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  • Grace Mugabe Seeks Diplomatic Immunity in South Africa Assault Case

    JOHANNESBURG � Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe has sought diplomatic immunity in South Africa, where she is under investigation over the assault of a 20-year-old model in an upscale hotel, South African police said on Wednesday.

    Police also confirmed that Mugabe, the 52-year-old wife of Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe, had failed to appear at a court hearing Tuesday relating to allegations she attacked Gabriella Engels with an electric extension cord.

    Engels’ mother Debbie told Reuters her daughter had received 14 stitches on her head from Sunday’s assault – which the mother did not witness – and demanded Mugabe face justice.

    She also showed Reuters photographs taken in the hours after the incident showing gashes on Gabriella’s forehead and back of the head. Another picture, taken on Wednesday, showed a large, livid bruise on her right thigh.

    ‘It’s about justice’

    “I just want justice for my daughter. It’s not about money. It’s about justice. She attacked my child for no reason,” she said.

    The police statement said Harare had sought diplomatic immunity for Mugabe � which, if granted, would exempt her from prosecution – but said she would be “processed through the legal system”.

    Reuters has not been able to verify key aspects of the assault allegations independently, and multiple requests for comment from Mugabe’s spokesman in Harare and from Information Minister Chris Mushowe went unanswered.

    Mugabe, a potential successor to her 93-year-old husband, was in South Africa to receive treatment to an injured foot, according to local media reports. A Zimbabwean intelligence source told Reuters she was not traveling on a diplomatic passport.

    Criminal attorney Riaan Louw said diplomatic immunity would not apply if Mugabe had indeed entered on private business.

    “If she wasn’t here on official business, that rules out the possibility of diplomatic immunity,” Louw said.

    Diplomatic fallout?

    However, given the potential for diplomatic fallout, South African prosecutors could yet decide not to prosecute if they thought the injuries were not too severe, he added.

    “They can fail to prosecute her,” he said. “They’ve got the powers to decide that it’s not in the interests of the community or it might create animosity between us and Zimbabwe.”

    Police said Tuesday’s abortive court hearing was designed to obtain a statement from Mugabe, along with her version of the events, but that she failed to appear as arranged.

    Police spokesman Vish Naidoo did not comment on the specifics of the case, other than to say it related to assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

    Reuters has been unable to identify Mugabe’s lawyers in Johannesburg. Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Pretoria, said he “knew nothing”. “I have to go to my office to get briefed,” he said.

    Gabriella Engels said she was attacked while waiting to meet up with Chatunga, one of Mugabe’s two adult sons, in the hotel in Johannesburg.

    The News24 website quoted Engels’ version of events in the hotel room. “When Grace entered, I had no idea who she was. She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it,” the model said.

    The incident is not the first time Mugabe has been accused of assault.

    In 2009, a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong said she and her bodyguard had assaulted him. Police there said the incident was reported but that no charges were brought.

    Source: Voice of America

  • SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD AFRICAN-LED FORCE ON TERRORISM IN THE SAHEL OPERATIONAL BUT CHALLENGED

    NEW YORK, The joint task force by the so-called Group of Five (G5) � Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger � to tackle the threat of terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region is now operational, but a number of challenges remain, including funding, the United Nations Security Council was told.

    The creation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force has the potential to make a significant contribution to efforts already under way to stabilize the region, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El-Ghassim Wane, told the 15-member Council in New York.

    But we must also be realistic about the challenges that remain and the issues that remain to be resolved. The success of the Joint Force depends as much on deepening this regional partnership and on the applicable policy framework, as on the determination of its members to achieve its operationalization, and the unfailing support of their international partners.

    Wane said the Joint Force offers a unique opportunity to respond to regional challenges, but only if other aspects and cases of instability in the region are addressed.

    Addressing the root causes of instability in the Sahel requires going beyond military action and tackling the governance gap, chronic poverty and unemployment, climate change and financing for development, he said.

    Abject poverty, fast population growth, climate change, recurrent food and nutrition crises, armed conflicts and violence converge dangerously and undermine the lives and assets and future prospects of millions of families across the Sahel region, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said.

    More than 30 million people face food insecurity, one in five children under the age of five suffers from acute malnutrition and at least 4.9 million are displaced by the effects of conflicts.

