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Posts tagged ‘Lost Land of the Congo’

DR Congo arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

Lubumbashi, Dr Congo (AFP)

May 4, 2017

Fourteen Chinese people suspected of illegally exporting red wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo were arrested Thursday, local officials said.

“We have arrested Chinese people… who were cutting wood in our region,” Celestin Pande, acting governor of the Haut-Katanga region, told AFP.

Pande said 17,000 tonnes of red wood had been illegally exported to China through Zambia over four months.

“We have arrested 14 Chinese nationals with (tourist) visas, who were involved in cutting and illegally exporting red wood,” an immigration official in Haut-Katanga added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since the beginning of the year, a crisis linked to exotic wood exports has poisoned relations between DR Congo and neighboring Zambia.

Zambia has seized several hundred vehicles transporting padauk, a dense wood used in construction and woodworking, from DR Congo as part of investigations into exports to China.

Kinshasa has denounced the seizure, but on Thursday a delegation from the capital decided to ban the logging and exportation of red wood from Haut-Katanga.

Haut-Katanga’s forests have been devastated by illegal logging, with wood mostly used for charcoal, the main source of energy for an electricity-deprived population.

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/DR_Congo_arrests_14_Chinese_for_wood_smuggling_999.html.

Bodies of American, Swedish UN experts found in Congo

March 29, 2017

BENI, Congo (AP) — The bodies of an American and a Swedish investigator with the United Nations and their Congolese interpreter were found in Central Kasai province, authorities said Tuesday, more than two weeks after they disappeared while looking into recent violence there.

“After tests … it is possible to identify the bodies as the two U.N. experts and their interpreter as being found near the Moyo river,” Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said. Investigations will continue to seek other missing Congolese colleagues, he said.

Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaida Catalan of Sweden, along with interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers, went missing March 12 while looking into large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.

Congo’s police inspector general, Charles Bisengimana, said the bodies were found Monday between the cities of Tshimbulu and Kananga, the provincial capital. The confirmation came a day after Sharp’s father, John Sharp of Hesston, Kansas, wrote on his Facebook page that the bodies of two Caucasians had been found in shallow graves in the search area, saying there was a high probability the dead were his son and his son’s colleague.

“All other words fail me,” he wrote. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world body would conduct an inquiry into what happened to the two experts. He said the cause of their deaths hadn’t yet been determined.

“Michael and Zaida lost their lives seeking to understand the causes of conflict and insecurity in the DRC (Congo) in order to help bring peace to the country and its people,” Guterres said in a statement, sending his condolences to their families.

Sharp and Catalan’s disappearance is the first time U.N. experts have been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch has said, and it is the first recorded disappearance of international workers in the Kasai provinces.

Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai provinces in central Congo represents a new expansion of tensions. The Kamwina Nsapu militia has been fighting security forces since last year, with the violence increasing after government troops killed the militia’s leader in August. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the U.N.

When asked earlier Tuesday whether the investigators’ disappearance could be a turning point in the U.N. sending experts to the region, Guterres’ deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said: “We hope that we could continue to send experts to do their necessary monitoring activities wherever they need to go. Of course, that needs to be undertaken with full respect and understanding of the security condition on the ground.”

Associated Press writer Al-Hadji Maliro reported this story in Beni and AP writer Saleh Mwanamilongo reported from New York. AP writers Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Congo must help search for missing UN experts: Rights group

March 25, 2017

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Congo’s government must cooperate with United Nations efforts to locate experts who have been missing in the violent Kasai region for nearly two weeks, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.

Uruguayan peacekeepers and Tanzanian special forces who deployed to find the six people, including ones from the United States and Sweden, have faced a lack of cooperation, the rights group said. The U.N. mission in Congo said its movements have been restricted by security forces in Kananga, the provincial capital of Kasai Central.

Saturday’s statement comes after the U.N. reported the discovery since January of more than two dozen mass graves in three Kasai provinces. And five videos have emerged in recent weeks that appear to show Congolese soldiers firing on militia members — a spike in deadly violence in recent months in the formerly quiet region.

