DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023

President of Congo Felix Tshisekedi addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP)
President of Congo Felix Tshisekedi addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 26 November 2022

DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023

DR Congo to hold next presidential polls in December 2023
  • President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader

KINSHASA: The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its next presidential polls on Dec. 20, 2023, the country’s electoral commission said on Saturday.
The announcement comes as rebels have advanced in the restive east of the African country, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes.
The electoral commission’s president said “persisting insecurity in some parts of the territory” would be a challenge to holding a “free, democratic and transparent” vote.
In the DRC, the presidential poll is held at the same time as parliamentary, provincial and local elections.
The president-elect would then take office in January 2024.
President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader.
It was the country’s first peaceful handover of power.

FASTFACT

President Felix Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, succeeding Joseph Kabila after 18 turbulent years as leader.

He has already announced his intention to run for a second term, despite clashes over the results.
Other possible contenders could include Martin Fayulu, the runner-up in the 2018 presidential polls who claims he was deprived of a victory in the vote.
There has been no immediate announcement from former prime minister, Adolphe Muzito, and the ex-governor of the southern region of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, who are also seen as potential candidates.
Augustin Matata Ponyo, another ex-premier, has said he will run.
Ponyo last year went on trial on charges he embezzled public funds, but the constitutional court ruled it did not have the authority to judge him.
The court’s lineup has however now changed, and has said it could try him.
Tshisekedi’s inauguration ceremony in 2019 capped more than two years of turmoil sparked by Kabila’s refusal to step down when he reached the constitutional limit on his term in office.
The last two presidential elections before that, in 2006 and 2011 — both won by Kabila — were marred by bloodshed and dozens died in a crackdown on protests after he chose to remain in office in 2016. A country the size of continental western Europe, the former Belgian colony lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003.
The March 23 rebel group took up arms in late 2021 after years of dormancy, claiming the DRC had failed to honour a pledge to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances.
After four months of relative calm, the conflict erupted again on Oct. 20 and the rebels made a push towards Goma.
The fighting has dashed relations between the DRC and Rwanda, with Kinshasa accusing its smaller neighbor of backing the M23 — something UN experts and US officials have also said. Kigali denies the charges.
Tshisekedi and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta met in Angola on Wednesday, agreeing to a cessation of hostilities in eastern DRC from Friday evening.
M23 rebels were to withdraw from “occupied zones,” failing which an East African regional force would intervene.
But the rebels, a largely Congolese Tutsi militia, said on Thursday the ceasefire “doesn’t really concern us,” and called for “direct dialogue” with DRC’s government.
The frontlines seemed quiet on Saturday morning, but residents in the eastern DRC remained sceptical that it would hold.

 


Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
Updated 03 February 2023

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
  • 31.8 percent of women in Assam were married before the legal age
  • Police expect to arrest about 8,000 during week-long drive

NEW DELHI: Police in India’s northeaster state of Assam arrested hundreds of people on Friday in a crackdown on those marrying or arranging marriages with children.
The minimum legal age for Indians to marry is 18 for women and 21 for men, but the practice of child marriage remains widespread in parts of the country, especially Assam. According to India’s latest National Family Health Survey, 31.8 percent of women in the state were married before the legal age, compared with the national average of 23.3 percent.
In some districts of Assam, more than half of married women were married before 18.
The crackdown on child marriage was approved by the Assam government late last month to tackle the practice and increasing numbers of child pregnancies.
“We have arrested 1,793 people till 8 a.m. this morning,” Prasanta Kumar Bhuiyan, Assam’s inspector general of police, told Arab News.
“The crackdown will continue for one week and people are being detained under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.”
He estimated that another 6,000 suspects would be arrested in the coming days.
The state’s chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said on Friday that he had requested the police to act with “zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women.”
Activists said welcomed the operation.
“The basis for this drive is the increasing infant mortality rate and mother mortality rate among young children,” said Miguel Das, who runs the Assam-based Utsah Child Rights Organization.
Das said however that law enforcement should not be the only response.
“There should be socio-economic welfare measures to address the deep-seated problem prevalent among all the demographics in the state,” he said, adding that the drive should also include the rehabilitation of married children and initiatives to prevent the practice.
The UN estimates that India is home to around 223 million child brides — the largest number of any country in the world.
“Early marriage causes lots of imbalance in the society and leads to high population growth and illiteracy among the young generation,” said Azizur Rahman, former president of All Assam Minority Students’ Union.
“I support the government’s crackdown and hope the large-scale arrests will send a message to the people.”


Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
Updated 03 February 2023

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
  • Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah's actions were "widespread and systematic" against a civilian population
  • A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months

GENEVA: The appeal hearings of a former Liberian rebel commander convicted of war crimes were set to conclude on Friday in a trial that was broadened in its final stages to include crimes against humanity for the first time in Switzerland.
Alieu Kosiah, who fought in the 1990s against then-President Charles Taylor’s army, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2021 for rape, murder and cannibalism in one of the first trials for war crimes committed in the West African country.
During the three weeks of appeal hearings at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, the defendant sought to overturn the lower court’s ruling, arguing at length that he was not present when the crimes were committed. Kosiah’s lawyer denied the charges and said he was a minor when first recruited.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah’s actions were “widespread and systematic” against a civilian population.
“We feel strongly that these crimes are the epitome of crimes against humanity,” said Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer and director of Civitas Maxima, an NGO that represents war crimes victims and is acting on behalf of some of the plaintiffs.
A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months. If Kosiah is found guilty of crimes against humanity, this could extend his sentence to life.
The hearings were often laden with emotion, with some Liberian witnesses and victims confronting Kosiah for the first time since the country’s civil wars. They all asked for anonymity because of the risk of reprisals back home where former warlords still hold prominent roles.
In one poignant moment, a former child soldier under Kosiah acknowledged him with a military salute in the court room and then broke down and was too upset to testify.
In another, a witness who had been held as a sex slave by a soldier described how Kosiah had stabbed one of the Liberian plaintiffs present in the back. “Many people in the courtroom were crying. It was very emotional, even 30 years later,” said Zena Wakim, one of the prosecution lawyers.
No trials have taken place in Liberia for its back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that became infamous for their brutality and degradation, with marauding child soldiers and combatants high on drugs.
In an indication of the importance of the trial to the Liberian plaintiffs, one of them who says she was raped by Kosiah, named a recently born baby “Justice.”
“I want him in jail,” she told Reuters on the opening day of the appeal trial on Jan. 11.


Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
Updated 03 February 2023

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
  • In 2018 and 2020, Manila banned worker deployment to the Gulf state after murder cases
  • Philippine president says government will review bilateral labor agreement with Kuwait

MANILA: The Philippines is tightening rules for the deployment of workers to Kuwait after the brutal murder of a migrant Filipino worker last month sent shockwaves across the Southeast Asian nation.
The charred body of the 35-year-old maid, Jullebee Ranara, was found abandoned in a desert in late January and repatriated to the Philippines last week. Kuwaiti police have since arrested and charged the 17-year-old son of her employer over the killing.
Ranara was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers living in Kuwait. Most are women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, the Philippine Migrant Workers Office in Kuwait suspended the accreditation of new recruitment agencies in the Gulf country, while President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced on Monday that the Philippine government is scheduling meetings with Kuwaiti authorities to review the bilateral labor agreement to “see if there are any weaknesses in the agreement that allowed this (murder) to happen” and provide more protection to overseas Filipino workers.
“The Philippine government’s priority is to seek justice for our deceased compatriot,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Eduardo Jose De Vega told Arab News on Thursday.
“The Department of Migrant Workers is reviewing the records of the currently accredited agencies and is imposing stricter rules for deployment in the meantime.”
Ranara’s murder is not the first such incident in Kuwait to shock the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipino domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. In May 2019, Filipino maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another employee, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured to death by her employer. The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to death.
The Philippine government is not considering another ban, despite calls from Filipinos outraged by the recent gruesome killing.
According to migrant work expert Emmanuel Geslani, a ban “may result in more harm than good” by leading to human trafficking.
“Any deployment ban always leads workers to illegal recruitment syndicates enticing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) eager to find work in the oil-rich country of Kuwait,” he told Arab News.
“OFWs who are victims of human trafficking will be devoid of the protection of the Migrant Workers Office and the labor agreement forged by both countries.”


Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US
Updated 03 February 2023

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US
  • Ruslan Maratovich Asainov kept a makeshift version of the militants' black flag right above the desk in his cell
  • The trial is a reminder of the enduring and far-reaching fallout of a war that drew tens of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq

NEW YORK: He had been brought from the battlefields of Syria to a New York lockup, a US citizen charged with serving as a sniper and weapons trainer for the Daesh group.
And even in jail, Ruslan Maratovich Asainov kept a makeshift version of the militants’ black flag right above the desk in his cell, according to trial testimony this week.
“What’s the big deal? It’s mine. It’s religious,” then-jail lieutenant Judith Woods recalled him saying when she went to confiscate the hand-drawn image in 2020.
Years after the fall of the extremist group’s self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, the trial is a reminder of the enduring and far-reaching fallout of a war that drew tens of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. Their home countries are still contending with what should become of them.
Jurors, who are expected to start deliberating as soon as Monday, have gotten a refresher course Daesh’s gruesome rule and its sophisticated, social-media-savvy recruitment of distant supporters to come and take up arms. Prosecutors say Asainov did so and rose through the group’s ranks, eventually becoming an “emir” who taught other members to use weapons.
In post-arrest videos shown at his trial, he gives his occupation as “a sniper” to FBI agents and readily tells them that he provided instruction in everything from rifle maintenance to ballistics to adjusting for weather effects — and, of course, “how to actually pull the trigger.”
“Oh, it’s a long lesson,” he explains, sitting on a bed in a room where he was being held. “I would give, like, a three-hour lesson, just on that, just to pull the trigger.”
Jurors have seen photos alleged to be of Asainov in camouflage, aiming a rifle, and the handmade flag that Woods said she took from his cell. Witnesses have included his flabbergasted ex-wife, who testified that he morphed from a Brooklyn family man into a zealot. She said he weighed in from Syria to complain about their daughter donning a Halloween costume and sent a photo of the bodies of what he said were comrades killed in a battle, according to the Daily News of New York.
Asainov chose not to testify. One of his lawyers, Susan Kellman, has said he went to Syria because he wanted to live under Islamic law. He has pleaded not guilty — a plea that Kellman entered on his behalf because, she said, he didn’t abide by the American legal system.
Nonetheless, the 46-year-old Asainov listened politely to government witnesses on a day this week, alternately stroking his beard and folding his arms across his chest.
Daesh fighters seized portions of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared the establishment of a so-called Islamic caliphate there, at a time when Syria was already convulsed by civil war. Fighting laid waste to multiple cities before Iraq’s prime minister declared the caliphate vanquished in 2017; the extremists lost the last of their territory two years later, though sporadic attacks persist even now.
During the height of the fighting, as many as 40,000 people from 120 countries showed up to join in, according to the United Nations. There is no comprehensive US statistic on Americans among those foreign fighters; a 2018 report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism found at least 64 who had joined jihadist fighting in Iraq and Syria since 2011.
Since Daesh’s defeat, some foreign members and their families have lingered in detention facilities in Syria because their countries refused to take them back. Other accused foreign fighters have returned to their countries, including some who were prosecuted.
Recent US cases include a Kansas mother who led an all-female Daesh battalion, a Minnesota man who served in a battalion that prepared foreign fighters for suicide attacks in Europe, and a Detroit-area convicted this week of training with and then spending more than two years with the group.
Born in Kazakhstan, Asainov is a naturalized US citizen. He lived in Brooklyn starting in 1998, married and had a child.
Then he flew to Istanbul on a one-way ticket in December 2013 and made his way to Syria to join what he later described in a message as “the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed,” authorities say.
“You heard of Daesh,” he said in another text message in January 2015, according to prosecutors’ court filings. “We will get you.”
By that April, Asainov told an acquaintance — in fact, a government informant — that he’d been fighting in Syria for about a year, according to court papers. They say that in various exchanges, he urged the informant to come to Syria and help with Daesh’s media operations, asked for $2,800 to buy a rifle scope, and sent photos of himself with fatigues and rifle, saying he “didn’t mean to show off” but was showing what was “just normal” in his new life.
Authorities announced in July 2019 that US-backed forces in Syria had captured Asainov and turned him over to the FBI.
He faces charges that include providing material support to a US-designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.


