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International court sentences Congo warlord to 30 years

November 07, 2019

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court passed its highest ever sentence Thursday, sending a Congolese warlord known as “The Terminator” to prison for 30 years for crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.

Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty in July of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities in a bloody ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.

Ntaganda showed no emotion as Presiding Judge Robert Fremr passed sentences ranging from eight years to 30 years for individual crimes and an overarching sentence of 30 years. The court’s maximum sentence is 30 years, although judges also have the discretion to impose a life sentence. Lawyers representing victims in the case had called for a life term.

Fremr said that despite the gravity of the crimes and Ntaganda’s culpability, his convictions “do not warrant a sentence of life imprisonment.” Ida Sawyer, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, welcomed the ruling.

“Bosco Ntaganda’s 30-year sentence sends a strong message that even people considered untouchable may one day be held to account,” Sawyer said. “While his victims’ pain cannot be erased, they can take some comfort in seeing justice prevail.”

Ntaganda, who has always insisted he is innocent, became a symbol for widespread impunity in Africa in some seven years between first being indicted by the global court and finally turning himself in in 2013 as his powerbase fell apart.

Judges at his trial said he was guilty as a direct perpetrator of a murder and as an indirect co-perpetrator of a string of crimes including murders, rapes of men and women, a massacre in a banana field behind a building called The Paradiso and of enlisting and using child soldiers. Child soldiers also were raped by Ntaganda’s troops and forced into sexual slavery, leaving them with lasting physical and psychological scars. Ntaganda himself used child soldiers as bodyguards.

“Some individuals who survived or witnessed the murders and attempted murders that Mr. Ntaganda was convicted of still bear permanent scars, both physical and psychological, including long-term memory loss, neurological disturbances and extensive physical scarring,” Fremr said.

Ntaganda testified for weeks in his own defense, saying he wanted to put the record straight about his reputation as a ruthless military leader, but was unable to convince the three-judge panel of his innocence.

Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff and commander of operations for rebel group the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo. The force’s leader, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted by the ICC in 2012 of using child soldiers. He is serving a 14-year prison sentence.

Ntaganda earned a higher sentence because he was convicted of far more crimes. He has already launched an appeal against his convictions and has 30 days to appeal against his sentence. In their unanimous 117-page ruling, the three judges said they could find no mitigating factors that warranted reducing Ntaganda’s sentence.

But they found plenty of aggravating circumstances, identifying in the murder convictions the “particular cruelty” of several crimes, the “defenselessness of some of the victims” and the fact that Ntaganda, as a high-ranking commander, personally committed a murder in front of his subordinates.

The Hague-based court was set up to prosecute atrocities around the world where national authorities are unable or unwilling to hold trials. It has faced opposition and criticism, most notably from the United States, which is not a member state of the court.

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, last year said the U.S. wouldn’t cooperate with the court, adding that “for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

‘This man lives forever’: Zimbabwe’s Mugabe is buried

September 28, 2019

ZVIMBA, Zimbabwe (AP) — A priest asked God to take pity on Robert Mugabe as the family of the longtime Zimbabwean leader buried him Saturday at his rural home. They chose a private farewell for one of Africa’s most divisive figures after a weeks-long dispute with the administration that forced him from power.

“This man lives forever,” declared the priest, to cries of approval. Mugabe died this month in Singapore at age 95 after leading the country for nearly four decades and being pushed into a shocking resignation as thousands danced in the streets. “I was ridiculed,” a relative said Mugabe told them.

His coffin, draped in the country’s flag, was carried by military pallbearers as his black-veiled wife, Grace, looked on. On display was a photo of Mugabe holding up his fist in a classic gesture of defiance, and a floral arrangement spelled out “Dad.” Many mourners wore T-shirts saying “Liberator” and “Torch bearer.”

Grace later stood motionless as the coffin was lowered into the grave and a choir sang “Remember me.” Mugabe, who led the bitter guerrilla war to end white-minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia, was Zimbabwe’s first leader and ruled from 1980, overseeing a years-long slide from prosperity to economic ruin and repression. He was forced by the military and ruling party to retire in late 2017 after bitter political feuding centered in part on his wife’s political ambitions.