“The missing U.N. team reflects a bigger picture of violence and abuse in the Kasai region,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. She called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry into abuses there.

Michael Sharp of the U.S., Zaida Catalan of Sweden, interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers went missing March 12 near a remote village south of Kananga. They were looking into recent large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.

Their disappearance is the first time U.N. experts have been reported missing in Congo, Human Rights Watch said, and it is the first recorded disappearance of international workers in the Kasai provinces.

Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for more than two decades since the end of the Rwandan genocide led to the presence of local and foreign armed militias, all vying for control of mineral-rich land.

But the Kasai Central province where the U.N. experts were abducted represents a new expansion of tensions. Large-scale violence erupted in the Kasai region in August when security forces killed the leader of the Kamwina Nsapu militia. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced since then, according to the U.N.

Human Rights Watch said it has received reports of scores of people killed in recent weeks. While the violence is linked to local power struggles, there are also clear ties to Congo’s political crisis, according to Human Rights Watch. Anger has been growing in the country at long-delayed presidential elections, and dozens were killed in December amid protests as President Joseph Kabila stayed on past the end of his mandate. A deal reached between the ruling party and opposition to hold elections by the end of this year, without Kabila, remains fragile as the U.N. urges its implementation.

The rights group said security forces have been known to back local leaders seen as loyal to Kabila. Meanwhile, militia groups support those who are believed to support the opposition. Militia members have recruited large numbers of children, and using crude weapons have attacked security forces and some government buildings in Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental, Sankuru, and Lomami provinces, Human Rights Watch said.

Congo president to leave after 2017 vote under new deal

January 01, 2017

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Political parties in Congo signed a deal late Saturday that calls for President Joseph Kabila to leave power after an election that now will be held by the end of next year instead of mid-2018 as his party originally proposed.

The New Year’s Eve agreement comes after months of unrest that left dozens dead and threatened to further destabilize the vast Central African nation with a painful history of dictatorship and civil war.

Catholic church officials had mediated talks to reach a compromise and initially imposed a Christmas deadline. The negotiations reached a stalemate, though, and resumed again Thursday under mounting pressure to avoid major violence amid opposition calls for Kabila to step down.

Officials announced that a deal had been reached Saturday evening on the major issues though representatives did not sign it until around 11 p.m. local time on New Year’s Eve. Monsignor Marcel Utembi, president of the church body known as CENCO, hailed the progress but acknowledged the challenges still ahead with implementation.

“It’s one thing to have a political compromise but putting it into place is another,” he said. Neither Kabila nor opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was to personally sign the agreement Saturday. And even before the night was over, some members of Kabila’s party already were casting doubt on the feasibility of the electoral deadline.

“Elections in 2017 — yes. But not to lie, the questions (about the dates) are highly technical. If they won’t work, there will be an evaluation. It’s why we have adopted a council to follow up on the agreement,” said Ramazani Shadari, the deputy prime minister of the interior and a member of Kabila’s party.

Kabila became president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, and was constitutionally barred from seeking another term after his mandate expired Dec. 19. However, no presidential election was held in November and a court ruled he could stay in office until such a ballot could be organized.

The president’s party said that wasn’t possible before mid-2018 because of logistical challenges in organizing the ballot. An angry opposition took to the streets demanding that the vote be held as soon as possible.

In his New Year’s message to the Congolese people, Kabila reasserted his commitment to democracy even as opponents accused him of prolonging his rule through a technicality. “The source of legitimacy is only through the people at the ballot box,” he said Saturday.

Under the deal, the vote will be organized by the end of 2017 though some details still need to be finalized. That process could reveal other disputes, and opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi already has signaled that his supporters “will only be satisfied the day the transfer of power will happen.”

