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Archive for July 17th, 2008

MPs must not cheapen motions of censure

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

If Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of acting outside his powers by making illegal nominations to local councils, or if the minister for State for Immigration and Registration of Persons, Mr Otieno Kajwang’, is accused of handing out work permits and citizenship papers like confetti, then those charges must be dwelt with on their merits outside the factional rivalries in Parliament.

The accusations against the two are coming soon after Parliament asserted itself very forcefully with a vote of no confidence that ultimately forced the exit of Finance minister Amos Kimunya over the secret sale of Grand Regency Hotel.

Since that pivotal moment, there have been suggestions that more Cabinet ministers may also be subjected to parliamentary censure.

It is, indeed, right that the Legislature should hold the Executive to account. But that does not detract from the need for Parliament to exercise its power responsibly so that it is not seen to be engaging in political vendetta or partisan politics.

The motion against the Finance minister sailed through because it was based on an issue of fundamental concern, and thus got widespread bi-partisan support in the House.

Had it been couched as political power-play pitting one grouping or faction against another, then it would not have been smooth sailing. The minister might have mobilised support if his party or grouping had felt it was under assault.

This illustrates why it is important that MPs who are thinking of censuring ministers take care that they focus strictly on the alleged malfeasance.

They must not be seen to be playing partisan politics or to be simply getting over-excited about the prospect of felling giants. By the same token, political parties and groupings in Parliament must not jump to the defence of a minister or any other member under scrutiny simply as a way of closing ranks.

Such issues must never be reduced to the political jostling in Parliament; they must be treated with seriousness and sobriety.

Any party that takes a decision to rally round a member under censure simply will be adjudged to support the wrongdoing in the event of a guilt verdict.

But before then, any censure motions brought in Parliament must be based strictly on clear evidence rather than cheap politics.

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China likely to seek UN vote on halting charges on Bashir

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

China has expressed concern about a possible International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir, and UN Security Council diplomats say Beijing may ask for a resolution demanding a one-year suspension of any formal ICC indictment of Bashir.

Supporters of Sudan’s President Omar Hassan el-Bashir above and below, demonstrate against the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Mr Bashir in Khartoum. Photos/REUTERS

China faces difficult choices over its relationship with Bashir just as the Beijing Olympics opens a soft spot for international pressure.

Beijing has sought to balance its energy and political interests in Sudan with its desire for a respected seat at the table in Darfur peace efforts.

The court’s prosecutor, Mr Moreno-Ocampo, accused President Bashir of running a campaign of genocide that has killed 35,000 people outright, and at least another 100,000 through a “slow death” and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes in Sudan’s western region.

French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said France believed the “Security Council should not mix up with the process, the due process of law”. But he stopped short of saying Paris would veto any such resolution.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad declined to comment when asked if Washington would veto a suspension resolution.

Mr Ripert also said it was “not too late for the Sudanese authorities to cooperate” with the ICC by handing over to the court two men it indicted last year over Darfur —Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun, and former Janjaweed militia commander Ali Kushayb.

The French envoy did not make clear, however, whether such a move might help President Bashir escape charges.

If the ICC judges accept Moreno-Ocampo’s recommendations, a warrant for President Bashir could be expected in October or November.

In Cairo, the Arab League said today the decision by the ICC prosecutor to charge President el-Bashir with genocide may not have been well thought out, and it was concerned about repercussions.

“The situation is very serious and very dangerous,” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters.

“At the same time, we are not convinced that the steps taken (by) the criminal court were well considered,” he said.

Arab foreign ministers are to hold emergency talks in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the situation.

But some Western countries have called for respecting the ICC’s decisions. “We are committed to cooperating with the international court and we should strengthen its work by not criticising it,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin at a joint news conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The ICC prosecutor’s momentous move makes that balancing act harder, with all sides waiting to see if Beijing will seek to suspend the legal action via a UN Security Council decision.

In Khartoum, thousands of Sudanese rallied outside a UN office in the Sudanese capital, some on horses, in support of Bashir, a former army general who came to power in a 1989 coup. They chanted, “Ocampo is a criminal.”