    Speaking to the Security Council, the senior UN official also noted the need to tackle cross-border crime and to impose targeted sanctions, as well as to create a political strategy to guide the activities of the Joint Force and align them with the Malian peace process and other regional initiatives.

    He noted also that the Joint Force should work closely with the recently established working group of the Executive Committee on the Sahel chaired by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the African Union’s peace and security architecture.

    Among the greatest needs are funding, Wane said praying the five Member States for contributing funds to the project.

    Those joint contribution, combined with the European Union’s pledged contribution, as announced by Commissioner Federica Mogherini in June, amount to Euros 108 million, or 25 percent of total requirements.

    While generating pledges and contributions to meet the requirements of the Joint Force will be critical, the setting up of transparent, coordinated and effective funding will be equally as important, Wane said, noting the planned meeting in September hosted by German and French Defence Ministries to discuss further opportunities to support the Joint Force.

    The Joint Force is ready to conduct its first coordinated operations along Mali’s borders with Nigeria and Burkina Faso in October, with greater capacity in spring 2018.

    A written report on the workings of the Joint Force is expected in October.

    Meanwhile, in Mali, the Head of the UN Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, along with the Malian Prime Minister and governmental officials, visited the UN camp in Timbuktu and met with the wounded following yesterday’s attacks on UN camps in Douenza and Timbuktu.

    A UN peacekeeper, a Malian soldier and a member of the Malian gendarmerie were killed, along with six Malian contractors in the attacks. A number of other people were also wounded.

    The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said the situation in Timbuktu today is calm but tense, with the presence of a large number of Malian security and defence forces.

    Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK

  • Emergency food distributions launched to assist thousands displaced in DR Congo – UN agency

    Food assistance will be provided to food insecure people displaced by conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says the United Nations food agency.

    The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partner World Vision have launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance to 42,000 food insecure people who, due to conflict, have fled their villages in the country’s Kasai and Kasai Central provinces.

    We launched this emergency response as soon as funds became available, said Claude Jibidar, WFP Representative and Country Director in DRC, in a press statement.

    We targeted the most vulnerable among the vulnerable, and our access to these displaced people also depend on security conditions. However, with nearly one and a half million displaced people in the Kasai region, additional donor support is essential for WFP to scale up our operations and reach more vulnerable displaced people, he added.

    WFP plans to assist 25,000 displaced persons in Kasai Central and 17,000 people in the Kasai province in the coming days, the statement elaborated. However, WFP urgently requires $17.3 million to support the operations scale-up from September to December 2017.

    Food distributions have started in the town of Tshilumba with further distributions scheduled this month. As part of this effort and where safe access is possible, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continue to identify the most vulnerable displaced people in areas identified with high levels of food insecurity, as determined in a recent food security study, said WFP.

    According to its recent food security assessment, WFP said that in the last year, the number of people in need of urgent humanitarian food assistance in the DRC rose by 1.8 million � from 5.9 million to 7.7 million.

    In conflict-ridden areas, more than 1.5 million people are facing ’emergency’ levels of food insecurity, leaving many with no option but to sell everything they have while skipping or reducing their meals, the statement outlined.

    In addition to food distributions, WFP is leading the Logistics Cluster, which provides technical and logistical support to humanitarian organizations and has been operational in the Kasai region since June.

    Mobile warehouses have been built to store food and non-food items, while several trucks have been sent to Kasai and Kasai Central to transport food and supplies, said the statement.

    To meet the huge needs of displaced people in hard-to-reach areas, since June the WFP-led UN Humanitarian Air Service has expanded its support, positioning an aircraft in Kananga in Kasai Central on a permanent basis and flying three times weekly to Tshikapa, Kasai � making those most in need more accessible to humanitarian organizations.

    Scores of people have fled their villages due to the conflict that broke out in the Kasai region in August 2016.

    According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are some 1.4 million internally displaced people across the Kasai provinces. Additionally, more than 31,000 have fled into neighbouring Angola.

    With up to 3.8 million people displaced in total, the DRC is home to the largest population of internally displaced people in Africa, underscored the statement.

    The sharp deterioration in people’s food security is mainly attributable to displacement caused by an upsurge in conflict and pest infestation in crops across the country. WFP continues to coordinate with FAO and other partners to serve the most vulnerable people in the Kasai region, as well as in other parts of the country.

