WELLINGTON - A continent two-thirds the size of Australia has been found beneath the south-west Pacific Ocean, scientists reported in the journal of the Geological Society of America.
The land mass of 4.5 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles) is 94 percent underwater and only its highest points - New Zealand and New Caldeonia - poke above the surface.
"It's rather frustrating for us geologists with the oceans being there," said Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand.
"If we could pull the plug on the oceans it would be clear to everyone we have mountain chains and a big high-standing continent above the ocean crust."
Mortimer was lead author of the paper titled "Zealandia: Earth's hidden continent" which says the new discoveries prove what had long been suspected.
"Since about the 1920s, from time to time in geology papers people used the word 'continental' to describe various parts of New Zealand and the Catham Islands and New Caledionia," Mortimer said.
"The difference now is that we feel we've gathered enough information to change 'continental' to the noun, 'continent'."
Mortimer said geologists early in the previous century had found granite from sub-antarctic islands near New Zealand and metaphormic rocks on New Caledonia that were indicative of continental geology.
If the recent discovery is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will probably have to add an eighth continent to future maps and atlases.
"The paper we've written unashamedly sticks to empirical observations and descriptions," Mortimer said. "The litmus test will really be if 'Zealandia' appears in maps and atlases in five or 10 year's time.""Zealandia" is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sank beneath the sea as part of the break up of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland.

Europe

BRUSSELS - The European Commission asked the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, for interim measures against Poland’s new law to discipline judges for criticizing the government, the court said in a tweet on Friday.

Poland’s parliament, dominated by the eurosceptic PiS party which has long been at odds with the EU over the rule of law, passed a bill that would allow judges who criticize the government’s reforms to be disciplined, including through dismissals.

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By Elizabeth Howcroft and Eric Beech

LONDON/WASHINGTON - Britain on Friday scolded the United States for refusing to extradite a U.S. diplomat’s wife who was involved in a car crash that killed a British teenager.

British prosecutors had requested the extradition of Anne Sacoolas over the crash last August in which 19-year-old Briton Harry Dunn was killed while riding his motorbike.

But the State Department said on Thursday that Sacoolas had “immunity from criminal jurisdiction” and that to extradite her would set a precedent.

“If the United States were to grant the UK’s extradition request, it would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent,” the State Department said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the U.S. ambassador in London to express British disappointment.

“We feel this amounts to a denial of justice, and we believe Anne Sacoolas should return to the UK,” Raab said. “The UK would have acted differently if this had been a UK diplomat serving in the U.S. ...

“We are now urgently considering our options.”

Dunn’s family have said Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road at the time of the crash, near an air force base in central England used by the U.S. military.

Sacoolas was given diplomatic immunity and left Britain shortly after the accident. Her lawyer has said that she will not return voluntarily to Britain possibly to face jail for “a terrible but unintentional accident”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Sacoolas was wrong to use diplomatic immunity to leave Britain and has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to reconsider the U.S. position.

Dunn’s parents met Trump at the White House in October. Trump hoped to persuade them meet to Sacoolas, who was in the building at the same time, but they declined.

LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government suffered a fourth defeat on its Brexit legislation when members of parliament’s upper chamber voted on Tuesday to ensure protections for child refugees after Britain leaves the European Union.

Johnson’s Conservatives won a large majority in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, in a Dec. 12 election and earlier this month lawmakers there quickly approved the legislation needed to ratify his exit deal with Brussels.

But the House of Lords, where Johnson’s government does not have a majority, made three changes to the legislation on Monday, including over the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.

On Tuesday, the Lords voted 300 to 220 to ensure unaccompanied child refugees can continue to be reunited with family in Britain, a promise made by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but stripped from his legislation.

“The signal the government is sending by this is a very negative one, it is not a humanitarian signal,” said Alf Dubs, an opposition Labour lord who fled to Britain as a child to escape the Nazis, and who proposed the change to the bill.

Johnson’s spokesman said the government would seek to overturn the changes made to the Brexit legislation when the bill returns to the House of Commons later this week.

