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Myanmar Government Says Rakhine Elections Require Security Guarantees

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The Myanmar military and the rebel Arakan Army, observing a temporary truce in a two-year-long war, must reach a “solid” security guarantee before elections can be held in parts of Rakhine state where elections officials suspended voting in November, a government spokesman said Friday.

Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President’s Office, told RFA that the military had not yet provided such a guarantee to the Union Election Commission (UEC), which must decide whether and when to hold the balloting.

Myanmar’s military, backing a demand of the AA amid the fragile cease-fire, called on Thursday for elections to be held by Feb. 1 in strife-torn parts of Rakhine and Shan states where voting had been cancelled before the Nov. 8 general elections for security reasons. Newly elected lawmakers will take their seats in parliament at the start of February and begin a new legislative session.

Though the government is willing to hold voting in nine Rakhine townships where elections had been canceled, a solid agreement between the warring armies is needed, Zaw Htay said during a press conference in Naypyidaw

“As for the government, we want the elections to happen, but they cannot be held as it is now,” he said. “There are processes that need to be completed, [and] in order to complete these specific processes, we need solid agreements.”

Fair conditions for all candidates and parties and voting rights for civilians displaced by armed conflict also are being taken into consideration for elections to be held, the spokesman said.

“Securing the bilateral cease-fire agreement and signing it involve different issues,” Zaw Htay said.

Time will be required to designate a campaign period for candidates, to arrange voting in war displaced refugee camps, to conduct voting in districts where balloting was canceled, and to arrange security, he said.

“After we address these issues, step by step, then we can hold the elections under the agreement,” he said.

The government and the UEC are still negotiating with the AA, Zaw Htay added.

Myanmar military spokesmen were not available for comment.

Up to the government, UEC

In response to Zaw Htay’s comments, AA spokesman Khine Thukha said the issue of holding elections in Rakhine state is entirely up to the government and the UEC because the AA already stated publicly that it will guarantee security during voting.

“Whether or not the election plans go forward depends only on the government and the UEC,” he said. “We already announced that we will guarantee security-related issues as much as we can.”

“At the same time, the Myanmar military also announced that it wants election plans to move forward,” he said. “Now, you can see who is delaying plans for the election.”

Zaw Htay said the government also is negotiating with the members of the Northern Alliance of rebel armies that includes the AA, Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, to meet for peace talks in either Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, or the town of Kengtung in Shan state during the second week of January.

The government has sent a draft bilateral cease-fire agreement containing a security guarantee to the Northern Alliance as a prerequisite for holding make-up elections, he said.

Khine Thukha said the date and time of the meeting had not yet been confirmed.

Pe Than, a Rakhine state lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, said the government is procrastinating over the holding elections because it has no motivation for doing so.

“We are now in January, [and] the new parliamentary sessions are about to begin,” he said. “They are still talking about negotiations for the elections.”

Zaw Htay also said that the government will move forward with plans to form a new government and that there would be no problems with the transition, despite legal challenges filed by military-linked political parties that have not recognized the result of the elections won by a landslide by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP) have accused the NLD government and the UEC of electoral fraud and have filed a joint complaint with the Supreme Court. An initial hearing will take place on Jan.29.

Reported by Thiha Tun and Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.



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Cholera – Togo

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From 11 November to 28 December, 2020 a total of 67 suspected cholera cases presenting with diarrhea and vomiting, including two deaths a case fatality ratio (CFR: 3%) were reported from the municipalities “Golfe 1” and “Golfe 6” in Lomé, Togo. A total of four health areas (Katanga, Adakpamé, Gbétsogbé in Golfe 1, and Kangnikopé in Golfe 6) in the affected municipalities reported at least one case.

On 17 November, cholera was confirmed by culture in the laboratory of the National Institute of Hygiene (INH) in Lomé, Togo and WHO was informed. On 19 November, the Minister of Health, Public Hygiene and Universal Access to Care of Togo issued a press release declaring a cholera outbreak and on 24 November WHO was officially notified. From 11 November to 28 December 2020, a total of 17 out of 41 stool samples tested positive for Vibrio cholerae O1 serotype Ogawa by culture in the National Institute of Hygiene (INH) in Lomé, Togo.



