Lack of access to Rakhine state ‘unacceptable’: UN

UN humanitarian office chief, Mark Lowcock, briefs journalists on the Rohingya crisis on Friday at the UN Offices in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Lack of access to Rakhine state ‘unacceptable’: UN

GENEVA: The lack of humanitarian access granted by Myanmar’s government to Rakhine state, where more than half-a-million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, is “unacceptable,” the UN said Friday while the EU has urged Myanmar to allow refugees to return.
Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN humanitarian office, told reporters in Geneva: “The access we have in northern Rakhine state is unacceptable,”
A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described witnessing “unimaginable” suffering.
Myanmar has tightly controlled access to the state since last month when attacks by Rohingya militants prompted an army kickback that has sent 515,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Scores of Rohingya villages have been torched.
Lowcock said he believed a “a high level” UN team would be able to visit the area “in the next few days.”
He repeated the UN’s call for the government to allow “unhindered (and) unfettered” access.
“Half a million people do not pick up sticks and flee their country on a whim,” Lowcock added, stressing that the scale of the exodus was evidence of a severe crisis in northern Rakhine.
The UN has “substantial capacity” in Myanmar which can be quickly deployed to northern Rakhine once clearance is granted he added.
A Myanmar official tally says hundreds of people died as violence consumed remote communities, including Rohingya.
Hindus and ethnic Rakhine were also among the dead — allegedly killed by Rohingya militants.
Rights groups say the real death toll is likely to be much higher, especially among the Rohingya, while the UN has labelled army operations as “ethnic cleansing” against the Muslim group.
There may be up to 100,000 more people in northern Rakhine waiting to cross into Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.

‘Let Rohingya return’
President Donald Tusk on Friday urged Myanmar to adhere to its international rights obligations and allow Rohingya refugees to return after weeks of violence that have forced more than half a million to flee to Bangladesh.
Tusk said Myanmar must give aid workers access to the troubled state of Rakhine, where the Rohingya ethnic minority say the military are burning their villages in a campaign of retribution for attacks on police posts.
He made the comments after talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi, which he said was first in line to respond to the refugee crisis as a neighboring country.
“The EU continues to assume its responsibilities by receiving people in need of protection and by assisting host countries close to the conflict zones,” said Tusk after the talks.
“We addressed the situation in Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis. We want to see de-escalation of tension and the full adherence to international human rights obligations as well as full humanitarian access so the aid can reach those in need.”
The UN says more than half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since an upsurge in violence in Rakhine at the end of August.
Myanmar has tightly controlled aid workers’ access to the state since attacks in August by Rohingya militants which sparked a massive army crackdown.
Refugees interviewed in Bangladesh have accused the military and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state of burning villages and raping and killing Rohingya Muslims, who are regarded as illegal immigrants in Myanmar.
A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described “unimaginable” suffering.
Tusk made his comments at the end of the 14th EU-India Summit, at which the two sides also discussed a long delayed trade agreement.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the summit had been an “important step in the right direction” toward an agreement, but gave no time frame for progress.
The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 13 percent of the country’s commerce.


Italy bridge operator focus of anger as collapse death toll rises

Updated 15 August 2018
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Italy bridge operator focus of anger as collapse death toll rises

  • The 50-year-old bridge collapsed during torrential rain on Tuesday
  • The bridge’s condition have been a focus of public debate since Tuesday’s collapse

GENOA, Italy: Rescuers hunted for survivors among towering slabs of wreckage on Wednesday after a bridge collapse that killed 39, as furious government ministers rounded on the viaduct’s operator, saying it should pay fines and compensation and lose its concession.
The 50-year-old bridge, part of a toll motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, collapsed during torrential rain on Tuesday, sending dozens of vehicles crashing onto a riverbed, a railway and two warehouses.
Eye-witness Ivan, 37, evacuated on Tuesday from the nearby building where he works, described the collapse as unbelievable.
“To see a pylon come down like papier-mâché is an incredible thing,” he said. “It’s been a lifetime that we’ve known there were problems. It is in continual maintenance.”
“In the ‘90s they added some reinforcements on one part, but also underneath you can see rust.”
As cranes moved in to shift truck-sized chunks of broken concrete, hundreds of firefighters searched for survivors, while public shock and grief turned to anger over the state of the 1.2 km-long bridge, completed in 1967 and overhauled two years ago.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, visiting the disaster scene, said bridge operator Autostrade per l’Italia would have to contribute to the cost of its reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.
But Autostrade, a unit of Milan-listed Atlantia group , said it had done regular, sophisticated checks on the structure before the disaster, relying on “companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections” and that these had provided reassuring results.
“These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the Transport Ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession aggreement,” it said.
A source close to the matter that Autostrade per l’Italia would hold an extraordinary board meeting next week following the disaster.

WEIGHT OF TRAFFIC
The bridge’s condition, and its ability to sustain large increases in both the intensity and weight of traffic over the years, have been a focus of public debate since Tuesday’s collapse, when an 80-meter span gave way at lunchtime as cars packed with holidaymakers as well as trucks streamed across it.
Salvatore Lorefice, 58, a pensioner who lives a few hundred meters (yards) from the bridge, said cement had fallen off the structure as early as the 1980s when he worked at a warehouse directly under the bridge.
He recalled a visit by a team of Japanese technicians who “came to find out how the structure had deteriorated in such a short time.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the private sector manager of the bridge had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money they were supposed to” and its concession should be revoked.
He was apparently referring to Autostrade.
“Imposing the highest penalties possible and making sure that those responsible for the dead and the injured pay up for any damages and crimes is the very least,” he said.
The Pope offered a prayer for the victims and their loved ones in a public address at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said 400 firefighters were at the site, lifting big chunks of concrete to create spaces for rescue teams to check for survivors.
In Paris, France’s foreign ministry said four French nationals were among the dead.
Toninelli earlier said he had begun a process to strip Autostrade of its concession and he demanded top Autostrade managers resign.
“Autostrade per l’Italia was not able to fulfill its obligations under the contract regulating management of this infrastructure,” Toninelli said on RAI 1 state TV, adding he would seek to levy heavy fines against the company that could reach up to 150 million euros.

STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS
The Morandi Bridge, named after the engineer who designed it, forms part of the A10 motorway run by Autostrade. The 55-km (34 mile) stretch of the A10 accounts for around 1.7 percent of total network traffic for Italy’s biggest toll road operator, according to one analyst’s estimate.
Autostrade’s parent, Atlantia, also runs toll-road concessions in Brazil, Chile, India and Poland.
“The top management of Autostrade per l’Italia must step down first of all,” Toninelli said in a Facebook post.
He also said the government would inspect the structure of aging bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a program of remedial works if required.
Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government that took office in June said the collapse showed Italy needed to spend more on its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.
Genoa police put the death toll at 39, with 16 injured.