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By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Simon Robinson

DAVOS, Switzerland - Activist Greta Thunberg said on Tuesday planting trees was not enough to address climate change, in an apparent rebuke to a pledge in Davos by U.S. President Donald Trump an hour earlier.

Trump dismissed “perennial prophets of doom” on climate change in his keynote address. While he did not directly name Thunberg, she was sitting in the audience for his speech.

Trump announced the United States would join an initiative to plant one trillion trees, but also spoke at length about the economic importance of oil and gas and called climate change activists the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers”.

“Our house is still on fire,” Thunberg said in her speech, repeating her remarks at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum a year ago.

“Your inaction is fuelling the flames,” the 17-year-old added, in the latest to-and-fro with the 73-year-old president.

Their debate around climate change appears an attempt by both to frame the argument, with Thunberg calling for an immediate end to fossil fuel investments in front of a packed audience an hour after watching Trump make his keynote address in the Swiss ski resort.

Thunberg responded by referring to “empty words and promises” by world leaders. “You say children shouldn’t worry... don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence.”

She said: “Planting trees is good of course, but it is nowhere near enough of what is needed, and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.”

Earlier, Thunberg called on world leaders to listen to young activists, who have followed her to Davos this year.

“I’m not a person that can complain about not being heard,” she said, prompting laughter from the audience on the first day of the annual WEF meeting.

“The science and voice of young people is not the center of the conversation, but it needs to be.”

Several young activists have traveled to Davos, which has chosen sustainability as its main theme this year.

Thunberg has inspired millions to take action on climate change. A video of her giving Trump what media described as a “death stare” at a U.N. climate summit in New York in September went viral on social media.

 

Mediterranean

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump will finally unveil his ‘great’ plan for peace in the Middle East before Israeli leaders visit Washington next week. While the Palestinians may not like it, it will be good for them, Trump said.

Trump has long teased the existence of a plan that would resolve the long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, reportedly developed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Its release, however, has been repeatedly delayed.

On the way to an event in Florida on Thursday, Trump told reporters on board Air Force One that he intends to make the plan public ahead of next week’s visit to Washington by Israel’s caretaker prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz.

"It's a great plan," said Trump, "It's a plan that really would work."

The US president noted that Palestinians might react negatively to it at first, but added that the proposal would be to their benefit.

Trump has made several moves openly favoring Israel since he took office in 2017, including recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the US embassy there, as well as recognizing the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory occupied since 1967.

Israel was established in 1948 on much of the territory of the former British Palestine Mandate, with Jordan and Egypt taking over territories that are now known as the West Bank and Gaza. Israel took over both areas in a 1967 war. A number of peace proposals since then have sought to establish a Palestinian state in those territories. This “two state solution” has been the official US position until the Trump administration discarded it in February 2017.

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BEIRUT - Lebanon is looking to secure $4 billion to $5 billion in soft loans from international donors to finance purchases of wheat, fuel and medicines, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star cited Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni as saying on Thursday.

Lebanon formed a new cabinet on Tuesday, which it hopes can restore confidence and secure urgently needed funding from foreign donors amid a deep financial crisis.

“We will ask the international donors to provide Lebanon with $4 billion to $5 billion in soft loans to finance the purchasing of wheat, fuel oil and pharmaceuticals,” said Wazni.

“This injection will cover the country’s needs for one year and will also help reduce the run on the U.S. dollar,” he added.

An acute dollar shortage has prompted banks to impose controls on withdrawals and transfers, hit the Lebanese pound and fueled inflation.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab was set to meet several foreign ambassadors on Thursday as the heavily indebted country looks to rally support. It must decide on how to deal with maturing Eurobonds, including a $1.2 billion bond due in March.

Lebanon won pledges exceeding $11 billion at an international conference in 2018, conditional on reforms that it has so far failed to implement.

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By John Irish

JERUSALEM - “Go outside,” French President Emmanuel Macron demanded in English in a melee with Israeli security men on Wednesday, demanding they leave a Jerusalem basilica that he visited before a Holocaust memorial conference.

The French tricolor has flown over the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem’s walled Old City since it was gifted by the Ottomans to French Emperor Napoleon III in 1856.