The protests, which began on Sunday, have been staged by pro-government bodies, but even Sudanese who traditionally oppose Bashir have backed him against The Hague-based ICC.

The UN’s Ban urged Bashir to “ensure that all the conditions … in Darfur and in Sudan (are in place so) that all the UN peacekeeping operations should be able to carry (out) their duties … as mandated by the Security Council.”

Sudan has reassured international workers it will ensure their safety, but the UN raised security levels in Khartoum and Darfur ahead of the Hague court’s announcement, fearing a violent backlash.

Meanwhile, Mr Ban has said in a new report that he was very worried that a Sudanese rebel group active in the country’s war-ravaged Darfur region appeared to be using child soldiers.

In a bleak report on the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) released yesterday, Mr Ban also said he was “deeply disappointed” by the lack of progress that has been made towards ending the five-year-old conflict in western Sudan.

Mr Ban said that a surprise attack on the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in May by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, which has generally confined its activities to Darfur, had highlighted the two sides’ inability to settle their differences at the negotiating table.

Khartoum had said after the JEM attack that some of the rebels it captured after the attack were children. Ban made it clear that he found this a disturbing development.

“I am particularly concerned by reports of child soldiers among the JEM combatants in Omdurman, in clear violation of international law,” Ban said. “My office is pressing for the release of the children detained by the government (of Sudan) during the attack and I condemn the use of child soldiers in all instances.”

Khartoum accuses Chad of backing JEM and has refused to negotiate with either JEM or the Chadians since the attack. Chad accuses the Sudanese government of backing rebels hoping to bring down its government.

Each country rejects the other’s allegations.

“Tensions between Chad and the Sudan and the suspension of diplomatic relations between the two countries should also be highlighted as a source of considerable instability in Darfur and volatility on both sides of the border region,” Ban said.

There are currently around 9,500 UNAMID troops and police in Darfur, well below the planned 26,000-strong force

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called upon Sudan to abide by its agreement to permit the deployment of the African Union/United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) as set out in Security Council Resolution 1769.

It added that under international humanitarian law, Sudan is also required to ensure the full, safe, and unhindered access of humanitarian relief to all those in need in Darfur, especially to internally displaced persons and refugees.

On March 31, 2005, the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC prosecutor. In April 2007, the ICC issued its first arrest warrants against Mr Haroun and Mr Kushayb for their leading roles in crimes in West Darfur.

The Sudanese government has refused to surrender the first two suspects. On June 16, 2008, the UN Security Council unanimously called on Sudan to cooperate with the ICC.

In his June 2008 briefing, Mr Ocampo announced that he had collected evidence of a “criminal plan based on the mobilisation of the whole state apparatus, including the armed forces, the intelligence services, the diplomatic and public information bureaucracies and the justice system.”

The Security Council’s referral to the ICC stemmed from the January 2005 UN International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur report to the UN secretary-general. (Reuters)

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Hezbollah hands over bodies in prisoner swap

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

Hezbollah handed the bodies of two Israeli soldiers to the Red Cross today to be exchanged for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in a deal viewed as a triumph by the Lebanese Shi’ite guerrilla group.

Many Israelis see it as a painful necessity, two years after the soldiers’ capture sparked a 34-day war with Hezbollah that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 Israelis.

Two black coffins were unloaded from a Hezbollah vehicle at a UN peacekeeping base on the Israel-Lebanon border after a Hezbollah official, Wafik Safa, disclosed for the first time that army reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were dead.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took the coffins and drove them into Israel. Safa later said DNA tests conducted by the ICRC had verified the identity of the soldiers. The Israeli army said it had started its own checks.

“We are now handing over the two imprisoned Israeli soldiers, who were captured by the Islamic resistance on July 12, 2006, to the ICRC,” Safa said at the border. “The Israeli side will now hand over the great Arab mujahid (holy warrior) … Samir Qantar and his companions to the ICRC.”

In a deal mediated by a UN-appointed German intelligence officer, Israel was to free Qantar and four other prisoners.

