AUSTRALIA – BUSHFIRES: THE VICTIMS


The Victorian bushfires have now destroyed over 1200 square miles of bushland, farmland and communities/towns. The fires continue to burn and are expected to burn for several weeks.

Though many communities remain under threat or are coming under threat, the next major threat comes with the approaching weekend and the coming week as temperatures are expected to rise again. It was close to 40 degrees on the west coast today (Perth) – the direction from which our weather patterns come. The crisis is far from over.

The death toll which is officially at 173 is expected to surpass 200 and possibly 300. Unconfirmed reports indicate that an additional 146 bodies were recovered today. There has been no comment from authorities on these reports.

Australian news coverage has begun to show photos of those who have perished in the fires and have begun to identify these various people. It has been reported that 21 people died in one street of one town alone. Many more bodies are thought to be beneath the rubble of destroyed homes.

ABOVE: Kevin Rudd on the Bushfires – Australian Prime Minister

AUSTRALIA: TSUNAMI WARNING


Last night I happened to be looking at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) web site for any signs of approaching thunderstorms and found to my great surprise that there had been a tsunami warning for all of Australia, Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island. I couldn’t believe it. This was the early warning that Australians were going to get in the event of a tsunami? Who checks the BOM web site for tsunami warnings? Something better than this needs to be done – what if there was an actual tsunami?

I hadn’t seen anything on the television and I had been watching the news when the major earthquake occurred that had sparked the tsunami concern. The quake occurred at about 6.30pm off the Loyalty Islands near New Caledonia. Not much time to get away from any location on the coast should an actual tsunami have occurred.

But there were no warnings on the television or on the radio from what I understand. The only way you could have known about it was to check the various official web sites by the look of it – which included the BOM site I guess.

The earthquake was originally reported as being an 8.3 quake but has since been reported as a 6.8. Quakes of this size can cause local tsunamis apparently – however they don’t travel too far generally. Perhaps this was the reason for the ‘low key’ warning of a possible tsunami.

COMOROS: CHRISTIANS OPPRESSED ON INDIAN OCEAN ISLANDS


Muslim rule on isles east of Africa effectively criminalizes faith in Christ.

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Dec. 5 (Compass Direct News) – Christians on the predominantly Muslim islands of Pemba and the Comoros archipelago are beaten, detained and banished for their faith, according to church leaders who travel regularly to the Indian Ocean isles off the east coast of Africa.

These violations of religious freedom, the church leaders said, threaten the survival of Christianity on Pemba and the Comoros, with fewer than 300 Christians in a combined population of 1.1 million people. Pemba, with about 300,000 people, is part of Tanzania, while the Union of the Comoros is a nation unto itself of about 800,000.

Leaving Islam for Christianity accounts for most of the harm done to Christians, and this year saw an increase in such abuse as already-strained relations between the two communities deteriorated after the conversion in August of Sheikh Hijah Mohammed, leader of a key mosque in Chake-Chake, capital of Pemba.

News of Mohammed’s conversion spread, and zealous Muslims began hunting for him as leaving Islam warrants death under sharia (Islamic law). An Assemblies of God Church in Pemba swiftly moved him to a hideout in the village of Chuini, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the airport.

Word of the hideout eventually leaked to Muslims, however, forcing the church to move Mohammed to an undisclosed destination. This time, church elders never revealed where they had taken him. Compass was not given access to him.

A Christian from the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar who recently visited the Comoros said those suspected to have converted from Islam to Christianity face travel restrictions and confiscation of travel documents. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he noted that security officers who had been monitoring the ministries of a 25-year-old Christian confiscated his passport at the airport in July.

The Christian deprived of his passport was still looking for a way to leave the country to pursue theological studies in Tanzania.

In the early part of this year, authorities expelled a missionary from the Comoros when they discovered he was conducting Friday prayer meetings.

“The police broke into the prayer meeting, ransacked the house and found the Bibles which we had hidden before arresting us,” said a source who requested anonymity. “We were detained for three months.”

Law student Musa Kim, who left Islam to receive Christ nine months ago, has suffered at the hands of his kin on the Comoros. Family members beat him with sticks and blows and even burned his clothes, he said.