France views it as a provocation when Israeli police enter the church’s sandstone complex, in a part of Jerusalem captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Wednesday’s incident was a case of deja vu all over again. In 1996, former President Jacques Chirac lost patience with Israeli security agents at the same church, telling one of them that his treatment was a “provocation” and threatening to get back on his plane.

Chirac refused to enter St. Anne until Israeli security left the site.

Video showed Macron, jostled in the center of a crowded circle between his own protective detail and Israeli security personnel, including several paramilitary policemen in uniform, under an archway leading into the church.

Macron then stopped the shoving and shouted at the Israeli security guards in English: “I don’t like what you did in front of me.”

Lowering his voice, he then said: “Go outside. I’m sorry, you know the rules. Nobody has to provoke nobody.”

Asked about the incident, an Israeli police spokesman declined comment. An Israeli government spokesman did not immediately provide comment on behalf of the Shin Bet internal security agency, which also helps guard foreign dignitaries.

French diplomats had cautioned that they want to leave little room for mishaps on Macron’s trip. Earlier on Wednesday, a separate squabble ensued when Israeli police tried to enter St. Anne ahead of Macron’s visit.

Macron is one of dozens of world leaders due to attend Thursday’s World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, which will commemorate the 75-year anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The 42-year-old head of state had seen his visit to St. Anne as a symbolic stop underscoring Paris’ historical influence in the region.

Before heading to the church, Macron walked through the Old City, speaking to shopkeepers and stopping by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

He later visited the Muslim Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, a site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and Judaism’s Western Wall.


By Alasdair Pal and Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI - Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday Moscow has been urging Gulf countries to consider a common security mechanism for the region and it was time the world got rid of unilateral measures such as sanctions.

“We have been suggesting to the Gulf countries to think about collective security mechanisms ... starting with confidence building measures and inviting each other to military exercises,” Lavrov told a security conference in Delhi.

Tensions in the Gulf have risen following the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory missile attack by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq.

“Since I mentioned about Persian Gulf, we are very much concerned about what is going in there,” Lavrov said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also attending the conference in Delhi that comes just a day after Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran of violating the terms of its 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program, which eventually could lead to the reimposing of U.N. sanctions.

Iran’s Fars news agency quoted Zarif as saying overnight that the use of the dispute mechanism was legally baseless and a strategic mistake.

Lavrov said unilateral sanctions were a problem in today’s world.

“So the 21st century is the time when we must get rid of any methods of dealing in international relations which smack of colonial and neo-colonial times. And sanctions, unilaterally imposed sanctions, they are not going to work.”

After pulling out of the Iran deal, the United States slapped sanctions back on Iran and has gradually increased its “maximum pressure” campaign targeting the Islamic Republic’s revenues from oil, mining and other industries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Tuesday for U.S. President Donald Trump to replace the Iranian nuclear deal with his own new pact to ensure the Islamic Republic does not get an atomic weapon.

Trump said in a tweet he agreed with Johnson for a “Trump deal”.

U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger will also be addressing the Delhi meeting on Thursday.

North Africa

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - The Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar has managed to down a Turkish drone that was allegedly trying to hit LNA units in Tripoli, a spokesman for the LNA Air Defence Forces said Wednesday.

"The Air Defence Forces of the General Command of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces shot down a Turkish drone that took off from the Mitiga International Airport and was trying to raid the site of our military units in Tripoli," the statement published on Facebook reads.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said as quoted by the country's media that Ankara hadn't sent any Turkish troops in Libya yet but only military advisers.

Turkey has yet to comment on the claims by the LNA.

The development comes nearly a week after Ankara announced that it would deploy troops to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in its fight against its opponents in the country's east, the Libyan National Army, after ceasefire negotiations between the two in Moscow failed.

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ISTANBUL - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europe to support its work in Libya, where it is providing military support to the internationally-recognized government, if it wants to end the conflict there.

Erdogan made his remarks in a column published on the Politico website on Saturday, ahead of a summit in Berlin on Sunday that will try to stabilize the country.

