DR Congo court charges army officer in murder of UN experts

Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp were kidnapped with their interpreter Betu Tshintela on 12 March. The bodies of all three were found two weeks later. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

DR Congo court charges army officer in murder of UN experts

  • Authorities had initially said the victims, Zaida Catalan, a Swedish woman, and American Michael Sharp, were killed in March 2017 by terrorist militiamen in central Kasai region
  • Col. Jean de Dieu Mambweni, who was arrested in December, will face charges including criminal conspiracy and murder as a war crime

KANANGA: A DR Congo military tribunal on Monday charged an army colonel with the murder of two UN experts who were killed two years ago while investigating violence in a restive central region.
Authorities had initially said the victims, Zaida Catalan, a Swedish woman, and American Michael Sharp, were killed in March 2017 by “terrorist” militiamen in central Kasai region.
Col. Jean de Dieu Mambweni, who was arrested in December, will face charges including criminal conspiracy and murder as a war crime, court clerk Captain Alain Bosombi told AFP.
“The date of his appearance has not yet been set but it will be soon,” the official said.
The army officer was in charge of relations with civilians in the central Kasai region at the time of the killings.
Prosecutors say he was in telephone contact on the day with one of the main murder suspects.
A UN report described the murder of the two experts as a “premeditated setup” in which state security may have been involved.
Their deaths sent shockwaves through political and diplomatic circles in Kinshasa — especially among aid workers grappling with the country’s entrenched violence and humanitarian crisis.


‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

Updated 20 min 57 sec ago

‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

SYDNEY: China’s financial largesse in the Pacific carries “clear risks” for stability if left unchecked, a Sydney think tank warned, while saying allegations of “debt-trap” diplomacy are so far overblown.
In a study released Monday, the influential Lowy Institute warned that fragile Pacific nations risked borrowing too much and leaving themselves exposed to demands from Beijing.
China has repeatedly been accused of offering lucrative but unserviceable loans to gain leverage or snap up strategically vital assets like ports, airports, or electricity providers.
While Lowy said allegations that China was engaged in “debt-trap” diplomacy in the Pacific were overblown, the trend was not positive and countries like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were dangerously exposed.
Between 2011 and 2018, China committed loans to the region worth $6 billion — around 21 percent of regional GDP.
A majority of that money, $4.1 billion, was earmarked for Papua New Guinea.
Only a fraction, less than $1 billion, has so far been dispersed but China is still the single largest creditor in Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu.
“The sheer scale of Chinese lending and the lack of strong institutional mechanisms to protect the debt sustainability of borrowing countries mean a continuation of business as usual would pose clear risks,” the report said.
The South Pacific has become a forum for intense competition for influence between China, the United States, and Australia in recent years.
The island nations sit on a vital shipping crossroad, contain vast reserves of fish stocks, and provide a potential base for leading militaries to project power well beyond their borders.
Beijing has stepped up engagement in the region through a series of high profile visits and no-conditions lending via its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Solomon Islands and Kiribati recently announced they would switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing after a long courtship by the country’s Communist leaders.
Six Pacific governments are currently debtors to Beijing — the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
Lowy said many of China’s loans carry a modest two percent annual interest rate.
But it warned that China would need to adopt formal lending rules if loans were to be made sustainable as natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis can quickly upend countries’ ability to pay back loans.
“Three small Pacific economies — Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu — also appear to be among those most heavily indebted to China anywhere in the world,” it said.