Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kabul Car Bomb Targets U.S. Convoy

KABUL, Afghanistan—At least 18 people, including six coalition-force members, were killed and almost 50 were wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy outside an Afghan military-recruitment center in Kabul Tuesday morning, police officials said.
A spokesman from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said six "international service members were killed and several wounded" in the attack. 21 Afghan civilians were killed too.
Gen. Khalil Dastyar, the deputy police chief of Kabul, said the dead NATO members were American as one of the six was a Canadian colonel, the highest-ranking Canadian killed since the country's Afghan mission began in 2002.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, saying that a car loaded with 550 kilograms of explosives rammed into a U.S. convoy at about 8:30 a.m. local time. The blast destroyed at least 12 civilian vehicles, one of them a bus. NATO said five of its vehicles were damaged.

The bomber targeted a small convoy of U.S. military vehicles moving along the road near the recruitment center, officials said. The road also skirts a U.S. military base, Camp Julien, that hosts a counterinsurgency training academy for Afghan and U.S. military personnel.

"Today's attack was part of the Al Fatah operation, and we will continue attacking foreigners and government security forces and their associates," Mr. Mujahid said.

Earlier this month, the Taliban announced the launch of a spring offensive called Al Fatah, Arabic for "to conquer" or "victory." The Taliban said the offensive would besiege Afghanistan's major cities, and target the diplomats and infrastructure of both the Afghan government and NATO.

The Taliban's ability to strike in the capital underscores the insurgents' potency as coalition forces seek to oust them from the southern city of Marjah and are gearing up for a campaign to secure Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland.

The death toll from the attack could rise, according to an official. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said the "death toll is unclear" because officials are still checking hospitals. He said it had been weeks since the last attack in the capital.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Press Freedom Day

This World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is Freedom of Information, offers us an occasion to remember the importance of our right to know.

Freedom of Information is the principle that organisations and governments have a duty to share or provide ready access to information they hold, to anyone who wants it, based on the public’s right to be informed.

The right to know is central for upholding other basic rights, for furthering transparency, justice and development. Hand-in-hand with the complementary notion of freedom of expression, it underpins democracy.

We may not consciously exercise our right to know. But each time we pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or radio news, or go on the Internet, the quality of what we see or hear depends on these media having access to accurate and up to date information.

Obstacles in the way of our right to know take many forms, from a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure to deliberate obstruction.

Far too many journalists exercise their profession in an environment where restrictions on information are the norm, where dealing with pressure, harassment intimidation or even physical assault are all in a day’s work.

Last year UNESCO condemned the killing of 77 journalists. For the most part these were not war casualties but local reporters covering local stories.

I invite all those commemorating World Press Freedom Day around the globe to observe a minute of silence: to remember those whom it is too late to help; to honour the journalists who paid with their lives for our right to know.

But today let us also acknowledge the significant advances that have been made.

More and more countries around the world are adopting freedom of information legislation. This makes it easier to scrutinize government actions, and it reinforces public accountability.

Meanwhile faster and cheaper technology means that more people in the world have ready access to information from outside their immediate environment than ever before.

Now is the time for us to capitalise on these advances, by strengthening institutions, by providing the necessary training for information professionals, by fostering greater open-ness within our public sectors and greater awareness among the public.

I call on governments, civil society, the news media and individuals everywhere to join forces with UNESCO in promoting Freedom of Information all over the world.