At the meeting, Germany and the United Nations will push rival Libyan camps fighting over the capital, Tripoli, to agree to a truce and monitoring mechanism as first steps toward peace, diplomats and a draft communique said.

Turkey supports the government of Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli and describes Khalifa Haftar, who heads the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA), as a coup plotter.

“Keeping in mind that Europe is less interested in providing military support to Libya, the obvious choice is to work with Turkey, which has already promised military assistance,” Erdogan wrote.

“We will train Libya’s security forces and help them combat terrorism, human trafficking and other serious threats against international security,” he added.

Sunday’s summit will put pressure on Haftar and the LNA to halt a nine-month offensive against Tripoli after a week-long lull in fighting. But it will not try to broker power-sharing between the two sides, said diplomats briefed on preparations.

Haftar and Serraj are both due in Berlin - along with Erdogan and the leaders of Russia, Egypt and other Western and Arab powers. Libya has been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Erdogan said that if Libya’s legitimate government were to fall Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda “will find a fertile ground to get back on their feet”.

Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Sudanese and Chadian fighters, and most recently Russian mercenaries. France has also given some support.

On the other side, Turkey has supported Serraj by sending troops to balance out recent gains by Russian snipers. Hundreds of pro-Turkey fighters from Syria’s war have also been deployed, diplomats say.

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ANKARA - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is starting deployment of troops to Libya in support of the embattled United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and in line with agreements relating to maritime border demarcation and enhanced security cooperation.

"We signed an agreement with Libya to delineate maritime borders. It is no longer legally possible to conduct exploration and drilling activities or to run pipelines in the region between the Turkish and Libyan coasts without the approval of both countries," Erdogan announced in the Turkish capital Ankara on Thursday.

He added, "In 2020, we are licensing these areas and starting the search and drilling as quickly as ever. After the licensing work, for the first time the Oruc Reis seismic research vessel will conduct seismic studies in the region. We are sending our troops to this country to ensure the survival and stability of the legitimate government in Libya."

Erdogan remarks came only two days after Libya's renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar left Moscow without signing a binding truce that would have halted his nine-month campaign to seize the GNA's base of Tripoli, and would have formalized a tentative ceasefire in the war-wracked North African country.

"The draft [agreement] ignores many of the Libyan army's demands," Haftar was quoted as saying by the Saudi-owned and Arabic-language al-Arabiya television news network.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the heads of the GNA, had already signed the truce proposal after indirect talks in the Russian capital on Monday.

Last week, Turkey and Russia urged Libya's warring parties to declare a ceasefire after a recent escalation in fighting around Tripoli and the strategic coastal city of Sirte.

Erdogan has said Turkey would not refrain from "teaching a lesson" to Haftar if his eastern-based forces continue attacks against the Tripoli-based GNA.

"If the putschist Haftar's attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves," the Turkish president said in a speech to his AK Party legislators in parliament on Tuesday.

"It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya," he said.

Erdogan said Turkey had deep historical and social ties with Libya, asserting that Haftar would have taken over the entire nation if Ankara had not intervened.

Turkey will join Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia at Libyan peace talks in Berlin next Sunday, he said.

"The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes, but later, unfortunately, he left Moscow, he fled Moscow," Erdogan said.

"Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community," the Turkish president added.

On January 2, Turkey's parliament has approved a bill to deploy troops to Libya.

Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop said at the time that the legislation had been passed with a 325-184 vote.

Back in late November last year, Libya's GNA and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in opening the path to the Turkish troop deployment. The accords also drew the ire of Mediterranean countries, including Greece and Cyprus, which were eyeing energy resources in the area.

Libya's eastern-based parliament later voted unanimously against the deals.

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his execution by unruly fighters.

The North African country has since been split between two rival administrations based in the east and west amid a conflict drawing increasing involvement from foreign powers.

According to the latest UN tally, more than 280 civilians and roughly 2,000 fighters have been killed since Haftar launched his offensive in April to seize Tripoli. An estimated 146,000 Libyans have been displaced.

Erdogan is doubling down on support for the U.N.-backed government in Libya ahead of a Berlin conference aimed at ending the Libyan civil war.