Still, the agreement to not modify the constitution effectively blocks Kabila from rewriting it so that he can seek a third term, a major victory for the opposition. Another point of conflict in the ongoing negotiations had been who would serve as prime minister until the elections. Kabila already had gone ahead and appointed someone this month who is from the opposition, but he came from the minority of opposition politicians who had taken part in negotiations back in October. The coalition of opposition parties that boycotted those talks wanted the prime minister to come from their group instead. It was not immediately clear late Saturday who would take the position.

The opposition also had demanded the release of political prisoners, and the dropping of criminal charges against opposition leader Moise Katumbi that they believe were politically motivated. Katumbi fled abroad as prosecutors announced their intent to try him on charges of hiring mercenaries, which he denied. Before going into exile and the canceling of the election, he was seen as a leading contender for the presidency.

Under Saturday’s deal, mediating group CENCO will examine Katumbi’s case. Human Rights Watch has said that at least 34 people were killed in violence during demonstrations after Kabila’s mandate expired. Earlier this year, more than 50 others died in protests that took place when the electoral commission failed to schedule the November election, according to the U.N.

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.

At least 26 killed in Congo protests, rights group says

December 21, 2016

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Security forces in Congo killed at least 26 demonstrators Tuesday and arrested scores more amid protests against President Joseph Kabila’s hold on power, a rights group said. The deaths were the first reported since Kabila’s mandate ended at midnight.

Military and police forces were firing live bullets, raising fears that more people have been killed, Human Rights Watch said. Its researcher Ida Sawyer said on Twitter that the killings took place in the capital, Kinshasa, the southern city of Lubumbashi and elsewhere. Residents told the group that Republican Guards were carrying out door-to-door searches and arresting youths.

Protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling party in Kinshasa. Kabila, who took office in 2001 after his father’s assassination, is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, but a court has ruled that he can remain in power until new elections, which have been delayed indefinitely. They were meant to be in November, but the ruling party says it needs more time — until 2018, at least.

The leader of Congo’s largest opposition party, Etienne Tshisekedi, urged peaceful resistance to what he called Kabila’s “coup d’etat.” In a statement posted on YouTube on Tuesday, he called the president’s actions “treason” and appealed to the Congolese people and the international community to no longer recognize Kabila’s authority.

Political talks between the ruling party and opposition, which stalled over the weekend, were expected to resume on Wednesday with mediators from the Catholic church. The political impasse has fueled fears of widespread unrest in the vast Central African nation that has trillions of dollars’ worth of natural resources but remains one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries.

After Kabila’s mandate ended, people blew whistles and rattled pans as part of a protest meant to symbolize the “end of the match.” The political negotiations that stalled over the weekend failed to reach an agreement on a date for new elections or the release of political prisoners. Both are key demands of the opposition parties, along with the dropping of criminal charges against opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who fled the country as authorities announced plans to try him. Katumbi’s supporters say the charges of hiring mercenaries are politically motivated, as he had been a leading presidential candidate.

Kabila’s government has tried to ease tensions by including some opposition figures. A few minutes before midnight, the new opposition Prime Minister Sami Badibanga announced his new transition government.

Although a small part of the opposition, including Badibanga, took part in an earlier national dialogue mediated by the African Union, most of the opposition, including Tshisekedi, refused to take part and rejected an agreement signed in October.

People inside and outside Congo fear a repeat of the dozens of deaths in September, when the opposition took to the streets after the electoral commission failed to schedule the presidential election.

In Kinshasa’s Matonge neighborhood on Tuesday, people played soccer in the street to block traffic as a form of protest amid the heavy police and military presence. “Kabila has betrayed our country. He must leave,” said Jean-Marcel Tshikuku, a mechanic. “He announced a new government just at the end of his mandate. It’s an insult! We don’t want him anymore. We don’t want negotiations to resume. He must get out, that’s all.”

AP writers Carley Petesch and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

Up to 20 dead as Congo police, protesters over president

By Stephen Feller

Dec. 21, 2016

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 20 (UPI) — Residents of the Congo took to the streets Tuesday to protest their president deciding the stay on through 2018 after President Joseph Kabila refused to vacate his office.

