Kidnapped woman reveals hostage nightmare

An American aid worker abducted by gunmen in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur on Monday described the “nightmare” of her situation in a telephone call to AFP.”In the past it was OK, but now it is not. They are threatening me, my life, my health,” the woman, who works for US aid group Samaritan’s Purse, said.She was kidnapped in mid-May in the village of Abu Ajura, south Darfur, with two Sudanese colleagues who have since been released.”I am not safe now. I don’t have clean water, the situation changed very quickly into a nightmare. There are 20 men around me now,” she said.”I want to go home, I just hope they will release me.”The woman’s identity was confirmed by Samaritan’s Purse, but the aid group has requested that her name not be published.It is the first time a Western woman has been held alone in Darfur.Her abductors have asked for a large sum of money in exchange for her release.”We have had talks with the Sudanese government, but nothing was reached. We have been holding her for nearly three months now,” one of the kidnappers, identifying himself as Abu Mohammed al-Rizegui, said via satellite phone.That name has been used several times by armed groups committing abductions in Darfur, notably in the kidnappings of two aid workers for French group Aide Medicale Internationale in April last year, and two employees of the French Triangle GH in the Central African Republic in October 2009.Since 2003, Darfur has been gripped by civil war that has left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, the United Nations says. Khartoum says 10,000 have been killed in the conflict.There have been a wave of kidnappings of foreign nationals in Darfur since March last year, with 17 foreigners including 10 Westerners seized.All were later released unharmed except for two employees of German group THW, who were abducted by gunmen from their offices in Nyala in June, and the Samaritan’s Purse employee.AFP
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Bushfires blamed for power dips

MOMENTARY dips in Bathurst’s power supply have been caused by the bushfires raging across NSW.
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Country Energy regional general manager Daryl Grant said the entire State supply had been affected by the bushfires.

The power dips are most evident when lights go dim.

Transgrid manager (corporate) Joe Zahra said voltage dips occurred automatically as the high-voltage electricity grid protected itself.

Mr Zahra said occasional flames, which conduct electricity, shoot up and make contact with transmission lines, tripping the protection mechanisms.

The system acts like a circuit breaker, kicking in for a fraction of a second.

It then automatically restarts. If there is a continuous short circuit, as would happen if a possum was electrocuted across the lines, then the system stops the electricity flow and must be manually reset.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Recognition for police volunteers

INTERNATIONAL Volunteer Day was held yesterday, with over 100 NSW police units thanking the police volunteers across the state., Volunteers donate more than one million hours to the police force each year, completing tasks such as office administration and work in crime prevention campaigns., The ‘Volunteers in Policing’ program began in 1993, and there are now more than 700 volunteers in NSW., Bathurst police Inspector Greg Martin said a morning tea was held at Bathurst police station yesterday to recognise the efforts of the volunteers who work in the Chifley local area command., “Volunteers are necessary to the police force, because they do the work that we would otherwise have to take officers off the front line to do,” he said., “We have around nine volunteers working in the area, and we wanted to join in by saying a big thank you.”, The volunteers at the ceremony were asked to cut a cake, and Chifley local area commander Superintendent Frank Kuiters made a speech., Full story in the Western Advocate.
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Award winning effort for Advocate

IT was a big night for Bathurst cycling both on and off the track at the Dunc Gray Velodrome on Saturday night.
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The 2002 Australian Cycling Awards were held in conjunction with the 2002 Sydney Cup on Wheels at the Sydney Olympic venue with the Bathurst Cycling Club shining in both areas.

World record holder Mark Renshaw won two major events and recieved a special award for his world record ride in Manchester, Toireasa Ryan won the open’s women’s scratch race and Dean Windsor won all under 17 events on the program.

The Western Advocate also received recognition for its coverage of the sport this year, winning the Regional Media Award for its stories on the ‘Mark Renshaw – Go For Gold’ campaign at the Commonwealth Games.

Renshaw was a member of Australia’s world record breaking 4000m teams pursuit team at the Manchester Games and along with other team members Graeme Brown, Peter Dawson, Luke Roberts, Stephen Wooldridge he recieved a Royal Australian Mint Award.

The special award was presented by Federal Member of Parliament Pat Farmer, on behalf of the Federal Sports Minister Rod Kemp.

The closing stages of the race were shown on the big screen before the award was presented and speaking on behalf of the team, Renshaw said it is still emotianal for him to watch the achievement.

MORE: Read today’s Western Advocate.