Erdogan, who is set to attend the Sunday meeting, lashed out at Libyan rebel leader General Khalifa Haftar on Friday while announcing the deployment of Turkish forces to Libya.

"Haftar is a man I do not trust. … He continued bombing Tripoli yesterday," Erdogan said in a statement. Haftar is waging war against the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord.

A day earlier, Erdogan announced additional military forces would be deployed in support of the GNA. Earlier this month, Ankara sent a few dozen military personnel and equipment to Tripoli as part of a military agreement with the GNA.

Haftar infuriated Erdogan by refusing to sign a cease-fire agreement Wednesday brokered by Turkey and the Russian government. Russian mercenaries linked to the Kremlin are backing Haftar, although Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming the militia.

"With these new developments, Turkey is getting more and more in a losing position," said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "Probably Tayyip Erdogan will face much bigger problems in Berlin than he assumed before. He [Erdogan] thought he would be in a stronger position, but with no cease-fire, he is in a much more difficult position."

Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj are expected to attend the Berlin conference. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also confirmed his attendance.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with Haftar on Thursday, claiming a breakthrough. Maas tweeted Haftar "has agreed to abide by the ongoing cease-fire" and that the Berlin meeting offered "the best chance in a long time" for peace.

But Turkey is voicing skepticism about the prospects for peace and has criticized the conference for excluding Turkish allies Qatar and Tunisia.

"He [Erdogan] will be taking a very hard position in Berlin," said Bagci. "I expect more, harsher words in Berlin – he is not going there to be soft, [he] is going there to be very hard."


Turkish oil interests


Ankara says the survival of the GNA is a strategic priority. Along with a security deal, Erdogan also signed an agreement with Sarraj that gives Turkey control of a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean. The area is believed to have vast potential reserves of hydrocarbons.

"We will start search and drilling activities as soon as possible in 2020 after issuing licenses for the areas," Erdogan said Friday, adding that a seismic exploration vessel would soon be deployed to this field.

Turkey's deal with the GNA is strongly condemned by Greece, which claims the contested region as part of its territorial waters.

The two countries are engaged in an increasingly bitter competition for resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Analysts note Turkey is aware that if Haftar were to prevail in the Libyan civil war, all deals it made with the GNA likely would become null and void.

On Thursday, Haftar flew by private plane to Athens and was taken to a luxury hotel for two days of talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

In a move that could further complicate the Berlin talks, Mitsotakis underlined his determination to annul Turkey's Mediterranean deal with the GNA.

"Greece at the level of an [EU] summit meeting will never accept any political solution on Libya that does not include as a precondition the annulment of this agreement. To put it simply, we will use our veto," Mitsotakis said Thursday in a television interview.

EU officials are also set to attend the Berlin conference, and the EU is strongly opposed to Turkey's agreement with the GNA on the Mediterranean, saying it violates international law.

Turkey insists it's ready to negotiate. "The GNA deal aims to protect Turkish vital national interests and Turkey is not to remain isolated," said former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende. "Turkey has made it clear it's ready to talk."

In Cairo Thursday, the seven-member East Mediterranean Gas Forum pledged to strengthen cooperation, deepening Ankara's isolation. Turkey views the move by Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Egypt as an attempt to deny what Ankara sees as its fair share of Mediterranean energy resources.

Erdogan dismissed the Cairo agreement, saying, "They tried to implement a scenario to imprison our country in the Mediterranean Sea. We ended this game with the agreements we made with Turkish Cyprus and then with Libya."

Some analysts say Ankara's stance ultimately may prove counterproductive.

"Turkey wants to be in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean; it wants to be a player," Bagci said. "Turkey wants to get more and more involved in this region. But the problem is Turkey is not wanted because it creates an atmosphere of hegemony. So this is what Turkey faces, and this is why Erdogan's rhetoric is getting harsher."

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NEW YORK - The world should not accept the “dire and untenable” situation facing children in wartorn Libya the head of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said on Friday.

“Children in Libya, including refugee and migrant children, continue to suffer grievously amidst the violence and chaos unleashed by the country’s longstanding civil war”, Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

Since last April, when renewed hostilities broke out on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, and western Libya, conditions for thousands of children and civilians deteriorated, with indiscriminate attacks in populated areas that have caused hundreds of deaths.

