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Indonesia seeks to protect ancient tribe

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:54 PM PST

TANA TOA, Indonesia: Deep in a remote forest in the Indonesian archipelago, the Kajang tribe lives much as it has done for centuries, resisting nearly all the trappings of modern life.

Their lifestyle has drawn comparisons with the Amish in the US, but they live in even more basic conditions, residing in houses on stilts and dressing only in black sarongs and headdresses.

It is in stark contrast to even many rural areas of Southeast Asia's biggest economy, where the rapid growth of the middle class has led to an explosion in the number of vehicles on the streets and people with smartphones.

But fears have been growing in recent years that the traditions of the Kajang, who live in a densely forested area called Tana Toa on the central island of Sulawesi, are increasingly vulnerable.

Officials worry there is little protection for the forests considered sacred by the tribe in a country where environmental destruction is rampant and that a sudden influx of technology could overwhelm their way of life.

Now the local government in Bulukumba district is hoping it can use a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court of Indonesia as a launchpad to grant the Kajang the right to manage their own forests, instead of it being owned by the state.

Tribal rights group AMAN said it would be the first area in Indonesia to use the court ruling to grant an indigenous group such autonomy - a milestone in the fight for the rights of the country's approximately 70 million tribespeople.

This picture taken on August 12, 2013 shows a Kajang man walking towards a village hall for a meeting with Indonesian officials at Amatoa village where the Kajang tribe live in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi. -AFP

'Make this earth last longer'

The attempt to help the Kajang is driven by outsiders and the tribe itself harbours some suspicions about any sort of external interference in their affairs.

However the so-called "ammatoa", or chief, Puto Palasa said he did not object as long as the effort did not change the tribe's traditional ways, and recognised the attempts to help his beloved forest.

"Preserving the forest will make this earth last longer," Palasa, who has never set foot outside the Kajang's tribal heartland and has received no formal education, told AFP.

"Leaves invite the rain to fall, roots are home to springs, the forests are the world's lungs," he added in his native language called "Konjo".

Signs of modernity are undoubtedly creeping in to the land of the Kajang, who number around 5,000, with the majority strictly following the tribe's traditions, according to a local government official.

On a recent visit to Tana Toa, AFP saw some of the young Kajang clutching mobile phones while others were wearing sandals - the most ardent followers of tribal tradition prefer to go barefoot.

Nevertheless much remains as it has done for centuries. Scores of men were seen lifting enormous tree trunks to build a traditional house while candlenuts, an oily nut which burns for a long time once lit, are the only lights at night.

The Kajang even has its own mini-government, made up of 37 "ministers", including an agriculture minister who tells people when and where to plant their crops by studying the stars.

They dole out punishments - which include fines and caning - for infringements of their rules, such as removing a tree that has fallen naturally or catching shrimps from rivers, activities the tribe believes create imbalances in the ecosystem.

Little is known about the tribe's origins or how long they have been around but they claim to be one of the first peoples on earth, and say they are duty-bound to protect their ancestral lands. Their religion is a mix of tribal beliefs and Islam.

Their total land covers around 760 hectares (1,900 acres), while the area of forest considered "sacred" - the tribe's heartland - covers some 330 hectares, according to research group the World Agroforestry Center.

Controlling destiny

Bulukumba officials fear this ancient way of life could be wiped out if the Kajang are not given the right to manage their own lands, a move they believe would encourage the tribe to preserve its traditions.

They hope to use the court ruling passed in May as the basis for a local bylaw to give the Kajang this right.

The ruling said that indigenous people owned forest on their ancestral lands. Previously the state claimed ownership of all the country's forests.

As with many such rulings made centrally in Indonesia, it still needs to be applied locally. Bulukumba officials argue the decision gives the Kajang the right to manage all their densely-forested land.

The latest draft bylaw seen by AFP says that the land can be only traded among the Kajang. Officials hope it will be passed in the coming months.

As well as giving the Kajang more control over their destiny, the bylaw would also overturn an official decision taken in the 1990s to allow some logging on their land.

In reality the only logging in the area since then has been carried out by the Kajang themselves, who allow small numbers of trees to be cut down in certain areas for purposes such as building homes.

Officials fear this could change at any moment - many tribes across Indonesia have lost their rainforest homes due to logging.

Bulukumba forestry chief Misbawati Wawo says that in areas of the district outside the Kajang's lands, there has been widespread logging to make way for clove, cocoa and coffee plantations.