Some of Mugabe’s political rivals, including opposition figures who were routinely arrested or harassed during his 37-year rule, attended the service while longtime colleagues did not. Notably absent were senior officials from the ruling party that he led for more than four decades, including during the fight for liberation.

Just a handful of people in the gathering of some 200 wore party regalia, a sign of how the bookish, combative former leader died isolated from the people he called comrades for much of his adult life.

Mugabe’s family earlier had agreed to a government request to bury him at the National Heroes Acre shrine in the capital, but only after a hilltop mausoleum was built to set him apart from the rest. Then the government on Thursday abruptly announced the family had changed its mind, leaving it with scaffolding around the partially completed memorial.

While some might blame his widow for the move, it was Mugabe himself who wanted the private ceremony instead of one presided over by the people who removed him from power, Grace’s sister Junior Shuvai Gumbochuma said in a speech on Saturday.

“Some may be surprised by this small crowd given this man’s greatness,” she said. “I remember he presided over many burials of heroes that were attended by busloads of people. I thought one day such crowds would attend his own burial. What we did today was his wish.”

She added: “I asked him why he didn’t want to be buried at Heroes Acre and he responded: ‘I was ridiculed.'” A spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party, Simon Khaya Moyo, called the choice of a private burial “most unfortunate.”

In a statement, Moyo added that “we indeed respect the wishes of families of deceased heroes, hence we are saddened when maneuvers that border on political gimmicks begin to unfold on an issue concerning an illustrious liberation icon.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power, was not attending the burial. State-run media reported that the government would be represented by the home affairs minister.

Only approved guests and funeral parlor vans were allowed, a decision out of sync with the local tradition that funerals are free for all to attend. One elderly neighbor threw a tantrum after being blocked at the gate.

“This gathering is a paradox,” the priest told the gathering. “We are mourning at the same time we are celebrating because this man lived his life in a manner that many of us would want to emulate.” Later, standing by the coffin, he prayed: “God, take pity on him. Don’t judge him harshly.”

South Sudan’s opposition leader warns of return to civil war

October 20, 2019

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar warned Sunday that the country could return to civil war if a coalition government is formed by a Nov. 12 deadline and he asked for another months-long delay for the crucial step in a fragile peace deal.

Machar made an impassioned plea to a visiting United Nations Security Council delegation that met with him and President Salva Kiir to urge speedier progress in pulling the country out of a five-year civil war that killed almost 400,000 people.

“Suppose we form a government on the 12th, you know what’s going to happen? The ceasefire we’ve been enjoying for over a year will erupt,” said the visiting Machar, whose opposition has said he won’t return to South Sudan for good until security arrangements are in place.

The previous attempt at Kiir and Machar sharing power ended in renewed fighting and Machar fleeing the country on foot in 2016. The issues being discussed today are the same ones that led to that earlier failure, the opposition leader said.

But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, said the council was “disappointed” by Machar’s warnings. The U.S. has said it would reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan if next month’s deadline isn’t met.

The Security Council still wants the Nov. 12 deadline met, South Sudan government spokesman Michael Makuei said: “No change of schedule nor change of program.” The opposition, however, now wants a three-month delay, Makuei said.

One key outstanding issue is security. Machar and Kiir were told Sunday that it would take at least three months to train at least 41,500 fighters and troops into a unified national army along with a 3,000-member VIP protection force.

South Sudan’s government has said the international community should help fund that process. The Security Council “is of the view that nothing is impossible, nothing is unsurmountable,” said South Africa’s ambassador to the U.N., Jerry Matthews Matjila. The remaining issues can be discussed by an inclusive government, he said.

One South Sudan expert said the international community is making a mistake. “The U.N. Security Council took the wrong approach today,” Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press.

“Rather than fixate on Nov. 12, everyone should be focused on pressuring the parties to resolve the issues necessary to form a viable government at less risk of collapse,” he said. “There are much worse scenarios than another delay.”

