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Donors back $280 mln transfer from trust fund to WFP for Afghan food, health needs

Donors agreed on Friday to transfer $280 million from a frozen, trust fund to the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan, the World Bank said as it seeks to help a country facing famine and economic freefall.
The World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund will this year give $180 million to WFP to scale up food security and nutrition operations and $100 million to UNICEF to provide essential health services, the bank said in a statement.

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The money would aim to support food security and health programs in Afghanistan as it sinks into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis that accelerated in August when the Taliban overran the country as the Western-backed government collapsed and the last US troops withdrew.
The United States and other donors cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan became dependent during 20 years of war and more than $9 billion of the country’s hard currency assets were frozen.
The United Nations is warning that nearly 23 million people –- about 55 percent of the population –- are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly 9 million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished, landlocked country.
Using reconstruction trust fund money and channeling it through the WFP and UNICEF, both part of the UN family, appears to be a way to get funding into the country for basic needs in a manner that does not necessarily implicate US sanctions against the Taliban.
“This decision is the first step to repurpose funds in the ARTF portfolio to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan at this critical time,” the bank said, saying the agencies had presence on the ground to deliver services directly to Afghans in line “with their own policies and procedures.”
“These ARTF funds will enable UNICEF to provide 12.5 million people with basic and essential health services and vaccinate 1 million people, while WFP will be able to provide 2.7 million people with food assistance and nearly 840,000 mothers and children with nutrition assistance,” it added.
Earlier on Friday, Reuters reported exclusively that the donors were expected to approve the $280 million transfer. On Dec. 1, Reuters reported
that the World Bank board had backed transferring the ARTF funds to the two agencies.
In its statement, the bank said it would “continue to work with ARTF donors to unlock additional ARTF funds to support the Afghan people.”
Laurel Miller, a former acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, criticized the decision to tap the ARTF for strictly humanitarian aid, saying money should come from other sources and the $1.5 billion fund should be used for a major initiative to halt the collapse of state institutions whose workers have not been paid for months.
“We’re talking about a collapse of public services that serve the Afghan people,” said Miller, who oversees the Asia program of the International Crisis Group, a think tank. “That’s not about helping the Taliban. That’s about helping Afghans who need a functioning state. They need more than food aid.”

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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