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Grateful patient gives thanks for new face

MADRID: A Spanish man who underwent the world’s first full face transplant has appeared before TV cameras for the first time since his surgery, thanking his doctors and the family of the donor.Identified only as Oscar, the 31-year-old spoke with considerable difficulty at a news conference at Vall d’Hebron hospital, where he was operated on in late March.During the 24-hour surgery, doctors lifted an entire face, including jaw, nose, cheekbones, muscles, teeth and eyelids, and placed it masklike onto the man. He has been described as a farmer who was unable to breathe or eat on his own after accidentally shooting himself in the face five years ago.The head of the surgical team, Dr Joan Pere Barret, said yesterday that Oscar would need between a year and 18 months of physical therapy and is expected to regain up to 90 per cent of his facial functions.He is now able to drink liquids and eat soft foods, and has been able to speak for the past two months, the hospital said in a statement. The patient also has regained feeling in most of his face and is partly recovering movement of his muscles. One good sign was that a week after the operation, he had to be shaved because of beard growth.But he also suffered acute rejection twice – once four weeks after the surgery and again between the second and third months. Both times, the new face was saved with medication, the statement said.At the news conference, Oscar seemed relaxed as he looked out at reporters with eyes he cannot yet close completely.A younger woman identified as his sister said her brother looks forward to leading a normal life.He is eager to enjoy ”little things, like walking down the street without anyone looking at him, or sitting down for a meal with his family. Doing things that all of us do on a normal day”, the woman said.A French team announced a similar operation earlier this month, saying a 35-year-old man with a genetic disorder has an entirely new face.The first face transplant, albeit partial, was in France in 2005 and since then about a dozen more have been done.Associated Press
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Behind the jargon, questions unanswered and lives lost

Shum Khan was a deaf and dumb man who lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay, high in the mountains. When a heavily armed squad from the CIA barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he ”ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces … out of fear and confusion”.The secret CIA paramilitaries shouted at him to stop. Khan could not hear them. He carried on running. So they shot him, saying they were entitled to do so under the carefully graded ”escalation of force” provisions of the US rules of engagement.Khan was wounded but survived. The Americans’ error was explained to them by village elders, so they fetched out what they term ”solatia”, or compensation. The classified intelligence report ends briskly: ”Solatia was made in the form of supplies and the Element mission progressed”.Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called ”blue on white” events cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ”cheap”.US and allied commanders frequently deny allegations of mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or ploys to get compensation, which are contradicted by facts known to the military.But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false.Last September there was a major scandal at Kunduz, in the north of Afghanistan, when a German commander ordered the bombing of a crowd looting two hijacked fuel tankers. The archive circulated to Nato allies records him authorising the airstrike by a US F-15 jet ”after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity”. The ”battle damage assessment” confirmed, it claims, that 56 purely ”enemy insurgents” had died.Media reports followed by official inquiries, however, established something closer to the real death toll. It included 30 to 70 civilians.Some of the more notorious civilian calamities did become public at the time. The logs confirm that an entirely truthful official announcement was made regretting the guidance system failure of one ”smart bomb”. On September 9, 2008, it landed on a village killing 26 civilians.But most of the assaults on civilians recorded here do not appear to have been investigated. The bulk of the ”blue-white” file consists of a catalogue of civilian shootings on nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops. Unco-operative drivers and motorcyclists are frequent targets.Each incident, almost without exception, is described as a meticulous ”escalation of force”.US and British rules require shouts, waves, flares, warning shots and shots into the engine block, before using lethal force. Each time it is claimed that this procedure is followed. Yet ”warning shots” often seem to cause death or injury.Guardian News & Media
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Vaughan disappearance still a mystery one year on

IT’S one year ago today since Janine Vaughan went missing.
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Her suspected abduction sparked a massive police investigation and was the beginning of an unspeakable nightmare for her family.

And while the investigation into her disappearance continues, police are no closer to finding Ms Vaughan or the person responsible for her disappearance.

Detective Inspector Paul Jacob who heads Operation TOKO, the specialist unit established to investigate Ms Vaughan’s disappearance, said despite a lack of fresh information, police continue to work every possible angle of the case.

Ms Vaughan was out on the town, drinking with friends on the night she vanished.

Her best friend Rebecca Medhurst described her as happy and looking forward to Christmas and seeing her family back in Muswellbrook.