Kabila’s last day in office was scheduled for Monday but his decision to stay on through at least April 2017 caused protests, leaving at least 20 dead and more than 150 arrested as they react to the president’s bucking of the national constitution.

The Congolese constitution allows presidents to serve two terms, but Kabila announced in a last-minute move — literally five minutes before his term was set to expire — that he’d formed a new government and expected to stay in office until the next election in 2018.

Protesters gathered in areas of the Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, quickly after the announcement, burning tires and erecting barricades, and then protests spread across the country in the latest transfer of power there to not go smoothly.

“Today we are taking things into our own hands,” Peter Kabongo, a protester on his way to join the crowds, told The Washington Post. “The police have guns, but there are millions of us who want Kabila out.”

Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and has never had a peaceful transition of power. Kabila became president in 2001 after his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated, winning reelection in 2005 and 2011.

Kabila claimed he should step down until after the next election, noting he could not hold one now because his government does not have the money or logistical ability to run an election.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/12/21/Up-to-20-dead-as-Congo-police-protesters-over-president/6411482288306/.

At least 3 killed in Congo protests, rights group says

December 20, 2016

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Security forces in Congo killed at least three demonstrators in the capital Tuesday and have arrested scores more amid protests against President Joseph Kabila’s hold on power, a rights group said. The deaths were the first reported since Kabila’s mandate ended at midnight.

Military and police forces were firing live bullets and tear gas, raising fears that more people have been killed or arrested, Human Rights Watch said. Residents told the group that Republican Guards were carrying out door-to-door searches and arresting youths.

Protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling party in the capital, Kinshasa. Kabila, who took office in 2001 after his father’s assassination, is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, but a court has ruled that he can remain in power until new elections, which have been delayed indefinitely. They were meant to be in November, but the ruling party says it needs more time — until 2018, at least.

The leader of Congo’s largest opposition party, Etienne Tshisekedi, urged peaceful resistance to what he called Kabila’s “coup d’etat.” In a statement posted on YouTube on Tuesday, he called the president’s actions “treason” and appealed to the Congolese people and the international community to no longer recognize Kabila’s authority.

Political talks between the ruling party and opposition, which stalled over the weekend, were expected to resume on Wednesday with mediators from the Catholic church. The political impasse has fueled fears of widespread unrest in the vast Central African nation that has trillions of dollars’ worth of natural resources but remains one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries.

After Kabila’s mandate ended, people blew whistles and rattled pans as part of a protest meant to symbolize the “end of the match.” Angry demonstrators put up barricades in Kinshasa, prompting police to fire tear gas to disperse the crowds. Human Rights Watch said there was heavy security deployment in the southern city of Lubumbashi as well. At least 41 opposition members and activists were arrested in the eastern city of Goma on Monday, according to the rights group and local residents.

The political negotiations that stalled over the weekend failed to reach an agreement on a date for new elections or the release of political prisoners. Both are key demands of the opposition parties, along with the dropping of criminal charges against opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who fled the country as authorities announced plans to try him. Katumbi’s supporters say the charges of hiring mercenaries are politically motivated, as he had been a leading presidential candidate.

Kabila’s government has tried to ease tensions by including some opposition figures. A few minutes before midnight, the new opposition Prime Minister Sami Badibanga announced his new transition government.

Although a small part of the opposition, including Badibanga, took part in an earlier national dialogue mediated by the African Union, most of the opposition, including Tshisekedi, refused to take part and rejected an agreement signed in October.

People inside and outside Congo fear a repeat of the dozens of deaths in September, when the opposition took to the streets after the electoral commission failed to schedule the presidential election.

In Kinshasa’s Matonge neighborhood on Tuesday, people played soccer matches in the street to block traffic as a form of protest amid the heavy police and military presence. “Kabila has betrayed our country. He must leave,” said Jean-Marcel Tshikuku, a mechanic. “He announced a new government just at the end of his mandate. It’s an insult! We don’t want him anymore. We don’t want negotiations to resume. He must get out, that’s all.”

AP writers Carley Petesch and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

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