Entrylevel training standard en route for Canadian truckers within a year

MONTREAL — The country’s transportation ministers have agreed to develop an entry-level training standard for semi-truck drivers nationwide.Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau says the minimum bar to get behind the wheel of a semi truck will ensure drivers have the necessary skills, and will be in place by January 2020.Currently, Ontario is the only province with mandatory truck driver training. Saskatchewan and Alberta are to require mandatory training starting in March.The changes in Saskatchewan came after last year’s Humboldt Broncos bus crash tragedy, which Garneau referenced at a Montreal press conference following a transportation ministers meeting Monday.Sixteen people were killed when the team’s bus and a semi-unit loaded with peat moss collided last April.The driver of the semi-truck recently pleaded guilty to all charges against him, telling his lawyer he did not “want to make things any worse.”The Canadian Press read more

Akhannouch Refutes Accusations that Hes Obstructs Coalition Government

Rabat – Aziz Akhannouch, newly elected Secretary-General of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), refuted accusations that he has obstructed the formation the coalition government.The National Rally of Independent (RNI) released a communiqué in the November 6 issue of the Moroccan Arabic-language newspaper Al-Alam. The communiqué came in response to the accusations that the party’s newly elected president has attempted obstruct the process of forming the government that Benkirane began on October 10.According to the statement, these accusations came “within a specific context experienced by our country lately” and were made by “certain parties in order to polish their political image and block the way of the deliberations to form the government coalition,” possibly alluding to the Independence Party (PI) and The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP). “These parties”, continues the statement, “spread lies saying that the party of the National Rally of Independents and its Secretary-General have adopted an approach that contravenes with the community building that Morocco has chosen.”The RNI considers this “unprecedented attack” as a dangerous accusation that is meant to spread the image that the RNI opposes social and developmental reforms “while the party [RNI] has always subscribed, with all its potentials and efforts, to realizing societal and developmental projects that serve the Moroccan citizens.”The RNI seized the opportunity to reiterate its “firm positions in regards to respecting the democratic legitimacy and the reformist path launched by Morocco since the Constitution of 2011.”The communiqué mentions some “honorable positions” at the head of some ministries since it joined the government in 2013, where it “supported the developmental and social projects that Morocco saw during the previous government term.”The statement calls on the party’s “members, sympathizers and Moroccans in general to not be misled by this wave of lies aiming at causing segregation for narrow political machinations.”Edited by Constance Guindon read more

Frances Ministry of Culture Honors Leila Alaoui Posthumously

Casablanca — The French-Moroccan photography, whose death was sadly announced last January in Ouagadougou, was honored by the French Ministry of Culture this week.On December 12, Alaoui received the order of “Commander” of the Order of Arts and Letters, for her significant contribution to the arts, by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.Notre très grande #LeilaAlaoui va recevoir les insignes de Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et lettres à titre posthume. #proud @fondationleila— Aida Alami (@AidaAlami) December 12, 2016Previous awardees of the “Commander” grade include: Bob Dylan, T.S. Eliot, Bono, Marlène Jobert and Quincy Jones. Leila Alaoui was also awarded, posthumously, the ‘Knight’ grade order Ouissam Alaouite on August 21 at the 2016 Youth Festival in Morocco.Prior to her tragic passing, Alaoui was a prestigious photographer and video artist with exhibitions across the world since 2009.Her bio reads: “Born in Paris in 1982, she studied photography at the City University of New York before spending time in Morocco and Lebanon. Her work explores the construction of identity and cultural diversity, often through the prism of the migration stories that intersect the contemporary Mediterranean.”Alaoui died due to injuries suffered during a Ouagadougou terrorist attack carried out on January 15, 2015. Then 33-years-old, Alaoui was in Burkina Faso filming with Amnesty International.C’est avec tristesse que nous avons appris le décès de Leila Alaoui. Leila travaillait sur un projet avec notre secrétariat international.— Amnesty France (@amnestyfrance) January 19, 2016 read more

Moroccos Cycling Tour Azerbaijani Asadov Elchin Wins 7th Stage

Fez – Azerbaijani Asadov Elchin won the seventh stage of Morocco’s 30th Cycling Tour, held Thursday between Guercif and Fez (184.5 km).Elchin crossed the finish line in a time of 4h57min11sec, ahead of Moroccan Karmouchi Hatim, while Croatian Rumac Jozip ranked third.This race is part of the UCI Africa Tour calendar and brings together 120 cyclists representing 20 teams from Africa, Europe and the Americas. The 8th stage of this competition, organized on April 7-16, will connect Friday between the cities of Fez and Meknes (148.5 km).

