UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Aid workers must be given access if parts of Syria come under a cease-fire to allow chemical weapons experts to try to bring the country's stockpile under international control, the head of the U.N.'s World Food Program said.
Ertharin Cousin told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that an agreement under discussion now envisions a cessation of hostilities so chemical experts can travel across the country, including to many conflict areas where WFP and other humanitarian workers have been unable to bring in desperately needed aid.
"So this is an opportunity for us to hopefully overcome the hurdle that today we've been unable to achieve," Cousin said.
The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but U.N. diplomats say they are at odds on details of a U.N. Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria doesn't comply.
Cousin urged the international community to demand that the Security Council make any cease-fire a broad one.
"When you talk about a cessation of hostilities to allow access for the chemical (weapons) workers, that cessation in hostilities should also allow access for humanitarian workers," she said.
WFP is currently feeding 3 million people inside Syria and 1.2 million in neighboring countries. Cousin said the goal is to step up supplies so that 4 million internally displaced people and 1.5 million refugees are getting food by the end of October.
While the agency is working in all 14 Syrian governorates, Cousin said there are pockets in many of them that humanitarian workers can't reach because of fighting.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused government forces Monday of tightening their siege during the past month in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where U.N. inspectors reported that chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack.
"Assad's forces are starving people to death in those areas," the coalition claimed. "The specter of famine looms in the horizon as more than 2 million people remain under siege."
Cousin said WFP hasn't had access to an opposition-controlled area in Ghouta called Muhammadiyah, which is besieged by government forces. She also pointed to an area in the Kurdish-dominated Hasaka region in the northeast controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and an opposition-controlled area on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo where the agency has had trouble operating.
Cousin said the bullets that have been fired at WFP trucks trying to get into Ghouta and other conflict areas "don't say 'I came from the regime' or 'I came from the opposition.'"
"The reality of it is there's enough complicity to go around," she said.
WFP has tried to identify third party monitors who can access these difficult areas, Cousin said.
"The challenge is the same — getting third party monitors and food into these areas," she said. "So it's an awful Catch-22. You need to get the monitors in so you can justify the access that is necessary to get food in."
As Syrians prepare to face their third winter in conflict, thousands including women, children and seniors, need food, medicine, blankets and other humanitarian aid, she said.
"So we must demand that all the parties ... provide access to humanitarians," Cousin stressed, adding that she has been talking to prime ministers, foreign ministers and anyone else with influence on the five permanent Security Council members who hold the key to the contents of the chemical weapons resolution.
She said WFP's traditional donors — the U.S., U.K., European Union, Germany and Canada — have been generous with money to support the massive feeding program in Syria, which is costing $30 million a week. But more help is needed.
"We need the entire global community, which means we need Saudi Arabia, we need China" and others, Cousin said.
She said donor fatigue is a concern.
"What worries me more than the fact that there's not a bottomless pit is the escalating cost and ... the impact that that will have on other crises around the world," Cousin said. "The problems in Somalia, the Sahel, Yemen, didn't disappear because the problems in Syria are increasing. What we can't afford is to prioritize one hungry child over another."
TORONTO (AP) - BlackBerry has agreed to sell itself for $4.7 billion to a group led by largest shareholder, Fairfax.
BlackBerry said Monday that a letter of intent has been signed and its shareholders will receive $9 in cash for each share.
Fairfax head Prem Watsa is a former board member who owns 10 percent of BlackBerry. Watsa stepped down when BlackBerry announced it was considering a sale last month. The billionaire is one of Canada's best-known value investors. .
Trading of the company's stock was halted ahead of the news. BlackBerry shares plunged after the company announced Friday a loss of nearly $1 billion and layoffs of 4,500 workers.
The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, was once the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers before Apple's iPhone debuted in 2007.
SAO PAULO (AP) — It carried hippies through the 1960s, hauled surfers in search of killer waves during endless summers and serves as a workhorse across the developing world, but the long, strange trip of the Volkswagen van is ending.
