DR Congo arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

A laborer rests after cutting logs in Bandundu, DR Congo, in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 05 May 2017
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DR Congo arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

LUBUMBASHI: Fourteen Chinese people suspected of illegally exporting red wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) were arrested, local officials said, as Beijing stressed Friday its commitment to tackling the illegal trade.
“We have arrested Chinese people... who were cutting wood in our region,” Celestin Pande, acting governor of the Haut-Katanga region, told AFP.
China responded Friday by saying it supported wildlife conservation and backed efforts to stamp out illegal activities.
“We have noted the relevant reports. China respects the efforts of DR Congo to justly handle the case according to the law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
“We also hope the lawful rights of Chinese citizens can be safeguarded. We want to stress that China is a signatory of CITES,” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which also covers the illegal timber trade.
“For those who are engaged in illegal trade of wildlife products we have zero tolerance. Chinese law enforcement has made efforts to combat trafficking,” added Gueng.
“We are ready to work with the rest of the world to enhance law enforcement ability to support sustainable trade of wildlife animals and plants.”
Pande said 17,000 tons 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.
Separately, the UN Security Council on Thursday urged DR Congo to cooperate with investigations of the murder of two UN experts and mass graves found in the troubled Kasai region.
In a unanimous statement, the council also told the Kinshasa government and the opposition to step up efforts to implement a New Year’s Eve agreement aimed at paving the way to elections.
Council members “stressed the need for a swift and full investigation into the killing” of the two UN experts and “underlined the need for full cooperation from the government of the DRC,” the statement drafted by France said.
The UN has set up a board of inquiry to investigate the deaths in March of Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a dual Swedish-Chilean national.
They were members of a UN panel of experts seeking to investigate reports of more than 40 mass graves found in the central Kasai region when they were abducted and shot dead. One of the victims was also beheaded.
The council said it would “closely monitor” investigations by the government, working with the UN mission in the DR Congo and the African Union (AU) on rights abuses in Kasai.


US moves 100 coffins to North Korean border for war remains

Updated 24 June 2018
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US moves 100 coffins to North Korean border for war remains

  • From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains
  • The transfer of remains is usually done in a somber, formal ceremony, and that is what officials said was being planned

SEOUL, South Korea: The US military said it moved 100 wooden coffins to the inter-Korean border to prepare for North Korea’s returning of the remains of American soldiers who have been missing since the 1950-53 Korean War.
US Forces Korea spokesman Col. Chad Carroll also said Saturday that 158 metal transfer cases were sent to a US air base near Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and would be used to send the remains home.
North Korea agreed to return US war remains during the June 12 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump. While the US military preparations suggest that the repatriation of war remains could be imminent, it remains unclear when and how it would occur.
Earlier Saturday, Carroll denied a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that US military vehicles carrying more than 200 caskets were planning to cross into North Korea on Saturday. He said plans for the repatriation were “still preliminary.”
US Forces Korea said in a statement later in the day that 100 wooden “temporary transit cases” built in Seoul were sent to the Joint Security Area at the border as part of preparations to “receive and transport remains in a dignified manner when we get the call to do so.”
From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains.
But efforts to recover and return other remains have stalled for more than a decade because of the North’s nuclear weapons development and US claims that the safety of recovery teams it sent during the administration of former President George W. Bush was not sufficiently guaranteed.
US officials have said earlier that the remains are believed to be some or all of the more than 200 that the North Koreans have had for some time. But the precise number and the identities — including whether they are US or allied service members — won’t be known until the remains are tested.
The transfer of remains is usually done in a somber, formal ceremony, and that is what officials said was being planned.
Richard Downes, executive director of the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs, said last week that he had been told the North may have the remains of more than 200 American service members that were likely recovered from land during farming or construction and could be easily returned. But he said the vast majority have yet to be located and retrieved from various cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
More than 36,000 US troops died in the conflict, including those listed as missing in action. Close to 7,700 US troops remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, and about 5,300 of those were lost in North Korea.
The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
According to Chuck Prichard, spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, once the remains are turned over, they would be sent to one of two Defense Department facilities — Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska — for tests to determine identification.