Fouad Ali El Himma I met with Benkirane but not to

Rabat – Counselor of King Mohammed VI, Fouad Ali El Himma, confirmed his meeting with Abdelilah Benkirane, Secretary General of PJD, but denied the meeting had “any connection with the situation in Al Hoceima.”“I did not visit him as an envoy of the Royal Palace. I took this initiative in an emissary capacity, purely courtesy setting at the beginning of this holy month of Ramadan,” wrote El Himma in a statement sent to media outlets on Tuesday.“I just wanted to hear from him, especially since he was exhausted. He has also asked me several times and criticized me for not visiting him and not contacting him,” he stressed. However El Himma added that if “Mr. Benkirane may want to maintain illusions, to silence the truth or to let the false information spread… I refuse to do that on my behalf.”“As counselor of His Majesty, may God assist him, and a member of the Royal Cabinet, I know very well that there is only one government appointed by His Majesty the King, and I know very well who is the Head of Government,” continued Mr. El Himma . “I also would not have embarrassed Mr. Bekirane, especially since the events in Al Hoceima, as everyone knows, began and continued for a few months during his tenure as head of the government,” he concluded. read more

Catalonia PM Says Region Will Declare Independence in Coming Days

Rabat – The Spanish region of Catalonia seems determined to go ahead with independence plans despite the crackdown from Madrid.The northern region’s premier, Carles Puigdemont, said late on Sunday that his government will declare independence in the coming days.Despite a violent intervention from the National Police and the Guardia Civil on Sunday to prevent citizens from voting in the independence referendum and and seize ballot boxes, results of the vote were announced. Preliminary figures show a massive support for independence as around 90% of citizens declared in favor of separation from Spain.It’s not only Catalans voting in the #CatalanReferendum #ScotsForCatalonia @bcnrogues pic.twitter.com/m90uAofOHy— Andrew Thom (@thomthegolfer) 1 octobre 2017The vote was marked with a relatively low turnout with only 42% of eligible voters casting their votes. According to the local government, 2,262,424 out of a total voter pool of 5,343,358 took part in the referendum.It is not clear if this is mainly due to police intervention in an attempt to stop the referendum.Puigdemont said that his government will transmit the vote’s result to the Catalan parliament to “act in accordance with the referendum laws.”The Catalan premier had a word to say about the crackdown, slamming what he called police “brutality” and “repression”.He urged the European Union not to stay silent about what is taking place in Catalonia.Today will go down in history, by 2 opposed images: 1-Catalans voting for their future ??? 2-The brutality of the Spanish Government ?????? pic.twitter.com/khnCUldZex— Jon Inarritu (@JonInarritu) 1 octobre 2017The use of violence against voters increased the tension between Catalonia and the central government. Catalans claim their right to vote as a democratic exercise. Madrid maintains that the vote is illegal as was previously declared by the country’s supreme court.On Sunday, pictures and videos of Spanish security elements beating, pushing and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at pro-referendum protesters, causing several injuries among them, came as a shock in Spain and elsewhere.The scenes were described as “unprecedented” in the country’s history. Yet, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy defended security forces, saying they acted so that the law prevails.“We did what we had to do”, he said in a speech to the nation on Sunday night.Rajoy is facing one of the toughest challenges in his political career as Spain’s PM. The leader of the Popular Party was heavily criticized by Pablo Iglesias, the Secretary General of the left-wing party Podemos.Iglesias said the Popular Party must step down from government, calling for a negotiated solution to the ongoing crisis in Catalonia. read more

Cleanup underway after northern Oklahoma crude oil spill

ENID, Okla. — Crews are working to contain thousands of gallons of crude oil that leaked into a creek in northern Oklahoma.Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said Wednesday oil extends for about 5 miles (8 kilometres) in Black Bear Creek in rural Garfield County.Skinner says the spill was reported Tuesday by Great Salt Plains Midstream of Oklahoma City, a pipeline operator. The oil apparently leaked from an open valve on a tank. Skinner says the cause is under investigation.He says about 750 barrels, or 31,500 gallons (119,240 litres), leaked and that crews are “working around the clock” to remove the oil. Skinner says there’s no threat to those people who live in the area.A representative of Great Salt Plains Midstream didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.The Associated Press read more