Along Ukraine-Belarus border, a war of nerves — and drones

Along Ukraine-Belarus border, a war of nerves — and drones
Updated 03 February 2023

Along Ukraine-Belarus border, a war of nerves — and drones

Along Ukraine-Belarus border, a war of nerves — and drones
  • Ukrainian units are monitoring the 1,000-kilometer frontier of marsh and woodland for a possible surprise offensive from the north
  • Residents of villages in the region that were temporarily occupied last year are horrified by the prospect of it all starting again

BELARUS BORDER, Ukraine: The reconnaissance drones fly several times a day from Ukrainian positions deep inside the thick forest that marches across the border into Belarus, a close Russian ally, scouring sky and land for signs of trouble on the other side.
Ukrainian units are monitoring the 1,000-kilometer (650-mile) frontier of marsh and woodland for a possible surprise offensive from the north, a repeat of the unsuccessful Russian thrust toward Kyiv at the start of the war nearly a year ago.
This time the Ukrainians are taking no chances. Since the summer they have been reinforcing defenses, building and expanding trenches and laying mines in the forest ahead of the springtime offensive military officials expect. Residents of villages in the region that were temporarily occupied last year are horrified by the prospect of it all starting again.
“We’re listening out for every small sound and noise. This isn’t a way to live,” said Valentina Matveva, 64, from the village of Ripke. “When you’re in constant fear, that’s not life.”
Concerns of a renewed military push were stirred in January after Russia and Belarus held joint air force drills, one month after a rare visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk.
Military experts and Western intelligence have played down the possibility of a renewed northern offensive. The British Defense Ministry tweeted on Jan. 11 that Russian aircraft and existing Russian troops in Belarus, though numerous, are “unlikely to constitute a credible offensive force.”
Belarusian officials attribute the troop deployment along the border to “strategic deterrence” according to local reports. The country’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has insisted he will not send troops to Ukraine.
But Ukrainian commanders are wary, remembering how Russia used Belarus as a launching pad in early 2022.
“We continuously monitor the enemy from the ground and observe the movement of troops, if they are moving, how many troops, and where they are moving,” the area’s army intelligence unit head said during a press tour this week a few kilometers from the border. The officer only identified himself by his first name, Oleksandr, citing security reasons.
Unlike the east with its devastating artillery duels, here in the north it’s largely a war of quadcopters.
Oleksandr said the Belarusians and Russians are “constantly monitoring our guard changes, trying to find our military’s positions.”
At times, Oleksandr’s unit detects enemy reconnaissance drones and shoots them down using anti-drone rifles. Or an enemy drone detects a Ukrainian one and tails it, at which point the Ukrainians try to capture and add it to their stock.
“We got four of their drones this way recently, and they took two of ours,” Oleksandr said.
He says the reconnaissance missions have revealed no sign of worrying activity — yet. “They have a reinforcement section, and the patrol has been strengthened, but we do not observe a significant accumulation of troops from our section,” he said.
Ukraine’s Lt. Gen. Oleksii Pavlyuk, who is responsible for Kyiv province, was quoted in local reports as saying his country was preparing for a possible fresh attack through Belarus. “We’ve created a group on the border with Belarus, which is ready to meet the enemy with dignity,” he was quoted as saying.
Ukrainian officials argue that no one can know how Moscow will move in the coming months, and that a state of alert is necessary along the border.
“The (fortifications) were made to prevent re-infiltration,” said Oleksandr, “Whether it will happen or not, we must always be ready.”
Ukrainian soldiers armed with machine guns stand in five-foot-deep trenches dug into the forest floor and reinforced with planks.
A local villager briskly cycles past. Memories here are still fresh from the temporary occupation when Russian troops attempted to lay siege to the main city of Chernihiv. They withdrew on April 3 as Moscow switched its focus to Ukraine’s eastern provinces.
But despite the Russian-Belarusian drills, there’s also hope.
“The first time they invaded, we didn’t have the weapons and the army (at the border),” said Hanna Pokheelko, 66, from the village of Koluchivka. “But this time we do.”
Attack or no attack, Olena, from the village of Novi Yarylovychi, fears the border situation means she may never see her mother, brother and two sisters living just 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away in a village inside Belarus.
“I can’t believe they are so close and I can’t see them,” said the 63-year old, who is a Belarusian by birth but married into a Ukrainian family and who didn’t give her full name out of concerns for her family.