Another expert suggested a different approach. South Sudan’s government “has consistently acted in bad faith,” said Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the Security Council’s panel of experts monitoring sanctions against South Sudan. “They need to be treated as illegitimate through increased international isolation by the diplomatic community until such time as they show a genuine desire to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan.”

The world’s youngest nation erupted in civil war just two years after winning independence from Sudan as Kiir and his deputy, Machar, clashed and their supporters took up arms. Millions have since been displaced and the oil-rich country’s economy has been shattered.

Nigeria’s leader in South Africa after attacks on foreigners

October 03, 2019

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s president on Thursday said “early warning mechanisms” will be put in place to avoid the kind of deadly attacks on foreigners that angered many African countries and led to an extraordinary airlift of Nigerians, while Nigeria’s visiting leader again condemned such violence as “unacceptable.”

What originally was planned as a business meeting between Africa’s two largest economies turned into talks by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on how to calm the unrest that has erupted regularly in South Africa in recent years.

South Africa has been making efforts to mend ties with Nigeria and others after its government faced criticism for not explicitly speaking out against xenophobia at first but instead framing the violence as crime. Ramaphosa on Thursday again stressed the need for immigrants to obey local laws but called the xenophobia “regrettable.”

More than 12 people were killed and more than 700 arrested after bands of South Africans in Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, launched attacks against foreign-owned shops and stalls, looting and burning the small businesses and attacking some shopkeepers.

Nigeria’s foreign minister called the attacks “sickening” and the government recalled its high commissioner to South Africa. South Africa temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria, citing concerns over staff safety. In Nigeria’s megacity Lagos, operations of South African telecommunications giant MTN were targeted in retaliatory attacks.

South Africa’s president now says his government is “totally committed” against attacks on foreign nationals. He acknowledges frustration about the country’s high unemployment and sluggish economy but has told countrymen not to take it out on foreigners.

It was not immediately clear how the “early warning mechanisms” to avoid further unrest would work between South Africa and Nigeria. Buhari said police and intelligence forces in both countries should be alert to avoid further violence.

The periodic attacks against Nigerians and citizens of other African nations include accusations by South Africans that foreigners are peddling illegal drugs or taking jobs. The attacks on Nigerians led some in Nigeria to call for the closure of South African companies doing business in the West African powerhouse _ a move that would create instant pain for a bilateral relationship that saw more than $3.3 billion in trade in 2018.

“Relations between our two countries are very strong and we want to welcome more businesses from Nigeria to come here,” Ramaphosa said. He noted that Africa’s population should double to 2.5 billion people by 2050, calling the continent “the next great growth market.”

The violence against foreigners in South Africa is in sharp contrast to the hospitality that other African nations showed to black South Africans during their long fight against the harsh system of white minority rule known as apartheid, which ended in 1994.

“We will not forget how Nigeria spearheaded the call for political and economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa following the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960, which left many unarmed demonstrators dead,” Ramaphosa said Thursday evening. “Without Nigerian support, our freedom would have come at a much greater cost.”

Prince Harry walks through Angola mine field, echoing Diana

September 27, 2019

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A body armor-wearing Prince Harry on Friday followed in the footsteps of his late mother, Princess Diana, whose walk through an active mine field in Angola years ago helped to lead to a global ban on the deadly weapons.

The prince walked through a dusty mine field marked with skull-and-crossbones warning signs, and was visiting the spot where Diana was famously photographed on a similar walk during her own Africa visit in 1997. That field in Huambo is now a busy street. The southern African nation is now years past a grinding civil war and hopes to be land mine-free by 2025, a goal of scores of countries around the world.

“Land mines are an unhealed scar of war,” Harry said in the town of Dirico. “By clearing the land mines we can help this community find peace, and with peace comes opportunity.” He said retracing his mother’s path was “quite emotional.”

Diana’s visit is still very much discussed today in Huambo after people were struck by her warmth and willingness to acknowledge their country’s devastating 27-year conflict, the Angola country director for mine-clearing organization The HALO Trust said.