Moroccan Rapper Lartiste Supports Morocco for World Cup on French TV

Rabat – Lartiste wants the world to know that he is supporting his home country Morocco in the upcoming World Cup.Invited to sing on the set of the French show “Chanson de l’année 2018” (Song of the Year 2018), the Moroccan rapper surprised everyone by wearing a pro-Moroccan t-shirt, supporting the Atlas Lions for the football competition.Singing his hit song “Mafiosa” with Brazilian rapper Carolina, Youssef Akdim, who is called Lartiste, sported a “Keep Calm and Support Morocco” t-shirt during his performance to show that he is all in for the Atlas Lions who will soon compete in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Despite not winning the “Song of the Year 2018” award, the singer of “Chocolat” has won the hearts of Moroccan fans who have not failed to show their enthusiasm on social networks.However, the year has started roughly for the native of Marrakech. In March, he was beaten up and forced to cancel concerts, tours, and interviews. In spite of everything, Lartiste managed to make a gold record with his album Grandestino, and this “without promo and without cheating,” as he said it on Instagram.Lartiste is a rap singer born July 4, 1985 in a village near Marrakech in Morocco. Raised with music, including raï (Algerican folk music), he moved with his family to Aulnay-Sous-Bois in Paris at the age of six.After several albums that allowed him to evolve his style and become known, he released his third opus “Maestro” in 2016 with the label of Master Gims, which is a hit. At the end of 2016, Lartiste started his own label, Purple Money, and released “Clandestino” in December, which he performed throughout 2017 on the roads of France.The record is certified platinum, thanks to his two hits “Clandestina” and “Chocolat,” featuring Awa Imani.This year, the Moroccan sensation has achieved new success with his hit “Mafiosa,” in collaboration with Carolina. He received a platinum single but also a gold record for his latest opus “Grandestino.” read more