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SWO Boss: Study Pushing Further Changes to LCS, Informing Frigate Manning Plans

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Information Specialist 1st Class Matthew Stephenson mans the lines as the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS-11) gets underway on Aug. 30, 2020. US Navy Photo

The Navy in the next few weeks will release a further refinement of how to operate and maintain the Littoral Combat Ships that today make up the small surface combatant fleet.

In parallel, though, the service is working hard to take lessons learned from years of struggles with the LCS and ensure the upcoming frigate program can hit the ground running.

Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener told USNI News in a Jan. 8 media roundtable that he’s been working on a follow-up LCS study since he took command over the summer and was almost ready to discuss findings related to how to achieve the most presence, what the most appropriate mission sets are, and how to improve sustainment and maintenance.

Kitchener told USNI News in an August interview that he was very pleased with the LCS training model but that other aspects – importantly, some ongoing design challenges, like the Freedom-variant combining gear, and refining the overseas maintenance model – still needed work.

He said he picked up where a 2016 LCS Review had left off and was looking forward to discussing the results as soon as the end of the month.

Still, it’s been 12 years since lead ship USS Freedom (LCS-1) commissioned, eight years since Freedom went on its first deployment to the Western Pacific and nearly four and a half years since that 2016 LCS Review overhauled LCS manning and organization. Kitchener acknowledged the need to get off to a faster start on the Constellation-class frigate, which the Navy has said will be at the heart of its Distributed Maritime Operations concept.

“When we started building frigate, we looked at lot at LCS and what we can learn – for example, the way we train on LCS, train to qualify, is a really good model and we’re going to leverage that for FFG-62,” Kitchener said during the media call ahead of this week’s Surface Navy Association annual symposiums.
“And then the manning, we just looked at what we’ve done on LCS, the blue/gold concept, and how we’re going to fit them out. And we think that is probably the way to get the most presence” out of the frigate hulls.

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) transits the Eastern Pacific Ocean on Oct. 6, 2020. US Navy Photo

Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, director of the surface warfare division on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96), during the same call told USNI News that some of the key manning issues LCS had in the beginning would be avoided with frigate.

“The crew on a frigate will be larger, so there’s kind of inherently more capability in that crew. It’s not a minimally manned platform as the LCS was. … That means that the frigate, the Conny-class crew size, will support being able to do more multi-mission sorts of things, whereas the LCS is more single-mission, one mission at a time platform,” he said.
“And there’s some more ability for the crew to do its own maintenance; planned maintenance will be done much more so by the ship’s force crew on a frigate, on the Conny class, than on the LCS.”

Schlise added that decisions on frigate manning are still being made but that learning from LCS is an important part of the process.

“The ink’s not dry yet – we’re looking at, as the SWO Boss said, there’s some lessons learned from blue/gold crewing, I think there’s some ability to potentially deploy the ships for longer with a rotational crew model, and we are still learning about how to do that and what that right rotation is. So it’s a little bit pre-decisional still with Conny,” he said.
“I think at least the first few hulls, and I’m not going to give you a number because we haven’t decided yet, we will probably single-crew the first few hulls because there’s a lot of test and evaluation to go through with a new platform like that, and wringing out the new systems, going through all the testing required to bring a new platform fully into this fleet, to get it to [initial operational capability] and [full operational capability]. If we do modify that crewing model farther down the road, that is something that’s under consideration, and we’re looking to of course give the best Ao, availability for operations, to the fleet commander that we can with the platforms.”

Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman position for recovery as the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) participates in a multi-lateral exercise on Sept. 13, 2020. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. US Navy photo.

Beyond just manning and training issues, ongoing mission package testing for the LCS will also help the frigate program.

The Navy has so far only deployed its surface warfare mission package, which includes manned and unmanned helicopters, the Longbow Hellfire anti-surface missile, 30mm guns and a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB).

The other two mission packages have repeatedly fallen behind in their testing and are past their anticipated timelines for reaching IOC.

The anti-submarine warfare package includes an Escort Mission Module that consists of a variable-depth sonar that is new and a multi-function towed array for active and passive listening that the fleet already has fielded; and a Torpedo Defense Module with a light-weight tow.