Qantar had been serving a life prison term for the deaths of four Israelis, including a four-year-old girl and her father, in a 1979 Palestinian guerrilla attack on an Israeli town.

The fathers of the two Israelis soldiers spoke of their pain at watching the television pictures of their sons’ coffins. “It is not easy to see this, although there was not much surprise to it. But … confronting this reality was difficult, yes,” Shlomo Goldwasser told Israel radio.

Zvi Regev said on Army Radio: “It was very moving when we saw it. We couldn’t watch too long. It was a terrible thing to see, really terrible. I was always optimistic, and I hoped all the time that I would meet Eldad and hug him.”

Hezbollah’s Safa said Israel had later handed over via the ICRC the bodies of eight Hezbollah fighters slain in the 2006 war, and those of four Palestinians, including Dalal Mughrabi, a woman guerrilla who led a bloody 1978 raid on Israel.

The four were among the nearly 200 Arabs killed trying to attack Israel whose bodies are to be transferred to Lebanon as part of the exchange. Hezbollah will return the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in south Lebanon.

The deal also calls for Israel to release scores of Palestinian prisoners at a later date as a gesture to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Hezbollah has dubbed the exchange “Operation Radwan”, in honour of “Hajj Radwan”, or Imad Moughniyah, the group’s military commander who was assassinated in Syria in February.

Israeli President Shimon Peres set the prisoner swap in motion on Tuesday by pardoning Qantar, reviled in Israel for his role in the 1979 attack, when he was 17 years old. (Reuters)

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Obama has seven-point edge on McCain

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

Democrat Barack Obama has a seven-point lead on Republican John McCain in the US presidential race, and holds a small edge on the crucial question of who would best manage the economy, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released today.

More than a month after kicking off the general election campaign, Mr Obama leads Mr McCain by 47 per cent to 40 per cent. That is slightly better than his five-point cushion in mid-June, shortly after he clinched the Democratic nomination fight against New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

But Mr Obama’s 22-point advantage in June among independents, a critical voting bloc that could swing either way in the November election, shrunk to three points during a month in which the candidates battled on the economy and Obama was accused of shifting to the centre on several issues.

Obama had a 44 per cent to 40 per cent edge nationally over Mr McCain on who would be best at managing the economy, virtually unchanged from last month. Among independents, the two were tied on the economy.

“There has been a real tightening up among independents, and that has to be worrisome for Obama,” pollster John Zogby said. “It doesn’t seem like Obama is coming across on the economy.”

The economy was ranked as the top issue by nearly half of all likely voters, 47 per cent. The Iraq war, in second place, trailed well behind at 12 per cent. Energy prices was third at 8 per cent.

The faltering economy had been expected to be a weakness for McCain, an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war who has admitted a lack of economic expertise.

Mr McCain has portrayed Obama, an Illinois senator, as a proponent of higher taxes, while Obama has tried to link McCain with President George W. Bush’s unpopular economic policies.

McCain backs an extension of Bush’s tax cuts, which are geared toward higher wage earners. (Reuters)

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Iran takes tough stance ahead of nuclear talks

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

Iran has “clearly-defined red lines” in any talks with major powers on its disputed nuclear programme, its highest authority said on Wednesday, making clear the country would not give up its atomic activities.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking three days before Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator is due to meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Geneva, also said the Islamic Republic would cut off the hand of any aggressor.

In a shift in policy, the United States will send an envoy to the talks with Iran’s nuclear negotiator this weekend, along with other world powers dealing with Tehran, a senior US official said.

The official said US Under Secretary of State William Burns would for the first time join the EU’s Javier Solana and envoys from China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in a meeting on Saturday with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva.

The six would discuss Iran’s response to an offer made by world powers last month to give up sensitive nuclear work the West believes is aimed at building an atomic bomb and which Tehran says is for peaceful power generating purposes.

Iran is embroiled in a deepening international standoff over its nuclear programme, which the United States and Israel suspect is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.

Six world powers last month offered Iran economic and other incentives to try to persuade it to halt uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses. Iranian officials have repeatedly refused to suspend activity which can provide fuel for nuclear power plants but also material for weapons if enriched much more.