7 Things to Know If Youre Studying Abroad in Morocco

By Salihah Evans Rabat – You can spend hours searching the web for everything you need to know. If you are headed to Morocco to study abroad, look no further. Read on for a carefully crafted list of everything you need to know before studying abroad in the beautiful country of Morocco! 1 – Language The official language of Morocco is Standard Arabic, but it is not used in daily life. Instead, the majority speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic), a dialect of Arabic. French is also widely spoken. In some “touristy” cities, English is relatively easy to find. However, most cities are difficult to navigate without knowing French or Arabic. It is good to know at least a few Darija phrases before arriving in Morocco. Here are a few you will use all the time.Salaam alaikum: hello (peace be with you)Labas?: how are you?Safi: that’s fine/it is enough Shoukran: thank youLa shoukran: no thank youIyyeh: yes Wakha: okay2 – How to dress (for women) Morocco is an Islamic country, and 99% of the population identify as Muslim. Aligning with Islam’s emphasis on modesty, the majority of Morrocans dress conservatively. Both men and women often wear djellabas and many Moroccan women wear hijabs. As a foreigner, you are not expected to cover your hair, but many people advise you to cover your knees and shoulders to respect the culture and avoid unwanted attention. There are some more tourist friendly cities, like Marrakech, where it is considered more acceptable to wear shorts and strapless tops. However, this is not the case for the majority of Moroccan cities. Lightweight, long, and flowy clothing are your best bet for modest and weather-appropriate clothing. Maxi skirts and dresses, tunic shirts with leggings, boho pants, lightweight jumpsuits, and t-shirts are all ideal for Morocco.  Insider tip: You can buy traditional Moroccan clothing for affordable prices in Moroccan medinas. Kaftans, jabadors, and djellabas are sold for anywhere between MAD 50-200 in most souks.3 – How to souk shop like a pro!Souks are the name for the markets in Morocco. Souks are a large part of Moroccan culture. Large cities, like Fez and Marrakech, have huge souks lined with hundreds of shops and great prices compared to Western stores. Get ready to shop until you drop! These tips will make make you are a pro souk shopper in no time: Be prepared for hasslingWatch out for pickpocketingAlways carry cashAlways bargain: When shop owners notice that you are a foreigner, they are sure to raise prices. No matter how much they try to convince you that they are offering you a good price, you should always bargain. I have found that I can get most things for at least half of the initial asking price. Have a shopping map! Certain cities specialize in certain goods. It’s useful to know the best place to buy things to ensure you get the most authentic things for the lowest prices.   Leather: Fez.Rugs: Azrou and Fez Woven blankets: Marrakech and EssaouiraSilver: TifnitGold jewelry: FezPottery: Safi, Fez, and Meknes Spices: Areas east of Taliouine Argan oil: Essaouira. The best place is on the side of a road with argan trees and goats nearby.Beware of fakes! There is a lot of counterfeiting in Morocco. Rule of thumb: If prices for designer goods seem too good to be true, they probably are!Insider tip: Some souks, like the one in Marrakech, even have snake charmers, storytellers, and musicians. Even if you do not plan to shop, a souk is an experience you absolutely cannot miss. 4 – Street FoodStreet food is one of the most distinctive things about Morocco. Do not be afraid to try food vendors on the streets of Morocco. The street foods you absolutely cannot miss are: fresh squeezed orange juice, shawarmas, maakoudas, olives, khobz, snails, and brochettes. Insider tip: Though it is often tempting, it is best to stray away from unusually cheap meat. Any meals containing meat that are sold for less than MAD 10 should be avoided at all costs. They are not typical meat. They can be anything ranging from cat, dog, or liver to leftover scraps from a butcher.   5 – Beware of scammingScamming has been described as a national sport in Morocco. Some argue that Morocco has the most tourist-targeted scams in the world. As a foreigner, you are likely to encounter people trying to scam you every single day. If you do not stay alert, you will be scammed. Here are a few tips to avoid scams: Always, always, always count your change!If you get henna, make it clear what you want and that you refuse to pay any more than the price agreed upon beforehand.  Tell taxi drivers to turn on the meter at the beginning of your ride. Be aware of fake tour guides. If men are insistent that a random alleyway is closed, they are most likely just trying to lead you to a store or tannery.Do not take pictures of snake charmers, musicians, or chained monkeys unless you are willing to pay. Insider Tip: People are not always what they seem. Many people will appear to be friendly and gain your trust, then demand money after helping you. Use discretion when soliciting help from strangers. 6 – Stray cats Moroccan streets are loaded with stray cats. You cannot go anywhere without seeing a handful of cats. They will sometimes brush past your legs while you sip on a cup of tea at a table outside a cafe. Expect to become very familiar with your neighborhood cats.  Insider tip: If you are allergic to cats, be sure to bring a lot of allergy medicine! 7 – NightlifeIf you are used to partying every weekend at your home university, you should expect a major lifestyle change during your time in Morocco. In some cities, nightlife in Morocco is all but nonexistent. The majority of nightlife takes place in hotel bars, restaurants, and lounges but there are a few nightclubs in major cities. Marrakech, Agadir, and Casablanca are the Moroccan cities most known for their nightlife.  Because the Qur’an forbids drinking, many Moroccans do not drink. Liquor is very expensive and can only be bought in bars, hotels, and liquor stores. Liquor stores are discrete and scattered around big cities. You cannot purchase liquor outside of a bar after 8 p.m. and drinking in public is strictly forbidden. Alcohol sales stop 10 days before Ramadan and resume 10 days after it.Insider tip: Liquor is highly stigmatized in Morocco. If you are staying with a family, it is considered very offensive to come home late and smelling of alcohol.Read Part 2 for the final eight things you should know before studying abroad in Morocco. read more