The ASW mission package was previously on track to reach IOC in Fiscal Year 2019 and then was pushed back to FY 2020. However, now in FY 2021, testing is still ongoing.

Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Commander, Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, meets with Sailors during a tour of the Amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) on Aug. 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

Despite the delays, Schlise said the ongoing variable depth sonar testing was important not just to the LCS mission package but also to the future frigate.

ASW mission package testing “directly ties into what we will eventually field on the FFG-62 Constellation-class frigate. We are pretty excited about the progress that we’ve made with the variable depth sonar system that is a piece of that ASW mission package. And that is something that the Conny-class frigate will have. So they’re sort of joined at the hip there in terms of our small surface combatant force between LCS and frigate,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Tracy King, the director of expeditionary warfare on the CNO’s staff (OPNAV N95), said during the same call that the mine countermeasures mission packages are being built now and that the Navy would start fielding them in two or three years.

“I like the direction we’re going in. We do have some technological challenges just because of the difficult nature of finding mines in the open ocean. But we’re really focused in on wide-area detection and giving the joint force and the naval force commander the situational awareness to decide what he wants to do with that threat,” he told USNI News in the call.
“I like that we’re married up with the LCSs, they’re a tremendous platform on which to do this mission. We’ll probably see some of the packages also on vessels of opportunity like the [expeditionary sea bases].”



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Africa: Over 1.7 Million Confirmed Cases of Covid-19 Across Continent

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Africa: Over 1.7 Million Confirmed Cases of Covid-19 Across ContinentallAfricaAs of October 27, the confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 55 African countries have reached 1,729,195. Reported deaths in Africa have reached 41,608 and recoveries… Read more »



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Influenza A(H1N2) variant virus – Brazil

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On 15 December 2020, the Brazil Ministry of Health reported the second confirmed human infection with influenza A(H1N2) variant virus [A(H1N2)v] in Brazil in 2020.



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Myanmar Authorities Investigate July Killing of Rakhine Villager, Relatives Say

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Myanmar police and the military are investigating the case of a civilian allegedly killed by government soldiers six months ago in war-ravaged Rakhine state, after the dead man’s family pressed charges against troops for the murder and cover-up, his relatives told RFA Friday.

Soldiers detained Kyaw Hlaing, 31, of Pike Thae ward in Kyauktaw township on July 2, 2020, in one of the combat zones in their now two-year-long armed conflict with the rebel Arakan Army (AA) in the northern part of the state. Five days later, his body parts washed ashore along the banks of the Kaladan River.

The family of Kyaw Hlaing filed complaints against soldiers at the Kyauktaw police station, accusing them of murder and covering up evidence.

Police interviewed two witnesses on Dec. 31, while regional military officials interrogated the same pair again on Jan 7.

Aung Kyaw Oo, a recycling vender who worked with Kyaw Hlaing, testified that he had seen military troops arrest his colleague on July 2.

“In the evening when Kyaw Hlaing came to me to turn in some broken iron bars, we saw a military column coming into the area,” he said. “Everyone along the street closed all their doors and hid. At the time, Kyaw Hlaing was coming to my home, and he ran into the soldier in front of my house.”

Myanmar soldiers questioned Kyaw Hlaing for three minutes before taking him to a nearby monastery hall where they detained him, Aung Kyaw Oo said.

“I saw everything from my house, [and] I testified about what I had seen,” he said.

‘Mumbling the words’

Buddhist abbot Sandimar from Myo Ma Shwe Kyaung monastery, where the military column was stationed, also testified that he saw Kyaw Hlaing with his hands tied behind his back detained under the building on July 3.

“Around 6:30 a.m. that day, I went down to the monastery to take a bath,” he said. “I saw Kyaw Hlaing near there without a shirt on and with his hands tied behind his back.”

When Kyaw Hlaing called out to the abbot, the monk did not recognize him because his face was bruised and swollen beyond recognition, he said.

“He was mumbling the words,” Sandimar said. “At the same time, the soldiers were watching at me.”

The nuns in the neighboring monastery said they also heard Kyaw Hlaing’s murmuring that night and that the military column left the monastery the following day.