    Source: UN News Centre

  • UN Inquiry Finds Congolese Militia Likely Killed UN Monitors

    UNITED NATIONS � A United Nations inquiry found that two U.N. investigators were murdered by a group of Congolese, likely militia members from central Democratic Republic of Congo, but an absence of evidence does not preclude the possibility that others are involved.

    Michael Sharp, an American who was coordinator of an independent sanctions monitoring group, and Zaida Catalan, a Swede, were killed in central Congo on March 12 while carrying out investigations for a report to the U.N. Security Council.

    The bodies of Sharp and Catalan were found in a shallow grave two weeks later. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres set up an internal board of inquiry and gave an executive summary of the findings to the Security Council on Tuesday.

    Without further investigation and the necessary judicial processes, the identity, affiliations, and motives of the group that participated in killing Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalan cannot be fully established, read the inquiry’s executive summary, seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

    The Congolese government screened a film to reporters in Kinshasa on April 24, which they said showed members of the anti-government Kamuina Nsapu militia killing the U.N experts.

    The pair were shot and Catalan was subsequently beheaded.

    More than 3,300 people have been killed and 1.4 million forced to flee their homes in Kasai since the start of an insurrection nearly a year ago by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which wants the withdrawal of military forces from the area.

    Many analysts say the grainy video of the murders raises more questions than it answers, such as why one of the assassins from the Tshiluba-speaking militia gave orders in Lingala, which is the language of western Congo and the army.

    It is the judgment of the Board that information circulating regarding the possible involvement of various government individuals or organizations does not provide proof of intent or motive, the U.N. inquiry said.

    An absence of evidence however does not preclude the possibility that others are involved, it said.

    A Congolese military prosecutor has said there was no evidence Congolese forces were involved in the murders.

    The Board of Inquiry recommended the Congolese government conduct a criminal investigation with the support of other member states. The inquiry said Congolese authorities had arrested a dozen people and would try them in a military court.

    It’s naturally my intention to do everything … with the Congolese government and with the Security Council for the criminals to be punished,” Guterres told reporters on Wednesday.

    The remaining members of Sharp and Catalan’s monitoring group recommended last month that the Security Council ask Guterres to establish an independent international investigation. The United States has also called for Guterres to establish a special investigation.

    Source: Voice of America

  • SPAIN RESCUES 339 MIGRANTS FROM 7 BOATS IN MEDITERRANEAN

    Spain’s maritime rescue service says it has picked up 339 migrants from seven boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Morocco. The rescue service says the migrants were taken by three maritime rescue ships to Spain’s southern town of Tarifa, …

  • South Sudan’s Parliament Suspends Debate on Budget

    JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN � South Sudan’s parliament have suspended debate on a $451 million budget as questions linger over how government agencies will be financed and how money was spent during the past fiscal year.

    Oil production and other sources of revenue for the government have plunged since the start of the war between supporters of President Salva Kiir and opponents in late 2013.

    Members of parliament refused to further discuss the 2017-18 budget Monday after most members of the Cabinet failed to appear, making it impossible for MPs to question them.

    Speaker Anthony Lino Makana, who called off the discussion, demanded that all ministers be present during the next session.

    Last month, Finance Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau presented an annual budget, but after further review, the parliament’s committee on finance proposed adding $141 million to the proposal.

    Several lawmakers, including Maridi state’s Mary Nawai, asked why certain agencies were allocated tens of thousands of pounds despite not performing their duties or providing financial reports.

    Electricity ministry

    Nawai focused on the Ministry of Electricity and Dams, which was found to have overpaid its budget for wages by 49 percent.

    “What were the activities that they used the budget for?” she asked. “We have not seen any sign in this country of electricity. What people are using are generators in their houses and solar? … We have not seen any construction going on or any dam. Why do we need to add money for the Ministry of Electricity?”

    Economic analyst Marial Awou Yol said government institutions must be disciplined and use national resources for their intended purposes. Otherwise, he said, South Sudan will never recover from its economic crisis.

    He said economists have been calling for a single treasury account system in which the Ministry of Finance controls the flow of money. Currently, he said, some government institutions have several banking accounts.

    “You don’t know in which account they deposited money,” Awou told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

    Source: Voice of America

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