Morocco Nominates Gnawa Music for UNESCOs Cultural Heritage List

By Rahma Ouled CherifRabat – UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) will consider adding Morocco’s Gnawa music to its ICH list at its 14th session December 9-14, in Bogota. The ICH list seeks to enhance visibility for the traditions of communities without recognizing standards of excellence or exclusivity. Mustapha Nami, a Moroccan senior curator of historical monuments, submitted a file nominating Gnawa music to the ICH Service in September 2018. Others had attempted to nominate Gnawa art previously. Neila Tazi, the head organizer of the Gnawa and World Music Festival, made a first attempt, but she announced that, “the file is quite complex to build and we now wait on our Ministry of Culture and our delegation to UNESCO to help us make it.” Tazi blamed the Ministry of Culture in a Facebook post for “lack of interest on the part of senior Moroccan officials and administration” that she said diminished the importance of preserving Gnawa art.Minister of Culture and Communication Mohamed Laaraj refuted the claim, saying, “The Ministry of Culture has started the procedure (2014) and respected all the steps.”Tazi stated further, “If we had not done this [Gnawa] festival and persevered against many obstacles … maybe the Gnawa culture would have disappeared.”Gnawa music infuses poetry and traditional music along with dancing. According to Rene Basset, the word “gnawi” means “black man.” The art has West African roots and began as the music of slaves who were brought to Morocco. The West Africans brought with them the music that later evolved into what is known as Moroccan Gnawa today.  After Tazi’s initial attempt, Ahmed Skounti, a Moroccan social anthropologist who helped draft UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, announced, “The file of Gnawa music will be presented to UNESCO in 2019.” If Gnawa music is added to the list of ICH, Morocco would have eight pieces of heritage on the list.Morocco has seven other cultural places and traditions on the ICH list: the Moussem of Tan-Tan tribal gathering, Marrakech’s Jamaa el-Fna Square, the cherry festival in Sefrou, the Mediterranean diet, argan practices and argan tree know-how, falconry as a living human heritage, and the taskiwin martial dance of the western High Atlas.Adding Gnawa music to the ICH list for safeguarding would highlight this heritage as a symbol of ethnic and cultural diversity in Morocco. read more

Southwest removes 737 Max from flight schedule until August

Southwest is removing flights with the troubled Boeing 737 Max aircraft from its schedule through Aug. 5, a period that includes the peak of the airline’s busy summer travel season.The company did not specify how many flights would be cancelled because of the new schedule. It removed all 34 of its Max 8 jets from service on March 13 following two deadly crashes involving other airlines. The grounded aircraft account for a small percentage of the more than 750 Boeing 737 models in the airline’s fleet.Regulators around the world have grounded the aircraft and Boeing has been working to fix the plane’s technical issues. Airlines have had to scramble to put other aircraft into service while dealing with flight cancellations.Southwest Airlines has already warned that flight cancellations are cutting into bookings and revenue.The Associated Press read more

Banana Republics new Hijab Line Sparks Debate on Muslim Dress Standards

Rabat – Banana Republic launched a line of hijabs on Tuesday, August 30. The American retail giant added four styles of plain colored and patterned hijabs, the head coverings some Muslim women choose to wear, to the “accessories” section of its website.Banana Republic’s joins other retail giants who are moving towards more inclusive brand depictions and clothing lines. In 2017, Nike released a sports hijab line, and last year, GAP released a promotional “back to school” ad campaign showing a little girl wearing a hijab.Banana Republic’s new product quickly sparked debate. Two of the high profile Instagram influencers, British-Moroccan model Mariah Idrissi and the founder of the online fashion label Haute Hijab, Melanie Elturk, criticized Banana Republic about two images used in the ad campaign. They pointed out that the brand’s campaign images for the hijabs did not necessarily meet the modest dress code requirements of hijabi women. The first image shows a woman wearing a hijab and a short sleeve white T-shirt. The second image shows a woman wearing a hijab and a grey dress with a slit up the side of the leg.Elturk shared the first images from Banana Republic’s website on her Instagram, writing: “While I LOVE that hijab is becoming more mainstream and applaud @bananarepublic for their efforts in inclusivity… I have to pause at the way it’s portrayed.”“There are guidelines to hijab outside of just covering hair,” she noted.“All it would have taken was a consultation with a Muslim brand or group to advise in order to do it right and respect our values. So while this excited me as someone who’s life mission is to normalize hijab in the mainstream, I also think it’s important we keep the essence of hijab intact for ourselves and our future generations,” she added.London-born model Mariah Idrissi, of Moroccan-Pakistani descent, also commented on the images. “I’m out here on… all these platforms to explain the importance of getting the right people to consult for brands that want to tap into the ‘Muslim dollar’ and then this happens. Why are these errors happening still?” she questioned. Idrissi made headlines back in 2015 when she became the first model to wear a hijab in a major international fashion campaign for H&M. Banana Republic has removed the two images in question from its website. The brand has not released a statement on the matter. read more