RFA could not reach the commander of the Kyauktaw police station or military spokesmen for comment.

At a July 15 press conference in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, Kyaw Hlaing’s wife Su Chey told reporters that she tried to see her husband while he was being held at the monastery, but soldiers denied he was there and threatened to shoot her if she returned.

Su Chey said she saw Kyaw Hlaing tied to a banana tree on the monastery grounds and knew it was him because he was not wearing a shirt when soldiers detained him.

‘A false allegation’

That same day, Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said that the woman’s story was a false allegation.

“As far as I know, no one was arrested in Kyauktaw,” he said. “We are always announcing news related to civilian arrests. If we arrest a civilian, we always release information about it.”

“This is just a false allegation, though we didn’t make any arrests,” he said. “These accusations come out all the time.”

Zan Min Tun denied allegations that Myanmar soldiers had arrested villagers from the area during a press conference on July 5, 2020. He was unavailable for comment on the latest development.

Su Chey said she wants justice for Kyaw Hlaing.

“I want the authorities to punish whoever murdered my husband and cut him up,” she told RFA. “I want justice for him. He was murdered although he was not guilty. I also want to appeal to the international community to help us deliver justice for him.”

The incident was one of numerous disappearances in the war in Rakhine that has killed 300 civilians and displaced roughly 230,000 others since late 2018. The AA is battling for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhines, descendants of an ancient kingdom along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.



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South Sudan: Timely action by Ghanaian peacekeepers proves ‘every second counts’

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Ghanaian peacekeepers at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have been commended for their lifesaving support to a man who was severely wounded during recent violent inter-communal clashes in the north of the country.



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Outreach Events Make the Holidays Bright for Houston Families

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Thanks to generous donations and grants, Somebody Cares was able to help over a dozen churches and organizations in Greater Houston provide a Merry Christmas to hundreds of children, families, and seniors throughout the area.

One of those participating churches was Fellowship Houston, pastored by long-time friend Vaughn Walwyn, which provided gifts for 170 children. “We wanted to create an event that was true to our style of ministry and relevant to our community,” Pastor Vaughn explained. “We were told that a large portion of one of the schools we adopted had parents who don’t speak English, so we brought in a Latin artist to sing some songs in Spanish and help us translate the Gospel. Over 30 hands were raised when we asked who accepted Christ in their life!”

The event also included hot cocoa, candy canes, and cookies for everyone in the family, along with gift cards from restaurants and Visa cards to help with additional needs. Children were able to take pictures with Santa Claus and The Grinch. Families that were unable to make it to the event had their toys delivered to their homes.

“It’s really a blessing for my kids to actually get something nice for Christmas through this organization because it’s been really tough during the pandemic,” one mother said. “I really thank God for this church and this organization, and everything they’re doing for the community.”

“It’s easy to get excited about the gifts,” Pastor Vaughn shared with the crowd. “But we need to get excited about the Gift Giver, Jesus!”

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO REPORT!

Earlier in December, the Church on MastersRoad in Manvel hosted a Christmas festival for the community, with over 800 people attending. The event included games, a rock wall, cookie decorating, a snow hill, Christmas music, a train ride, and a drive-in movie complete with popcorn and treats. The church also served turkey legs, hot dogs, corn in a cup, wassail, hot cocoa, and cookies. Best of all, the entire event was free of charge.

“We were able to meet a physical need while planting a seed of hope and the joy we have in Jesus,” said Deanna Decker, who serves at the church.

One volunteer overheard a teenage daughter wishing she could climb the rock wall. The mom replied, “Honey, I’m sorry, you know we can’t afford anything extra.” “Excuse me,” said the volunteer, “everything is free of charge.” “What? You mean I can go on the rock wall, decorate cookies, slide down the snow hill, and eat?” “Yes, you can do it all!” The mom and daughter ran off arm in arm, laughing.

Another volunteer was especially touched by a grandma who was there with her nine grandchildren. “She told me what a gift this event was,” said the volunteer. She often cares for all of her grandchildren but she normally can’t afford to take them anywhere. Some of their parents have lost their jobs due to Covid shutdowns and are working several smaller jobs to make ends meet, so she is caring for the children even more now. The volunteer invited her to come to church services, and she and the children were there the following Sunday.