UNICEF has received reports of children being maimed, killed and also recruited to fight, said Ms. Fore.

Since the fall of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in the throes of ongoing instability and economic collapse, despite its large oil reserves.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between factions of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, based in the east, and the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, located in the west.

The UN Secretary-General will be at a major international summit due to take place in the German capital this coming Sunday, which both the Prime Minister of the UN-recognized Government and commander Haftar are due to attend, in the hope of establishing a permanent ceasefire.

Meanwhile, over the last eight months, more than 150,000 people – 90,000 of whom are children – have been forced to flee their homes and are now internally displaced.


Widespread destruction


Ms. Fore also flagged that under attack was the essential “infrastructure on which children depend for their wellbeing and survival”.

“Nearly 30 health facilities have been damaged in the fighting, forcing 13 to close”, she lamented, adding that attacks against schools and the threat of violence have led to closures and left almost 200,000 children out of the classroom.

Moreover, water systems have been attacked and the waste management system has virtually collapsed, greatly increasing the risk of waterborne diseases including cholera.

“The 60,000 refugee and migrant children currently in urban areas are also terribly vulnerable, especially the 15,000 who are unaccompanied and those being held in detention centres”, she continued. “These children already had limited access to protection and essential services, so the intensifying conflict has only amplified the risks that they face”.


Providing support


UNICEF and its partners on the ground are supporting the children and families with access to healthcare and nutrition, protection, education, water and sanitation.

“We are also reaching refugee and migrant children with assistance, including those held in detention centres”, she elaborated. “Sadly, attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure, as well as against humanitarian and healthcare personnel are seeking to undermine humanitarian efforts”.

Ms. Fore called on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children, end the recruitment and use of children, cease attacks against civilian infrastructure, and allow for “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to children and people in need”.

“We also call on Libyan authorities to end the detention of migrant and refugee children and to actively pursue safe and dignified alternatives to detention”, said the UNICEF chief.

Ahead of the peace summit in Berlin, this Sunday, Ms. Fore also urged the conflict parties and those with influence over them to “urgently reach a comprehensive and durable peace agreement for the sake of each and every child in Libya.”

 

Research Papers & Reports

Urgent action needed to stop locust invasion in eastern Africa

By Obi Anyadike, Senior Editor, Africa, The New Humanitarian, 23 January 2020

 

‘Swarms are increasing in numbers and density as we speak – they could increase 500 times in numbers by June.’


NAIROBI


A donor conference in Rome next week will be asked to pledge $70 million to tackle a plague of desert locusts critically threatening rural livelihoods in a region where tens of millions of people already face extreme hunger.

Swarms of the insects are sweeping across eastern Ethiopia, neighbouring areas of Somalia, and are pouring into Kenya, destroying crops, pasture, and forest cover throughout the region on an unprecedented scale.

"This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion,” said UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Qu Dongyu, whose agency is convening the 30 January meeting in Rome.

"Authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so they can access the tools and resources required to get the job done," he said.

Unusually heavy rains late last year favoured breeding, triggering a locust outbreak that is the worst Ethiopia and Somalia have faced in 25 years – and the most extreme Kenya has experienced for 70 years.

Swarms – capable of travelling 150 kilometres a day – are heading through Kenya and may spread into South Sudan and Uganda. Even Rwanda in central Africa is beginning to take precautions.

“Swarms are increasing in numbers and density as we speak – they could increase 500 times in numbers by June,” Daniele Donati, co-chair of FAO’s desert locust task force, told The New Humanitarian.

As locusts mature into their so-called “gregarious” phase, they become voracious eaters, stripping whatever vegetation they find, and able to consume their body weight in a day. A single small swarm can contain 150 million insects.

One super-swarm in northeast Kenya was estimated at 2,400 square kilometres, with the potential capacity to eat in a day the same quantity of vegetation that could feed as many as 84 million people.

“We must act now,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement on Wednesday, announcing the release of $10 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to support the FAO.

