You need to get the monitors in so you can justify the access that is necessary to get food in."

   As Syrians prepare to face their third winter in conflict, thousands including women, children and seniors, need food, medicine, blankets and other humanitarian aid, she said.

   "So we must demand that all the parties ... provide access to humanitarians," Cousin stressed, adding that she has been talking to prime ministers, foreign ministers and anyone else with influence on the five permanent Security Council members who hold the key to the contents of the chemical weapons resolution.

   She said WFP's traditional donors — the U.S., U.K., European Union, Germany and Canada — have been generous with money to support the massive feeding program in Syria, which is costing $30 million a week. But more help is needed.

   "We need the entire global community, which means we need Saudi Arabia, we need China" and others, Cousin said.

   She said donor fatigue is a concern.

   "What worries me more than the fact that there's not a bottomless pit is the escalating cost and ... the impact that that will have on other crises around the world," Cousin said. "The problems in Somalia, the Sahel, Yemen, didn't disappear because the problems in Syria are increasing. What we can't afford is to prioritize one hungry child over another."

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