NPA rebels raid plantation, chop down 15,000 trees
TAGUM CITY—Communist rebels on Friday raided a banana plantation owned by a multinational firm in Tago, Surigao del Sur, hacking down at least 15,000 full-grown trees and firing at several pieces of heavy equipment parked along a roadside, police on Sunday said.
Superintendent Martin Gamba, Caraga police spokesperson, said an undetermined number of New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas “left a large swath of destruction” at the plantation owned by Dole-Stanfilco in Barangay Anahao Daan at around 9 p.m. The rebels chopped down some 15,000 banana trees “with fruits ready for harvest,” according to Gamba. Four backhoes and a bulldozer parked by the roadside, owned by a certain Edilberto Garay of Davao City, were also raked with fire as the fleeing insurgents, believed to be members of the NPA’s Guerrilla Front 19-B under a certain Susay, passed by Sitio Ibo, also in the same village, said Gamba.
He said the attack may have caused millions of pesos of damage to crops and other properties. Gamba said police and the military were now conducting operations against the attackers. He said an investigation of the incident was underway. The Surigao del Sur attack came a day after NPA rebels kidnapped a policeman and a soldier at a checkpoint the insurgents had set up along a village road in Laak town, Compostela Valley province, several hundred kilometers to the southeast.
Eskom uses spy agency to counter labour unrest
AS YET another wildcat strike broke out at Eskom’s Medupi project in Lephalale this week, evidence came to light that the state-owned utility has resorted to spying tactics to mitigate risks related to labour unrest. Documents and e-mails forwarded to Business Times reveal that Eskom contracted the services of intelligence support company Swartberg to spy on employees, communities, unions, political parties, green lobbies and government officials.
Clever guises were used to infiltrate communities such as social upliftment projects, where agents were placed to gather information and influence people’s attitudes towards the project and company management. Local scouts were also recruited to keep an ear to the ground. Swartberg advised Eskom to send out positive “media propaganda” on what the company was doing to better the lives of communities close to the Medupi project in order to influence perceptions. Labour attorney Craig Kirchmann said, depending on the tactics deployed, such actions were not necessarily illegal but were ethically dubious.
“It is not illegal to supply communities with soup while also picking up on their political sentiment, but they are definitely playing a smoke-and-mirrors type of game,” he said. Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe would not confirm whether or not such action had been taken by Eskom, but said the company was “keeping close to communities” due to the importance of Medupi to communities and also to the rest of South Africa. A source said Eskom’s top management is aware of dealings with Swartberg and of meetings held between Swartberg head Lukas Swart and Medupi general manager Roman Crooks.
He said tactical information was supplied to the company to get an advantage over unions during negotiations. The 4,764 MW Medupi power plant will be one of the five biggest coal-fired power stations in the world once commissioned. It is being built to plug the power shortfall in South Africa. Medupi should have been commissioned in 2012, but a number of delays have pushed the deadline back to the end of this year and have pushed the project’s price tag to more than R120bn. In 2011, thousands of protesters torched buses and damaged vehicles during a strike at the Medupi site. The police said residents claimed Eskom had employed foreign boilermakers without considering locals for the positions. In September last year, workers contracted by Murray & Roberts Construction and Grinaker-LTA damaged several vehicles and some equipment at the power plant.
The workers protested because the contracts of about 600 local employees were due to end. This week, workers embarked on a violent strike over various issues, including a lack of training and inadequate working conditions. Swartberg intelligence showed that politicians and lobby groups were often instrumental in fueling violent attitudes. The Swartberg documents showed that Lephalale leader Jack Maeko hosted an ANC rally in Shongane last year which was attended by energy minister Dipuo Peters.
He told the crowd to get educated to avoid white people at Medupi from “f***ing them around”, since the white people at Medupi were uneducated. The documents also revealed plans by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union to delay Medupi in 2013 by engaging in joint-venture operations with green lobby groups such as Greenpeace, Earth Life and GroundWorks. Swartberg also worked on Transnet’s multi-product pipeline from Johannesburg to Durban that experienced a three-year delay and had budget overruns of R14-billion.
Hunger striking Palestinian prisoners health in jeopardy
RAMALLAH: The health of three Palestinian prisoners is rapidly deteriorating as they continue a hunger strike that they began on November 28, Addameer Prisoner Support Network said in a statement. Jazzer Azzidine, Yousef Yassin, and Tarek Qa’adan began their hunger strike on November 29 just one week after all three were arrested during sweeping Israeli military raids across the West Bank. The three men are being held in administrative detention, in which they are held in Israeli military prisons without charge or trial on “secret evidence.”
They have limited access to their lawyers, and their families receive little to no information on their status. According to an Addameer lawyer, they are being held in isolation in Ramleh prison clinic. The statement added that “all have difficulty seeing well, are dizzy and constantly have headaches. They also have pain in their joints and are suffering from general fatigue.” Samer Al-Issawi is on a partial hunger strike that has exceeded 170 days. Another prisoner, Ayman Shawarna, ended a 180-day hunger strike earlier this month.
In April 2011, over 2,000 prisoners captured international attention when they launched a mass hunger strike that forced Israeli Prison Service officials to cede many of their demands. As of December 2012, Addameer estimates that there are 4,656 Palestinians in Israeli military prisons. 178 of them are administrative detainees, and 21 of them are under the age of 16. Another 13 prisoners are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and 111 have been held since before the 1994 Oslo Accords.