In a separate initiative, the church worked with local schools to provide gifts for students who are homeless or in foster care. Each gift and each recipient were prayed over during a gift-wrapping party.

“It is because of your generosity and grace that we were able to provide for all the kids that were presented to us, and do it with excellence,” Deanna said.

Other outreach events included:

Church on Fire Christian Center hosted an outreach event where toys were distributed for 263 children. With tears in his eyes, one father explained how his hours were significantly reduced due to Covid, and he didn’t know where he was going to get money for Christmas. “He felt really bad because he’s the man of the house and not able to support his family by providing everything they need,” said Pastors Donnell and Stephanie Vigers. If not for the toy giveaway, his children would not have any gifts this Christmas. “Thank you, Doug and Lisa Stringer, for your generosity, love, and support,” the Vigers added. “You gave us an opportunity to serve those in need, and it was such a blessing to us and them. We love you and SCA.” CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO REPORT!

SCA and Church on Fire also partnered with iPray On Campus for a community outreach in Richmond/Fort Bend County on Christmas Eve. “This region is a low income neighborhood with many trailer homes,” said Gideon Stanley from iPray. “We wanted to put a smile on the faces of many of the children in this region by giving out toys and also gift cards for some of the families.” The event also included Christmas music by worship leader Eddie James, he said. “We were able to give out toys to about 40 kids and 20 gift cards. We also visited some families in the neighborhood that did not come to the event but were watching from a distance. The kids were overwhelmed with joy. Thanks to Pastor Doug, Somebody Cares, and Pastors Donnell and Stephanie Vigers for helping us get the toys.”

YWAM Houston served 240 adults and over 200 children during their annual Montrose Street Reach Christmas event, held in partnership with Joe Williams Ministries. The SCA grant was used to purchase sleeping bags for street kids and other homeless individuals. “Thanks to SCA so, so much!” they said. “It was a fantastic event and Jesus was surely glorified in everything. God is amazing!”

Seniority Services provided comfort care items to seniors and caregivers, including 110 gift bags that were delivered to shut-ins; blankets and throws; toiletries and emergency supplies; greeting cards; HEB gift cards; and gift bags to caregivers of nursing home residents. “I continue to receive calls expressing what a surprise the gifts were and repeated expressions of thanks for the thoughtfulness that went into the gift items selected,” says Susie Wolf, Seniority Services founder and president. “Connections continue with retired nurses, widows, and more.  This has opened the door for more outreach to the community.”

Holocaust Remembrance Association delivered Hanukkah gifts, including $20 gift cards, to 94 Holocaust survivors and their families. Grant funds were also used to purchase and distribute stone painting kits throughout the area. This special project is designed to memorialize the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, utilizing kits that consist of 20 blank stones, paint, paint brushes, pen and the names and details of 20 children. “These kits are being distributed to schools, clubs, nursing homes and families. Old and young alike are painting stones at the Nathaniel Center and venues around the area,” said Rozalie Jerome, Executive Director.

Centro De Fe (Faith Center) Church in Brookside/Pearland held an outreach with gifts for kids, purchase through the SCA grant. They also distributed food and groceries, which is part of their ongoing outreach to the community. “We and our Somebody Cares Houston and America teams have been blessed and happy to be a partner with Centro De Fe since the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and also now in assisting them and many families who have struggled with difficulties this Christmas season,” Doug Stringer said. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO REPORT!

Thanks to these and our other participating partners for being the hands and feet of Jesus at Christmas and all year long!

 



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UK Debuts Geothermal Plant Using Heat From the Earth to Power 10,000 Homes

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In Cornwall, the UK’s first-ever geothermal power plant has just put pen to paper on a 10-year deal to sell its supply of electricity to 10,000 local homes. The plant creates power by mixing water down two wells, one of which is three miles deep, that pass through the Porthtowan fault zone and the red […]

The post UK Debuts Geothermal Plant Using Heat From the Earth to Power 10,000 Homes appeared first on Good News Network.



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Bangladesh’s hidden climate costs

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Damages multiply, months after a string of disasters. Lost income puts more pressure on women and girls, and pushes some families to migrate.



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