But there was no celebration for the Vaughan family last year.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Ms Vaughan left the Tavern with a group of people, but was walking ahead of the crowd when a red car pulled up alongside her near the corner of George and Keppel streets.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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Dog issues discussed

RESIDENTS afraid to walk footpaths where unleashed dogs roam and dog owners who now drive their pets to off-leash areas to let them exercise legally met at Wednesday night’s council discussion forum., More than 50 people sat with councillors, executive staff and the city’s senior ranger to discuss dog issues and the Companion Animals Act in the wake of the mauling death of a Bathurst woman on October 31., In a public gallery which included several dog breeders, members of the Denison Dog Training Club and self described “responsible dog owners” the only group which appeared to be unrepresented were owners who failed to control their dogs and let them wander “off leash” around Bathurst., Denison Dog Training Club president, Pat Sherman, raised one of the few laughs in a serious discussion when she said she had a check-chain suitable for dog owners who flouted the regulations of the Act., “The “off leash” thing is a misnomer. People think they can walk down the street with their dog, carrying its leash,” Mrs Sherman said., “Even our top trialling dogs are not left off a leash except in a secure area.” , Mrs Sherman believes the council needs to employ more rangers to enforce the “on-leash” provisions of the Act., She and other dog owners had sympathy for people like Margaret Mauro, a member of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association. Mrs Mauro was one of many seniors who attended the forum., Full story in the Western Advocate.
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Kill-or-capture unit revealed

The NATO coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed ”black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. Details of more than 2000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaeda are held on a ”kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list.In many cases, the unit has set out to seize a target for internment, but in others it has simply killed them without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation.On June 17, 2007, TF 373 launched a mission in Paktika province. The target was a Libyan fighter, Abu Laith al-Libi. The unit was armed with a new weapon, known as Himars – high-mobility artillery rocket system – a pod of six missiles on the back of a small truck.The plan was to launch five rockets at targets in the village of Nangar Khel where TF 373 believed Libi was hiding and then to send in ground troops. The result was that they failed to find Libi but killed six Taliban fighters and then, when they approached the rubble of a madrasa, they found ”initial assessment of 7 x NC KIA” which translates as seven non-combatants killed in action. All of them were children.The coalition made a press statement which owned up to the death of the children and claimed that troops ”had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building”. That claim is consistent with the leaked log. A press release also claimed that Taliban fighters, who undoubtedly were in the compound, had used the children as a shield.The log refers to an unnamed ”elder” said to have ”stated that the children were held against their will” but, against that, there is no suggestion that there were any Taliban in the madrasa where the children died.The rest of the press release was misleading. It suggested that coalition forces had attacked the compound because of ”nefarious activity” there, when the reality was that they had gone there to kill or capture Libi. It made no mention at all of Libi, nor of the failure of the mission. Crucially, it failed to record that TF 373 had fired five rockets, destroying the madrasa and other buildings and killing seven children, before anybody had fired on them – that this looked like a mission to kill and not to capture. Indeed, this was clearly deliberately suppressed.The concealment of TF 373’s role is a constant theme.The pursuit of ”high-value targets” is evidently embedded deep in coalition tactics. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2058.Among those who are listed as being located and killed by TF 373 are Shah Agha, described as an intelligence officer for an improvised explosive device cell, Amir Jan Mutaki, described as a Taliban sub-commander who had organised ambushes on coalition forces, who was shot dead from the air in a TF 373 mission on June 24, 2009; and a target codenamed Ballentine, who was killed on November 16, 2009 during an attack in the village of Lewani, in which a local woman also died.Guardian News & Media
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Push to maintain Walang water supply

WALANG residents turned out en masse to tell Evans Shire Council they want it to continue maintaining their raw water supply.
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Councillors agreed in November to hold a meeting at Walang to address the community’s short-term water supply.

The non-drinking supply is connected to 30 properties at Hillview Estate, Walang.

Council general manager Graeme Taylor said the meeting was well attended, with about 45 residents and seven councillors.

“The general thrust from the residents was they want the council to continue with and improve the [water] supply,” Mr Taylor said. “The big issue for them was emergency arrangements in the event the supply looks like failing.”

Water restrictions are in place in Walang.

Mr Taylor said residents were co-operating with restrictions and there was no immediate risk to the water supply.

However, this could change in January or February.

Now that the council has heard from residents it is expected to make a decision on what to do in the event the water runs out.

The council had been presented with options at its November meeting to supply water via a tanker or turn the supply off.

Full story in the Western Advocate.

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