"Our concern is if we don't make a written bylaw to protect these people, who can guarantee their traditions will still exist in 20 to 30 years?" she told AFP. -AFP

SIA grounds A380 after scratches found on fuselage

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 09:16 PM PST

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines said Wednesday it had grounded an Airbus A380 superjumbo for further inspection after scratches were found on its fuselage.

The scratches were discovered after the double-decker plane, the world's biggest passenger aircraft, arrived in Frankfurt on Sunday from New York, SIA said in a statement.

There were 126 passengers and 26 crew onboard.

"The aircraft was subsequently grounded for checks and passengers were either transferred to other airlines or accommodated in hotels," the statement said.

"Following inspections by engineering teams in Frankfurt, it was determined that the scratches posed no safety issue and the aircraft was cleared for departure."

The plane arrived in Singapore on Tuesday after a 23-hour delay and has been grounded for further checks.

SIA said the cause of the scratches has yet to be established.

"Our engineers are currently performing further checks on the aircraft, and it will resume service once cleared," the airline said.

It was the second incident for SIA in less than a month involving an Airbus 380.

Last January 6, an SIA A380 en route from London to Singapore lost cabin pressure, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku.

Oxygen masks were activated during the emergency procedure which some passengers described as "frightening".

The stranded 467 passengers and 27 crew on board were flown back to Singapore with a replacement aircraft.

The plane involved in the Baku incident was back in service, SIA said Wednesday, but added that the "root cause" of the incident remained under investigation.

SIA had previously said that focus of the probe was a door on the main deck that appeared to have suffered a leak, leading to the change in cabin pressure.

There are 119 Airbus A380s in operation globally, according to latest data from the company.

Singapore Airlines currently has a fleet of 19 A380s, with five others on order. -AFP

Chinese scientists sound warning over new bird flu

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:03 PM PST

PARIS: Chinese scientists sounded the alarm Wednesday after a new bird flu virus, H10N8, killed an elderly woman in December and infected another individual last month.

The fifth novel influenza strain to emerge in 17 years, the virus has a worrying genetic profile and should be closely monitored, they reported in The Lancet medical journal.

It appears to be able to infect tissue deep in the lung and may have features allowing it to spread efficiently among humans, they said.

"The pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated," said the team headed by Yuelong Shu from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Beijing.

The warning stems from analysis of a virus sample taken from a 73-year-old woman who died in Nanchang, in southeastern Jiangxi province, on December 6 after being diagnosed with severe pneumonia and respiratory failure.

The Chinese authorities announced her death from H10N8 on December 18.

The Lancet study disclosed that a second case of H10N8 was recorded in Nanchang, on January 26. It did not give further details.

They are the first known human cases of H10N8, a virus that has been found only twice before in China - once in a water sample from a lake in Hunan in 2007, and the second time in live poultry in Guangdong province in 2012.

But this particular strain is different from the ones found in those two samples, the study said.

Genetic profile of virus

The big contributors to its genome are reshuffled genes from the H9N2 virus, the authors said.

This is a bird virus that erupted in Hong Kong in 1999 and has also contributed to the dangerous H5N1 and H7N9 flu viruses, the probe said.

Avian flu viruses pass from infected birds to humans in close proximity but typically do not transmit easily between humans.

The worry for health watchdogs is their potential to acquire an ability to jump easily from person to person.

H7N9, which emerged last year, has led to 159 human infections in China, including 71 deaths, according to a combined toll of official figures and an AFP tally of reports by local authorities.

H5N1, which first occurred among humans in Hong Kong in 1997, has caused 648 infections with 384 deaths since 2003, according to figures cited in The Lancet study.

The genome of H10N8, it said, pointed to a mutation in its so-called PB2 protein that, previous research has found, suggests an ability to adapt to mammals.

The virus also has a mutation in its haemagglutinin protein - a spike on the virus surface that enables it to latch onto other cells - that suggests it can infect deep in the lung, like H5N1, rather than the upper respiratory tract, the trachea.

Lab tests on the sample showed it could be attacked by Tamiflu, the frontline anti-viral drug.

Many questions remain, including how the woman was infected.

She had bought a live chicken at a poultry market several days before falling sick.

But she may have become infected beforehand, the scientists said. She did not handle the bird and no virus traces were found in poultry at the market.

In addition, the woman may have been an easy target for the virus because of poor health - she had coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and a muscle-weakening disease called myasthenia gravis.

Tests on people who had been in close contact with her concluded that no one else had been infected.

The second case of H10N8 "is of great concern", said co-author Mingbin Liu of the Nanchang branch of China's CDC.

"It reveals that the H10N8 virus has continued to circulate and may cause more human infections in the future." -AFP


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