UN chief visits C. Africa tomorrow amid tense security situation

A passenger atop a truck on the stretch of road from Bouar to Bangui, in this Oct. 16 photo. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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UN chief visits C. Africa tomorrow amid tense security situation

BAGUI: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to arrive in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, as violence between Muslim and Christian militias has intensified in the past few months.
“This is a gesture of solidarity with the peacekeepers working in one of the most dangerous environments,” Guterres said in an interview with AFP and Radio France Internationale (RFI).
His trip to one of the world’s poorest countries will be his first as part of a peacekeeping mission since taking office on Jan. 1 — but he regularly visited the country as former head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The secretary general’s visit comes at a time when the UN faces a precarious financial situation, as the US pushes for cost-cutting measures in peacekeeping.
The international body has maintained some 12,500 troops and police on the ground in the Central African Republic since September 2014 to help protect civilians and support the government of Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected last year.
Its mandate expires on Nov. 15, 2017 but is expected to be renewed.
For Guterres — whose visit coincides with “United Nations Day” marking the entry into force of the UN charter — “the level of suffering of the people but also the trauma suffered by aid workers and peacekeepers are deserving of our solidarity and heightened attention.”
One of the world’s poorest nations, the Central African Republic has been struggling to recover from a three-year civil war between the Muslim and Christian militias that started after the 2013 overthrow of leader Francois Bozize.
Between 2013 and 2016, acting under a UN mandate, France intervened militarily to push out the Muslim Seleka rebels and the UN launched its MINUSCA peacekeeping mission in 2014 — but the country remains plagued by violence.
Since May, renewed clashes in the southeast have pitted armed groups against each other as they compete for control of natural resources and areas of influence, while claiming to protect communities.
MINUSCA said Friday that at least 26 people were killed during clashes in the town of Pombolo, while another 11 were wounded.
Since the beginning of the year, 12 aid workers and 12 peacekeepers have also been killed — six peacekeepers alone in Bangassou where Guterres is expected to make a stop.
“He wants to go honor the fallen,” a UN source in Bangui said.
Touadera visited Bangassou earlier this week as well in a bid to reassert authority in the southeastern region — where much of the growing unrest has been concentrated.
Guterres’s trip, just weeks before the likely reappointment of MINUSCA, would also send a strong political message amid criticism of the UN mission.
Accused of “passivity” by critics and sometimes even “collusion” with armed groups, UN troops are also facing an avalanche of sexual abuse and rape allegations.
MINUSCA has been hit with the highest number of rape charges of all UN missions, prompting Guterres earlier this year to agree to the withdrawal of a 600-troop contingent from Congo Republic, which had faced several accusations.
About 120 Congolese peacekeepers were dismissed for similar reasons last year.
Guterres will meet with some of the victims and their families as part of his effort to address the damaging allegations, accompanied by Jane Connors, the first UN advocate for victims’ rights.
The conflict has driven more than 600,000 people from their homes internally while an additional 500,000 have crossed borders to become refugees, according to UN figures.
Half of the population, or 2.4 million Central Africans, depend on humanitarian aid.


Pakistan court rejects Sharif family’s bail pleas

Updated 7 min 16 sec ago
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Pakistan court rejects Sharif family’s bail pleas

  • Court has adjourned hearing into the case until last week of July, seeking complete record of trial against Sharif family
  • Ex-premier’s close aide, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, still expects the high court will set aside the convictions

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Tuesday rejected appeals of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt. (retd) Mohammad Safdar for bail and suspension of their convictions in a corruption reference.
A divisional bench of Islamabad High Court has taken up the Sharif family’s appeals against an accountability court verdict in Avenfield properties reference and later adjourned the hearing until the last week of July.
The two-member bench comprising Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Mian Gul Hassan Aurangzeb, however, issued notices to the NAB prosecutor and investigator to present complete record of the trial in the court at the time of next hearing.
The ex-premier, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Safdar are currently in jail after the accountability court in Islamabad on July 6 sentenced Nawaz and Maryam in absentia to 10 years and 7 years with a £8 million fine and £2 million fine respectively on corruption charges.
Safdar was given a one-year sentence without any fine.
The Islamabad High Court has now summoned National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor and investigation officer on next hearing to record their arguments on the Sharif family’s appeals seeking bail and suspension of the accountability court verdict.
The courtroom was packed to its capacity when hearing into the appeals started in the afternoon. Scores of supporters and leaders of the ex-premier have turned up in the court to observe the hearing into the appeals.
Lawyers of the convicts highlighted legal lacunae in the accountability court verdict during the hearing and urged the court to suspend imprisonment sentences of their clients until a final decision of the Islamabad High Court.
Khawaja Harris, legal counsel of Nawaz Sharif, argued that it was a case of having assets beyond known sources of income but the NAB prosecutor and investigator failed to provide valuation of the Avenfield properties during the trial.
He said the accountability court verdict is also based on presumptions that Nawaz Sharif’s children were dependent on him and had no monetary resources to buy the London flats. He said the prosecution also failed to prove this assumption during the trial.
Likewise, Amjad Pervez, legal counsel of Maryam and Safdar, also highlighted flaws in the accountability court’s verdict and urged the court to set aside the ruling.
The court also dismissed Sharif family’s request to stay corruption trial in remaining two references in the accountability court till their appeals are decided.
Talking to media persons outside the court, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, a close aide of Nawaz Sharif, said the people expect the high court to decide the appeals in the same speed with which the corruption proceedings were conducted against the Sharif family in the accountability court.
“We expect justice from the court,” he said, “we hope the high court will declare convictions of Nawaz Sharif and his family void after hearing arguments of our lawyers.”
On July 13, both Nawaz and Maryam were arrested at Lahore airport on their arrival from London and sent to Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, to serve their sentence.
The two leaders were in London at the time of the verdict with Nawaz’s wife and Maryam’s mother Kulsoom Nawaz who is battling cancer. She has reportedly been on life-support since June 14.
Earlier, Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz Sharif and ex-chief minister Punjab province, has written a letter to caretaker chief minister to complain about “abysmal conditions” under which the ex-premier was languishing in a high-security Adiala jail.
He demanded the government to provide all basic facilities including access to personal doctor and air-conditioner in his room to Nawaz Sharif in the jail.
“It is very unfortunate that Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, three time Prime Minister of Pakistan, is being treated in such a shabby manner,” the letter available to Arab News reads.