Kind neighbors rescued him, and Christian friends rented him a house at a secret location while his wounds healed. On Oct. 15, however, Muslim islanders discovered his hideout and razed the house he was renting.

Asked if he reported the case to the police, Kim was emphatic.

“No – reporting these people will get you into more trouble.”

Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf first settled in this region early in the 10th century, after monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden and Somalia.

Pemba and the Comoros are part of the Zanzibar archipelago, which united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964. This uneasy merger, with island Muslims seeing Christianity as the means by which mainland Tanzania would dominate them, has stoked tensions ever since.

A large Arab community in the Comoros, the world’s largest producer of cloves, originally came from Oman. The population consists of Arabs and native Waswahili inhabitants.

The Comorian constitution provides for freedom of religion, though it is routinely violated. Islam is the legal religion for the Comoros people, and anyone found to be practicing a different religion faces persecution.

The Zanzibar Christian who spoke on condition of anonymity termed the Comoros a “horrifying environment for one to practice Christianity,” adding that it was not long after his arrival to the main island that he realized he was being monitored. He cut short his trip early last month.

“I planned to take three different taxis to the airport” to evade authorities, he said. “But thank God on that day I met a Catholic priest who gave me a lift together with some Tanzanian soldiers to the airport.”

The Christian left the island quickly even though he had been issued a professional visa for 45 days. In late October, a contact had warned him that Comoros authorities were looking for him as one of the island’s “most wanted” persons.

In May 2006 four men in the Comoros were sentenced to prison for three months for involvement with Christianity. There has long been widespread societal discrimination against Christians, but this level of persecution had not been reported in the Comoros since the late 1990s.  

Report from Compass Direct News

COLOMBIA: CHURCH LEADERS UNDER FIRE


One pastor missing, three others reported killed in past month.

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, November 4 – Christians in Colombia are anxious to learn the fate of pastor William Reyes, missing since Sept. 25, even as three other pastors have gone missing.

Reyes, a minister of the Light and Truth Inter-American Church and member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (FRAMEN, Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao), left a meeting in Valledupar, Cesar, at 10 a.m. that morning heading home to Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived.

Family members and fellow ministers fear that Reyes may have been murdered by illegal armed groups operating in northern Colombia. Since March of this year, FRAMEN has received repeated threats from both the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary units.

Abduction is another possibility. Often criminals hold their victims for weeks or months before contacting family members to demand ransom, a tactic designed to maximize the anxiety of the victim’s loved ones before proceeding with ransom negotiations.

In the past month, three other Christian pastors were reportedly killed in separate incidents across the country. According to Pedro Acosta of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL, Consejo Evangélico de Colombia), two ministers died in the northern Caribbean region and a third in Buenaventura on the Pacific coast.

At press time, members of the Peace Commission’s Documentation and Advocacy team, which monitors cases of political violence and human rights abuse, were traveling in those areas to verify the identities of the victims and circumstances of the killings.

 

Demand for Action

On Oct. 4, churches organized a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Reyes. Thousands of marchers filled the streets of Maicao to demand his immediate return to his family. The FRAMEN-sponsored rally featured hymns, sermons and an address from Reyes’s wife, Idia.

Idia Reyes continues to work as secretary of FRAMEN while awaiting news of her husband. The couple has three children, William, 19, Luz Mery, 16, and Estefania, 9.

CEDECOL and Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-based organization that assists violence victims, launched a letter-writing campaign to draw international attention to the case and request government action to help locate Reyes.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support from churches in Canada, the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom,” stated an Oct. 26 open letter from Janna Hunter Bowman of Justapaz and Michael Joseph of CEDECOL’s Peace Commission. “Human rights violations of church people and of the civilian population at large are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz Peace Commission program registered the murder of four pastors and 22 additional homicides of lay leaders and church members.”

Some of those killings may have been carried out by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, according to evidence emerging in recent weeks. Prosecutors and human rights groups have released evidence that some military units abduct and murder civilians, dress their bodies in combat fatigues and catalogue them as insurgents killed in battle.

According to an Oct. 29 report in The New York Times, soldiers commit the macabre murders for the two-fold purpose of “social cleansing” – the extrajudicial elimination of criminals, drug users and gang members – and to gain promotions and bonuses.