“The main impact of Diana’s walk in 1997 was the level of global exposure it provided for land mines not only in Angola but the world,” Ralph Legg said. She was a great advocate for a land mine ban, and “her willingness to visit an actual mine field, to place herself right in that context, provided great impetus and gave it a great boost.”

The international ban on anti-personnel mines was signed that year and entered into force two years later. So far 164 countries have signed on. “More than 48 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed and 31 countries have been completely cleared of land mines,” The HALO Trust said, while production of the weapons has almost dried up.

Harry on his visit also remotely detonated a decades-old mine, met with mine-clearing teams and was visiting the orthopedic hospital his mother visited for her meetings with mine victims. “I think that will be a very poignant moment of coming full circle,” Legg said. “Very striking once people compare those images from the two visits to see how far Angola has come.”

The world, however, is hardly free of mines, and the prince said Angola itself still has more than 1,000 mine fields left to clear, 22 years after his mother’s visit. “I wonder if she was still alive whether that would still be the case,” Harry said. “I’m pretty sure she would have seen it through.”

Other countries that remain heavily mined include Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, and Afghanistan led the world with at least 2,300 casualties in 2017, according to the Landmine Monitor 2018 report.

“Myanmar was the only known instance of government forces actively planting the weapons” in the year-long period between October 2017 and 2018, the report said. “A staggering 60 million people around the world still live in fear and risk of land mines. We cannot turn our backs on them and leave a job half done,” Harry said.

Angola, which has committed a new $60 million for mine clearance, now hopes to turn some of its mine-free areas into sites for wildlife conservation and ecotourism. The prince was unveiling a project meant to protect wildlife corridors near the sprawling Okavango Delta, a rare inland delta in neighboring Botswana that doesn’t flow into a sea or ocean and is home to several endangered species.

Harry called on for international effort to help clear mines from the Okavango watershed in Angola. “Everyone who recognizes the priceless importance of safeguarding Africa’s most intact natural landscape should commit fully to this mission,” he said.

His first official family tour with his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and their baby, Archie, will continue with stops in Malawi and further events in South Africa with a focus on issues including mental health and women’s empowerment.

Putin courts Africa, offers to mediate Nile dam dispute

October 24, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to expand Moscow’s clout in Africa by touting military aid and economic projects Thursday at the first-ever Russia-Africa summit. He even offered to help mediate a growing water dispute between two of the continent’s largest powers, Egypt and Ethiopia.

The two-day summit in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi underlined Russia’s renewed bid for influence in resource-rich Africa and was attended by the leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries. As African leaders roamed through an expo center displaying Russian military hardware, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin addressed the contentious dam issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in separate meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

Peskov didn’t say whether Egypt and Ethiopia accepted Putin’s mediation offer — and offer that the United States also extended in recent days after talks on the dam collapsed this month. Some pro-government media in Egypt have cast the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a national security threat that could affect Egypt’s share of water from the Nile River and could warrant military action.

For his part, Abiy, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, declared this week that “no force” could stop the dam’s construction. El-Sissi and Abiy met Thursday and an Egyptian spokesman said they agreed on resuming technical talks “immediately” to reach a “final proposal” on filling and operating the dam. The statement made no mention of mediation offers or plans.

Ethiopia, meanwhile, said the two African leaders met about “issues of common concern” but did not elaborate. Putin hailed the Russia-Africa summit as historic. “Summing up its results, we can immediately say that this event really opened a new page in relations between Russia and the states of the African continent,” Putin said in closing the summit.

Putin emphasized that developing stronger ties with the continent ranks among Russia’s top foreign policy priorities, noting that African nations have emerged as “one of important pillars of the multi-polar world.”

Russia’s annual trade with African nations has doubled in the last five years to exceed $20 billion and Putin voiced confidence that it could double again “as a minimum” in the next four or five years.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided generous economic and military aid to many African countries amid its global rivalry with the United States. Moscow’s influence withered after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is now still far behind the West and China in trade and investment in Africa, but it has capitalized on Soviet-era ties to widen its role in the continent’s affairs.