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear programme is solely aimed at generating electricity.

“This (nuclear) achievement belongs to all the Iranian nation and no power would be able to deprive the Iranian nation of this technology and certain right,” Khamenei said.

“In relation to negotiations … we have very clearly defined red lines,” he said in a speech quoted by state radio.

Iranian officials have previously said uranium enrichment was a “red line” and would continue.

The standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities has sparked speculation of a military confrontation with the United States or Israel and helped push up oil prices to record levels. (Reuters)

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WHAT OTHERS SAY: African rulers shouldn’t waste victims; they should eat them

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

Story by CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

SUDAN’S PRESIDENT OMAR el-Bashir has been indicted on genocide and war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In Southern Sudan, which endured the brunt of a 21-year war against the oppressive rule by of the Khartoum-based northerners, The Nation’s correspondent reports that the beer all but ran out after news broke that the ICC had issued warrants for el-Bashir’s arrest.

In the north, there were angry protests against the ICC. Africa, as usual, was divided, with some voices alleging the warrants had endangered the chances of a negotiated settlement to end the Darfur slaughter.

El-Bashir becomes the second African strongman to be indicted while in office, after Liberia’s warlord Charles Taylor. Ordinary folks in Sudan have endured hell for too long. In the rebellion in the south, it’s estimated that 2.5 million people were killed. Another 4 to 6 million were displaced.

In Darfur, over 200,000 have reportedly been killed, while about 2 million have been displaced or fled to Chad. The government-backed Janjaweed militia has carried out most of the mayhem, and it seems when they get tired and take leave, the state army takes over.

Journalists who have covered wars in Sudan say there is something “sinister” in its land. Some years ago, when I was still editing Uganda’s independent daily, The Monitor, there were two groups roaming the bushes and forests of southern Sudan, fighting the government of President Yoweri Museveni. The spectacularly brutal Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony was, and remains, the best known.
But there was a second, the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), led mostly by officers from dictator Idi Amin’s army.

The WNBF reached the height of its activities in 1998, the year when Museveni mobilised the largest effort to defeat it. It should be remember that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Army rebels partly because the SPLA helped Kampala to contain the activities of groups like the LRA and WNBF.

It was not long before the WNBF was cornered. A large force had camped at a remote place on the Uganda/Sudan border, and it seems it became too comfortable and complacent. One day at dawn, the UPDF moved in on the encampment from the south, east and west. And the SPLA from the north.

It was a long and bloody fight, and when the guns fell silent, nearly everyone and everything in the WNBF camp – including children, women, and goats – were dead. The Monitor had a hard-nosed reporter in the area at the time, and he was to estimate that about 2,000 people were killed. Yet, that wasn’t what shocked him.

IN A CORNER OF A FOREST NEAR THE camp, he came upon a heap of bodies piled high. It had been a couple of days since the attack on the rebel camp, but in the dense greenness of the Southern Sudanese jungle, the reporter was puzzled that the bodies had barely decomposed.

There were no vultures circling nearby to pick at the corpses, and when he moved closer, he noticed that there even weren’t any flies hovering around.

He got so unnerved that he fled. Later, he was to declare that the “devil lives in the bushes of Sudan”.

Perhaps, with the ICC’s indictment of el-Bashir, the devil might finally be put to flight. But because the Khartoum government has been singular in its complicity and/or direct involvement in the killings of, especially southern and non-Arab populations, it is very different from many of the governments in the region that have human rights problems at home.

Forgive us that Khartoum’s ferocity takes our minds back more than 350 years to that famous 1729 satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift. The full title of the essay, as the literature buffs will know, is A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Public.

Centuries later, Swift’s suggestion that the Irish (indeed societies everywhere) might ease their troubles by selling children from poor families as food for rich gentlemen and ladies, is still shocking in a very fresh sort of way.

As a satirist, Swift was not actually proposing cannibalism. He used the idea as a literary device to drive home his anger that so many people had to endure poverty while a few lived in sinful opulence.