The scandal prompted President Alvaro Uribe to announce on Wednesday (Oct. 29) that he had dismissed more than two dozen soldiers and officers, among them three generals, implicated in the murders.

Justapaz has documented the murder of at least one evangelical Christian at the hands of Colombian soldiers. José Ulises Martínez served in a counterinsurgency unit until two years ago, but left the army “because what he had to do was not coherent with his religious convictions,” according to his brother, pastor Reinel Martínez.

Martínez was working at a steady job and serving as a leader of young adults in the Christian Crusade Church in Cúcuta on Oct. 29, 2007, when two acquaintances still on active duty convinced him to go with them to Bogotá to request a pension payment from the army. He called his girlfriend the following day to say he had arrived safely in the capital.

That was the last she or his family heard from him.

Two weeks later, Martínez’s parents reported his disappearance to the prosecutor’s office in Cúcuta. The ensuing investigation revealed that on Oct. 1, 2007, armed forces officers had presented photographs of Martinez’s body dressed in camouflage and identified as a guerrilla killed in combat. Later the family learned that Martínez was killed in Gaula, a combat zone 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Bogotá.

Such atrocities threaten to mar the reputation of Colombia’s Armed Forces just as the military is making remarkable gains against the FARC and other insurgent groups. Strategic attacks against guerrilla bases eliminated key members of the FARC high command in 2008. A daring July 2 rescue of one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other high-profile FARC hostages was greeted with jubilation around the world.

Yet in Colombia’s confused and convoluted civil war, Christians are still targeted for their role in softening the resolve of both insurgent and paramilitary fighters.

“I believe preventative security measures must be taken in order to protect victims from this scourge that affects the church,” Acosta said in reference to the ongoing threats to Colombian Christians. “In comparison to information from earlier [years], the cases of violations have increased.”

Report from Compass Direct News

SOMALI PIRATES: Beyond Time to Crush Them


Somali pirates have captured yet another large ship off the coast of Somalia. This time the ship was carrying military hardware and supplies to the Kenyan government. The Ukrainian freighter had 33 T-72 battle tanks on board, as well as grenade launchers and ammunition bound for the Kenyan military in a legal arms purchase. The shipment is valued at about $30 million dollars.

The ship is called the ‘Faina’ and has a crew of 21 sailors from Russia, Ukraine and Latvia.

When the ship was nearing the Kenyan port of Mombasa, about 320 km from land, it was surrounded by three speed boats with armed Somali pirates on board.

The Somali coast is infested with pirates, with estimates suggesting that there are up to 1 000 pirates operating in the region. Pirates have seized some 25 vessels this year and attacked at least another 25, with 14 vessels still being held by pirates.

In my opinion it is high time, indeed beyond time, to crush the pirates of Somalia. According to reports there are now US and Russian warships patrolling the region. But more needs to be done, with a relentless campaign needed to remove the pirate problem.

Currently vessels are being held for ransoms that on most occasions are being paid. By paying the pirates, the pirate problem is only being encouraged. The pirates must be stopped – not only off Somalia, but in all areas in which they operate, including Nigeria, Aden, Indonesia, etc. Perhaps a force under the direction of the UN Security Council is what is required.

HURRICANE IKE


It was only a short time ago that Louisiana was stuck by a major hurricane, yet spared the wrath of another Hurricane Katrina. Now it appears to be the turn of Texas and in particular Galveston and Houston with Hurricane Ike now hitting the US gulf coast in the vicinity of those cities.

Ike has already had a devastating impact on Cuba, causing massive damage in that country. Hurricane Ike is expected to bring with it a storm tide surge of several storeys in height, which would have a massive impact on Galveston and Houston in Texas. Already there is flooding in Louisiana as a consequence of the approaching hurricane.

Residents of coastal regions in the path of Ike have been told to evacuate or face near certain death if they live in a single or two storey building. Such is the expected impact of this hurricane. Yet the latest reports out of the region suggest that as many as 90 000 people have decided to risk their lives and ride out the storm.

Hurricane Ike is not a powerful as Katrina was, yet the storm is huge and is described as being of a similar size to Texas itself. It has therefore the ability to whip up an enormous tidal surge as it approaches and hits the gulf region of the United States near Galveston.