US lawmaker east Med cooperation to counter Russia

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A senior U.S. lawmaker says the U.S. wants to work with Cyprus and ally Israel to buttress peace in the eastern Mediterranean and to head off Russian influence over the region’s energy reserves.Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the U.S. is looking for friendly nations in the region that share core democratic values in light of what he calls Russia’s “malevolent machinations.”After meeting the Cypriot president Monday, Engel said Russia “should not be able to control the situation” over Cyprus’ rights to offshore gas deposits.Engel said he believes there will be progress in efforts to lift a 32-year-old U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus, adding that “this is no longer the 1970s and we have to look at each problem with a fresh look.”The Associated Press read more

Solution must be found for thousands of Congolese refugees in Angola –

29 March 2007Now that the repatriation of over 400,000 Angolan refugees has been completed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the next challenge for Angola is finding a solution for the thousands of Congolese refugees residing in the country, many of whom do not want to return to their homeland. High Commissioner António Guterres yesterday visited the Vianna Refugee Camp which shelters 7,000 Congolese refugees who have been living in Angola since fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1960s during the separatist conflict in Katanga province when the country was known as Zaire. Most of these people were born in Angola and are the children of original refugees, and many have stated that they do not wish to return to their homeland.UNHCR believes that permanent residency in Angola is the best solution for these long-standing refugees, and is planning to register those in the Vianna camp and others later this year to compile detailed data on this group.The Angolan Government has indicated that it is willing to join efforts to find a solution for the Congolese refugees, but the lack of thorough information has so far impeded progress.“When it comes to hosting refugees, the extreme generosity of African nations is impressive and should serve as an example for other nations to follow,” Mr. Guterres said.Mr. Guterres just completed a four-day visit to Angola and attended a ceremony on Tuesday marking the end of the official close of the UNHCR-backed repatriation programme which began in 2003. Of the 457,000 Angolans who lived outside their homeland at the end of the almost three-decade-long civil war in 2002, nearly 410,000 have returned home.Of these repatriated refugees, UNHCR organized the return of 138,594 Angolans and assisted 116,856 who returned on their own. An additional 154,000 are believed to have repatriated without the agency’s help.“Contrary to what many people believe, the vast majority of refugees do not want to emigrate to a rich country,” Mr. Guterres said at the ceremony in Luanda, the capital, attended by representatives of countries which had hosted Angolan refugees. “The majority want to go back home.”Also at the event, Angolan Prime Minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos said that his country would do its utmost to ensure the sustainable reintegration of those who had recently returned home by providing jobs, schools and hospitals.“This is a very important moment and this operation is particularly important, not only because of the number of persons repatriated and the countries involved, but also – and for me this is the most important fact – because the operation was carried out without any accidents or incidents,” he said.Recently, UNHCR has focused on facilitating the reintegration of Angolan refugees, aiming to act as a catalyst to involve the Government, other international bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in urgent development programmes.“UN agencies have eventually – and with some difficulty – moved from the humanitarian phase to a development-oriented one,” said Enrique Valles, the UNHCR officer in charge of Angolan reintegration. “However, the humanitarian situation in the areas of return remains fragile.” read more

LebaneseIsraeli peace threatened by repeated attacks – Ban Kimoon

In his latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701, Mr. Ban says the ongoing instability within Lebanon is limiting progress and posing “a direct challenge… to the stability of the country as a whole.”He cites the fighting between Fatah al-Islam militants and Lebanese security forces at a Palestinian refugee camp, the worst internal fighting since the civil war ended in 1990; the series of explosions around Beirut, including that which killed a Lebanese parliamentarian and nine others; a bomb attack last month on a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) convoy that killed six peacekeepers; and the firing of Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel.The Secretary-General stresses that the deadly attack against the UNIFIL convoy or other incidents will not deter the UN from playing its part to implement resolution 1701.But he emphasizes that greater progress is needed on several key issues – including the enforcement of the arms embargo in Lebanon – if the cessation of hostilities is to become a permanent ceasefire.“I am disturbed by the persistent reports pointing to breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanese-Syrian border,” he writes, noting that the report of the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team, which he commissioned, concludes that the border is not sufficiently secure and that Lebanese capabilities are lacking.Existing border crossing points are not well controlled by Lebanese authorities, and the procedures for these crossings are not uniform, resulting in an unregulated flow of passengers, vehicles and cargo, according to the border assessment report.That report, also released today, recommends a series of measures to “significantly improve” Lebanon’s border security regime, and Mr. Ban urges the country’s Government to implement the report in full.The recommendations include: the establishment of a dedicated border guard agency; the creation of a multi-agency mobile force focused on arms smuggling, with the power to make arms seizures; and the redesign and restructure of border crossing points to ensure there is greater control of the border.In the progress report on resolution 1701, Mr. Ban says he remains hopeful that a long-term solution can be found as the region nears the first-year anniversary of the 34-day conflict, which led to the deaths of an estimated 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis, the destruction of much of Lebanon’s infrastructure and severe damage to both nations’ economies.He stresses that, aside from the enforcement of the Lebanese arms embargo, progress is needed on several fronts, including on the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers and the Lebanese prisoners, the halting of Israeli air violations and the issue of sovereignty over Shab’a Farms.He also urges the international community to provide support to the Lebanese armed forces to make sure that they can extend and exercise full authority over all of the country’s territory. 10 July 2007Lebanon is mired in a debilitating political crisis, facing continuing attacks aimed at undermining its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which makes it harder to fully implement the Security Council resolution ending last year’s war between Israel and Hizbollah, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says. read more