The Russian president emphasized Thursday that Russia and African nations should expand their cooperation in combating extremism, including exchanging information between their security agencies. Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier, and Putin noted that Russia now has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations. He added that Moscow could expand its training of military and security personnel from African nations.

“We hope that … you will help us, in particular, to build up our armed forces,” said Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, according to a Kremlin account of his meeting with Putin. He spoke in the wake of an August power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former President Omar al-Bashir.

The president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, agreed to renew a lapsed military cooperation agreement with Russia that is expected to lead to more direct procurement of military equipment, President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said.

Nigeria also said it and Russia would work to improve the efficiency of Abuja’s all-important oil sector by establishing a framework for a joint venture between Nigeria’s state-owned oil company and Russia’s Lukoil that will include prospecting for oil “deep offshore.” The countries also agreed to solidify the venture between the state-owned oil company and Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Other African leaders expressed warmth over Russia’s revived interest in the continent. “What stands Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, according to his spokeswoman.

He spoke shortly after a pair of Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in his country on an unprecedented visit to the continent, reflecting Moscow’s new push for clout.

Anna reported from Johannesburg. Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.

Putin aims to boost Moscow’s clout with Russia-Africa summit

October 23, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed dozens of leaders of African nations Wednesday for the first-ever Russia-Africa summit, reflecting Moscow’s new push to expand its clout on the continent and saying there is “enormous potential for growth.”

As Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi hosted the two-day summit attended by leaders of 43 of the continent’s 54 countries, two Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers landed in South Africa in the first-ever visit to the continent to underline Moscow’s bid for influence.

Russia’s annual trade with African nations doubled in the last five years to exceed $20 billion, Putin said, and expressed his wish that trade will double again “as a minimum” in the next four or five years.

Russia has worked in recent years to expand its influence in Africa, taking advantage of the seemingly waning U.S. interest in the continent under President Donald Trump’s administration. Moscow has sought to revive relationships forged during the Cold War, when it poured funds and weapons into Africa in rivalry with the U.S., and has worked to cultivate new ties such as relations with South Africa.

Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with at least 28 African countries, the majority in the past five years, and expanded arms sales to the region. It is already the continent’s largest arms supplier.

Putin noted that Moscow has written off $20 billion in debt — he did not say over what period — and provided aid to African nations. He said Russia is willing to help tap natural resources and offer its technologies to the continent, and he welcomed the recent creation of an African free trade zone.

Russia’s geological survey agency signed agreements with South Sudan, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea to search for carbon resources on their territories. And Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, said it was preparing to explore Mozambique’s offshore oil resources.

Angolan Mineral Resources and Oil Minister Diamantino Azevedo said his country was working to expand cooperation with Russia’s diamond company Alrosa. Putin also met with several African leaders to discuss potential projects.

He told South African President Cyril Ramaphosa that Moscow is looking to further expand trade with the country, one of the continent’s most developed economies. Trade reached $1 billion last year. Putin congratulated Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on winning the Nobel Peace Prize this month, hailing his efforts to make peace with longtime rival Eritrea.

Abiy’s office said he and Putin discussed cooperation in defense, education, “nuclear technology for peaceful purposes” and increased trade relations. While speaking with Namibian President Hage Geingob, Putin touted prospects for Russia to help tap the country’s vast uranium resources, diamonds and other mineral riches. Geingob, in turn, welcomed Russia to send military advisers.

Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera thanked Putin for Russian weapons and asked for more military assistance, saying his government needs it to fight armed groups competing for the country’s gold, diamonds and uranium riches. Russian private contractors and security experts reportedly have helped train the nation’s military.

Last year three Russian journalists were killed in Central African Republic while investigating a Russian military contractor, Wagner. The perpetrators haven’t been found, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Touadera discussed the probe into the killing.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pledged that Moscow will help African countries raise their profile in the international arena, including potential permanent representation on the United Nations Security Council, something African nations have sought for years.

“We are continuously upholding the role of Africa as one of the leading centers of the evolving multi-polar world,” Lavrov said.

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