His argument is still valid. Human beings are the only intelligent creatures roaming our planet that we know of, that kill other animals for all sorts of reasons – recreation, petty revenge, and so on – except to eat them.

In the Swiftian spirit, perhaps it would be “understandable” if people like el-Bashir, Taylor, and Central African Republic’s former ruler, the self-styled Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and their cronies ate the people killed by their soldiers and militias. They could claim that they were hungry.

Until that time, we need the ICC indictments to remind us of the immorality and criminality of what’s happening in places like Darfur.

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Kajwang’ summoned over passports saga

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2008

Cabinet minister Otieno Kajwang’ has been summoned for questioning over corruption reports at the Immigration department.

Mr Kajwang’, permanent secretary Emmanuel Kisombe and Immigration Services director Joseph Ndathi, are required to appear before the parliamentary committee on National Security on Friday. The committee is chaired by Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi, who confirmed on Wednesday that his team had indeed summoned the minister and other key officials.

The summons came in the wake of revelations that the minister’s secretary, Ms Risper Omollo, had also been questioned by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to shed more light on the issue involving the issuance of work permits and Kenyan passports to foreigners of questionable backgrounds and qualifications.

Mr Kajwang’s secretary was summoned on Monday and grilled for about two hours. His personal assistant, Mr C.A. Onyango, who deals with Immigration matters, has also been summoned to Integrity Centre, the KACC headquarters, for questioning over reports that some foreigners allegedly paid their way into the country.

Sources close to the investigations told the Nation that Mr Onyango would have been questioned by the anti-corruption team on Tuesday but the session was postponed to Thursday. The sources further said that the minister was likely to be summoned should junior officers at the Immigration ministry mention him adversely.

Detectives are also investigating other people outside the Immigration department who are accused of acting on behalf of Government officials at Nyayo House to solicit bribes from applicants.

Anti-corruption investigators have so far established that brokers, some of who are not civil servants, had access to confidential information provided to the Immigration by applicants and used it to demand bribes. Only a few Immigration officials are privy to such information – names and contacts of applicants.

Last week, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission wrote to Mr Kisombe asking him to advise the minister’s personal assistant and secretary that they were required at Integrity Centre over the ongoing investigation.

The investigations were sparked by the arrest of a suspect on July 2. The suspect had in his possession an original work permit and was arrested as he exchanged it for Sh120,000 with a businessman who had applied to have an Indian citizen allowed to work for him in Kenya.

Investigations showed the broker had direct links to Immigration offices. Detectives are pursuing more clues before either arresting or prosecuting the corrupt officials.

Colossal sums

Sources also revealed that detectives were seeking to establish the circumstances under which information privy to only a few officials was leaked to outsiders. They suspect that colossal sums of money had been changing hands in the underhand deals at Nyayo House over the issuance of the work permits.

Most of the foreigners who have bribed immigration officials are of Asian origin and have business interests in the country.

On July 4, the anti-graft detectives visited Nyayo House and collected documents they believe contained information vital to their investigation. Since then, more detectives have moved to the Immigration ministry’s headquarters as they widened their investigations.

The Nation also learnt that unsuspecting foreigners who applied for the permits had received calls offering to exert influence so that their applications could be approved or speeded up. Detectives established that the calls were made by a broker after obtaining the contact details from application forms at Nyayo House.

Mr Kajwang’ has personally approved several work permits against the advice of his technical officers.

Both cases

Only last month, he approved work permits for a foreign welder and a salesman against the advice of senior immigration officials, including the director of Immigration Services.

Mr Ndathi had opposed the issuance of the work permits, arguing that there were enough Kenyans with the skills and there was no need to allow the foreigners to work in Kenya. In both cases, Mr Kajwang’ responded: “I have noted the comments of DIS. I have interviewed the applicant. I hereby grant a further two years work permit.”

The minister had earlier given similar permits to eight members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under unclear circumstances. But he has denied any wrongdoing saying he has always acted within the law. He has also denied that he was involved in corrupt deals.

Immigration law stipulates that a foreigner can only be granted a work permit if they offer skills that cannot be found locally.

Additional reporting by Fred Mukinda

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