Sierra Leone UN fund approves projects to assist peacebuilding efforts

12 July 2007The United Nations fund set up to help address the immediate needs of countries emerging from conflict today approved four new projects to support the ongoing electoral process and improve the judiciary, water, sanitation and health facilities in Sierra Leone. “The approval of these projects is timely and demand-driven,” Christian Holger Strohmann, Spokesperson for the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), said following the action taken today by the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s Steering Committee for Sierra Leone. This brings the total number of projects approved by the Fund to date to seven, amounting to a little over $16 million, according to UNIOSIL. Previously, the Fund approved three projects related to youth employment and empowerment, and support to the country’s police and the National Human Rights Commission. In March, Sierra Leone was allotted $35 million from the Fund, established from voluntary contributions to aid post-conflict countries from slipping back into turmoil.The projects approved by the Fund seek to address critical gaps in priority areas identified jointly by the Government and the UN, in consultation with other partners including civil society organizations.Launched in 2006, the Fund supports countries before the UN Peacebuilding Commission, currently Burundi and Sierra Leone, but is also available to countries in similar circumstances as designated by the Secretary-General. “While the Commission’s engagement in the country was more medium-term and went beyond resource mobilization, the Fund concentrated on the short-term, making funds available for things that need and could be done at the present time,” stated Frank Majoor, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UN and chairperson the Commission’s country specific meetings on Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, in Freetown, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Executive Representative, Victor Angelo, hosted representatives of political parties contesting the August polls to a second inter-party dialogue. Together they discussed ways to build confidence and mutual trust, as well as other preparations for the upcoming general elections in the West African country, which after 11 years of civil war has now entered a peace consolidation phase. read more

Incoming UN envoy to Cyprus meets with SecretaryGeneral

Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister, is due to arrive in Cyprus on Sunday, beginning his duties as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser.Earlier today he met with Mr. Ban at UN Headquarters in New York and received briefings from UN officials amid widespread hope of a resolution to the long-running dispute in Cyprus.Early next week Mr. Downer is slated to meet Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.The two community leaders have agreed in principle, at talks held in Nicosia on 1 July on the possible reunification of Cyprus, on the issues of single sovereignty and citizenship.Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat also agreed to meet again this Friday to undertake the final review of the working groups and technical committees.In May the two men committed themselves in a statement to working towards “a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as defined by relevant Security Council resolutions.”The partnership will comprise a Federal Government with a single international personality, along with a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State, which will be of equal status.Last month representatives of the two communities also announced a series of measures aimed at easing the daily life of Cypriots across the island.The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has been in place on the island since 1964 after the outbreak of intercommunal violence. It is tasked with preventing a recurrence of fighting, contributing to a return to normal conditions and the maintenance of law and order. 23 July 2008The incoming senior United Nations representative in Cyprus is in New York today for talks with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and briefings with UN officials about the situation in the Mediterranean country. read more