Brazil is the last place in the world still producing the iconic vehicle, or "bus" as it's known by aficionados, but VW says production will end Dec. 31. Safety regulations mandate that every vehicle in Brazil must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems starting in 2014, and the company says it cannot change production to meet the law.
Although output will halt in Brazil, there should be plenty of VW vans rolling along for decades if only because there are so many, and they are so durable. VW produced more than 10 million Volkswagen Transporter vans globally since the model was introduced 63 years ago in Germany, though not all resemble the classic hippie machine. More than 1.5 million have been produced in Brazil since 1957.
The VW van is so deeply embedded in popular culture, it will likely live on even longer in the imagination.
"The van represents freedom," said Damon Ristau, the Missoula, Montana, director of the documentary "The Bus," which follows van fanatics and their affection for the machine. "It has a magic and charm lacking in other vehicles. It's about the open road, about bringing smiles to peoples' faces when they see an old VW van rolling along."
Perhaps nothing with a motor has driven itself deeper into American and European pop culture than the VW, known for its durability but also its tendency to break down. Van lovers say its failures only reinforce its charm: Because its engine is so simple, it's easy to fix, imparting a deeper sense of ownership.
The van made an appearance on Bob Dylan and Beach Boys record album covers, among many, though in music circles its most closely linked to the Grateful Dead and the legion of touring fans that followed the rock group across the U.S., the machines serving as rolling homes. Steve Jobs is said to have sold his van in the 1970s to buy a circuit board as he built a computer that helped launch Apple. The vehicle is linked to the California surf scene, its cavernous interior perfect for hauling boards.
But in poorer regions like Latin American and Africa, the vehicle doesn't carry the same romantic appeal. It definitely doesn't hold the cool mystique in Sao Paulo that it does in San Francisco.
It's used in Brazil by the postal service to haul mail, by the army to transport soldiers, and by morticians to carry corpses. It serves as a school bus for kids, operates as a group taxi, and delivers construction materials to work sites. Brazilians convert their vans into rolling food carts, setting up on street corners for working-class lunchtime crowds.
In Brazil it's known as the "Kombi," an abbreviation for the German "Kombinationsfahrzeug" that loosely translates as "cargo-passenger van."
One recent drizzly morning in Sao Paulo, Jorge Hanashiro took a break inside his light green 1974 Kombi while his wife, Anna, served deep fried meat and vegetable pastry pies to customers at an open-air market.
"There may be safer and more modern cars around, but for me the Kombi is the best vehicle to transport my stall and products to the six open air markets I visit each week," the 77-year-old Hanashiro said. "It is economical, rugged and easy to repair."
The vehicle has found its way into the hearts of Brazilians like Enio Guarnieri, 54, who stood grinning next to the blue-and-white 1972 van he keeps in his cluttered garage in a working-class Sao Paulo neighborhood.
Guarnieri bought the vehicle a year ago to stoke childhood memories. When he was 10, his father taught him to drive a van.
"Driving a Kombi with your face up against the windshield is a thrilling adventure," he said. "There is no other van like it. There is no other van that is so easy and inexpensive to maintain. Anyone with a minimum amount of knowledge about engines and a few tools can fix a Kombi."
A VW plant in Mexico stopped producing the classic version of the van in 1995, leaving a factory on Sao Paulo's outskirts as its last lifeline. Production in Germany was halted in 1979 because the van no longer met European safety requirements.
Sao Paulo advertising executive Marcello Serpa says the van's spirit will live on after its demise.
He has a 2007 version meant to have a 1960s American hippie feel. He painted it in bright green, yellow, blue and red colors with cartoon-like drawings of his wife, daughters and himself, surfboard in hand.
Serpa said the bus evokes "a spirit of playfulness and happiness," causing people to pause and smile when he drives it down Sao Paulo's chaotic streets.
"The Kombi is part of Brazil's cultural and emotional landscape," he said, "and that explains the strong feelings of affection most people have for it."
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman reported this story in Sao Paulo and Bradley Brooks reported from Rio de Janeiro