by Mithre J. Sandrasagra
(IPS) NEW YORK --
in Sri Lanka, Angola, and
Colombia that have dragged on for decades, as well as new
conflicts in Africa, are among major world stories that
failed to receive widespread media attention this year,
according to the relief agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres,
or "Doctors Without Borders" (MSF).
In its second annual list of the "Top Ten Under-Reported Stories of the Year" MSF, the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, called attention to human crises largely ignored by the media in 1999.
While news of sudden conflicts such as those in Kosovo and East Timor were well reported, "chronic conflicts and health crises received little attention," according to MSF.
"Victims of chronic conflicts are continually neglected by the media," says Joelle Tanguy, executive director of the U.S. office of MSF.
The non-governmental agency supplies medical aid to "victims of wars, natural and man-made disasters, epidemics, and social marginalization" in more than 80 countries. Volunteers bring expertise not only to humanitarian disasters, which lie in the glare of the global spotlight, but also to those that fall outside media attention for whatever reason.
The list of under-reported stories in 1999 includes the civil war in Sri Lanka, that has dragged on for the past 16 years, between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which has intensified since November 1999.
According to MSF, the government of Sri Lanka, citing a lack of "appropriate travel documents," has prevented civilians from leaving refugee camps in the northern Vavuniya area after the LTTE issued warnings for people to leave their homes to avoid a rebel offensive.
This is "in flagrant violation of international law," MSF said in its report.
Other obstacles to humanitarian relief work in Sri Lanka, according to MSF, include shortages of medical supplies in certain areas as well as the government's refusal of permission to bring mobile clinics to populations completely without health care.
The government of Sri Lanka has denied any responsibility in these matters.
In Angola, the displacement of 1.6 million people since the breakdown in 1998 of the 1994 Lusaka peace accord between the government and rebel forces has put "severe strains on public health, food, and water infrastructures, according to MSF.
The number of landmine wounds treated by MSF doctors in Angola in the first six months of 1999 "increased 27-fold over the same period last year."
The report notes the re-emergence of "treatable communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis, and pneumonia" as another under-reported story this year.
These diseases are the "leading causes of death in the developing world" and MSF Volunteers "consistently are frustrated by their inability to treat their patients for diseases that would not be fatal to their patients in North America or Europe."
The forgotten war in the Congo-Brazzaville, where fighting between government forces and rebel militias "has generated massive atrocities against civilian populations, including executions, mutilations, rapes, and disappearances", also figures on the list of under-reported stories.
So is the war in Afghanistan, now entering its 20th year. Afghanistan home to the "world's largest refugee population, of 2.6 million refugees", suffers form a severe "brain drain", according to MSF.
U.N. sanctions imposed in October 1999 have restricted the ability of international aid organizations to move supplies into the country and as a result many have left their work there incomplete.
Another story that has received scant attention is the danger and threats which plague medical staff and aid workers in Colombia.
The world's neglect of the humanitarian disaster in Somalia and war and displaced civilians without healthcare in Burundi rounded out the under-reported stories of 1999.
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