Progress being made on Myanmar aid effort says UNs top relief official

28 July 2008A degree of normality has returned to some areas affected by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and there are visible signs of progress in reconstruction, the United Nations’ top relief official said today after returning from a three-day visit, though he cautioned that there was no room for complacency. “Quite a lot of progress has been made since I was last there two months ago – a lot of houses have been repaired since we were last there, a lot of work has been done on schools and clinics to try and get them back into better shape, and it was possible to see a lot of activity going on in the fields,” John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters in New York today.Mr. Holmes also said that access for international aid workers to the affected areas in the Ayeyarwady Delta was now in place, and that hundreds were currently deployed there. Stressing that a relief coordination group consisting of the Government of Myanmar, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the UN was working well, Mr. Holmes, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that he was pleased that an agreement had been reached on extending the group’s collaboration for at least another year.The Under-Secretary-General said he hoped at least some of the five helicopters currently flown by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Myanmar would continue to operate for another three months to ensure that aid agencies could reach the remote areas.“We can’t say for certain that we’ve reached 100 per cent of the affected people but… we can say that we have reached virtually everyone with some kind of aid,” Mr. Holmes added. “The main challenge for the next few months is to ensure a more systematic pipeline of aid for the next six to nine months because people, particularly in the more remote areas where it’s still very hard to reach, will need quite a lot of help for some time to come.”Mr. Holmes said that, out of a UN appeal for $482 million to deal with the effects of the devastating cyclone, about $200 million had been committed so far.He added that UN agencies, as well as other aid groups, had been affected by fluctuating exchange rates for foreign exchange certificates which the Myanmar Government issues to foreign organizations buying goods and services in the country. Overall, Mr. Holmes said he was encouraged by what he saw and by his discussions with the Government, but warned that aid efforts still needed ongoing support.“It’s clear that there’s absolutely no room for complacency in this – there’s still a lot to do to make the relief operation a lasting success – to reach everybody with all that they need for a sustained period,” he said. read more

Cooperation crucial to deployment of blue helmets to Darfur – UN

Representatives from the UN, the AU and the Government gathered yesterday in Khartoum for the sixth meeting of the Tripartite Mechanism to discuss deployment issues and the way forward for the mission, which is known as UNAMID.The participants stressed that partnership and cooperation are essential to ensure the continued deployment of troops, noting that UNAMID has recently reached almost 69 per cent of the mandated strength of its force deployment.Participants also voiced their determination to remove all remaining impediments to deployment, and to help all Sudanese, especially Darfurians, who have been affected by war, displacement and insecurity.Other issues discussed included air operations, approvals for visas into Sudan, procurement and the recruitment of national staff members, who comprise two-thirds of UNAMID’s civilian personnel.The seventh Tripartite Mechanism meeting will be held in New York in September on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate.UNAMID was established by the Security Council in 2007 to protect civilians in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and another 2.7 million forced from their homes since violence erupted in 2003, pitting rebels against Government forces and their allied Janjaweed militiamen. 13 July 2009The United Nations, the African Union and the Sudanese Government have met again to discuss the continuing deployment and recruitment of troops and other staff to the joint AU-UN peacekeeping mission in the war-torn Darfur region. read more

UN officials pay tribute to late US senator Edward Kennedy

“Few were stronger supporters of the UN, and in my visits to Capitol Hill I always benefited from his wise counsel,” Mr. Ban said in a statement issued in New York.“He was not just a friend to those of power and high position, but even more to those who had neither. He was a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard, a defender of the rights and interests of the defenceless.”The Secretary-General added that those who feel that government can too often be faceless and inhumane did not know Senator Kennedy, who “stood for the best in all of us.”Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters, Mr. Ban recalled his personal memories of the US legislator and said that “what he has been doing as a person, as a senator, as a public servant… it will be long remembered in the minds, in the hearts of many people, particularly those people whose human rights have been abused.”UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said the life of the late senator and brother of former US President John F. Kennedy is a testimony to the difference a single policy-maker can make. “Year after year, conflict after conflict, Senator Kennedy kept the plight of refugees on the international and national agenda, promoting policies and laws that saved and shaped countless lives,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement. “The world is diminished by his passing. But we will always have his example to inspire us.”The High Commissioner noted that throughout his life, Senator Kennedy was “a tireless advocate for refugees – among the most vulnerable people in the world.”For nearly five decades in the US Senate, Senator Kennedy fought for legislation improving the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and reducing discrimination against them, he added.“His efforts have benefited millions of individuals from all over the world forced to seek shelter and protection outside their homelands.“He did what he did from the conviction that it was the right thing to do – and wholly in line with the great American tradition of providing help and hope to those who have suffered from injustice and war.” 26 August 2009Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations refugee chief today paid tribute to Edward Kennedy, the United States senator who passed away yesterday at the age of 77 after battling brain cancer, lauding his support for the Organization and his efforts to defend the rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. read more