The allocation will fund a “massive scale-up in aerial operations to manage the outbreak,” the statement said, referring to the deployment of pesticide-spraying planes that can wipe out the swarms.


Coordination needed


Six planes can cover 1,000 square kilometres in a month, which “would be adequate for the time-being”, noted Donati.

But, at the moment, Ethiopia and Kenya only have four spray planes each, and the insecurity in Somalia means any form of control measures are risky.

“The region is not prepared for this scale of infestation,” Jasper Mwesigwa, a food security analyst with the regional Climate Predictions and Application Centre, told TNH. “No single country has the capacity to manage this on their own – so many resources are required.”

A critical issue is coordination. Swarms don’t obey national boundaries, and agreements would need to be struck to manage the region’s airspace and allow spray planes to cross borders.

And while there are sufficient supplies of pesticides, there will need to be cooperation so stocks can be shared and deployed to where the need is greatest.

“It’s in the region’s interests to coordinate the response,” said Donati. “Otherwise, the consequence is an ineffective response.”


Lasting consequences


The Horn and East Africa has been hard hit by drought and, late last year, flooding. Locusts are yet another burden that will make recovery among already struggling rural communities all the harder.

In some parts of Ethiopia there have been 100 percent crop losses. In others, farmers knew the locusts were on their way and harvested too early, before their crops had matured. Locusts are currently moving towards the Rift Valley, the country’s breadbasket.

“We will feel the consequences of this for several seasons,” FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa David Phiri told TNH. “But the longer [locust] control doesn’t happen, the greater the losses.”

Rains due in March through to May will see a surge in locust numbers as vegetation thickens and damp soils allow egg-laying. It will be the critical time to check the outbreak – otherwise this will become a multi-year crisis, according to Phiri.

In June, dry weather in much of the region will act as a natural break, but it will be wet in parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, allowing locust swarms to regenerate.

With large areas of the country out of bounds to the government and aid agencies because of insurgency, Somalia provides the locust with a particular window of opportunity.

“For Kenya, the worry is the lack of control at source,” said Mwesigwa. “The locust invasion is coming through parts of Somalia and the Somali region of Ethiopia.”

If the donors agree at the Rome meeting to the $70 million ask for the region’s control efforts it will be welcome, but it’s still “very conservative”, said Phiri. “We hope we can get that and more.”


Ethiopia


More than 2,350 square kilometres of crops, pasture, and forest cover has been affected in Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' regions. Fast-moving swarms keep arriving from undetected areas in Ethiopia as well as adjacent areas of Somalia.

Despite aerial and ground control operations, breeding grounds in the Somali region remain uncontrolled, resulting in “cyclic multiplication and formation of new swarms”, FAO says. Heavy rainfall and green vegetation will allow breeding conditions to remain favourable until June.


Somalia


Tens of thousands of hectares of land have been affected in Somaliland, Puntland, and Galmudug, and there are mature swarms in the Garbahare area, near the Kenyan border.

Immature swarms (not yet able to reproduce) have migrated south to Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and South West states.

The risk to both pasture and crops in 2020 “remains high and critical given the ever-expanding areas affected,” FAO warns. Given the favourable ecological conditions, the desert locust population is expected to continue to grow in the north and migrate south. Over the next six months, more than 100,000 hectares will require some form of direct control.


Kenya


Large immature swarms are spreading from the northeast south to Wajir and Garissa, west along the Ethiopian border, and southwest into central areas north of Mount Kenya. At risk are areas of the Rift Valley and Turkana county. Swarms are expected to move west along the Ethiopian border, and some could head south to Tana River county.

Some swarms in the north have moved back into southern Ethiopia, while others are now mature and laying eggs that are expected to hatch in a fortnight. This will result in ground-based hopper bands – the stage before swarms form – in February and March.


South Sudan


There is a high risk of “a few swarms” arriving in the southeast (Kapoeta East and Ilemi Triangle) from northwest Kenya, according to FAO.


Uganda


A “moderate risk” of a few swarms appearing in the northeast from northwest Kenya.

 

By Aurélie M'Bida and Estelle Maussion, The Africa Report, 23 January 2020


The noose is tightening around the daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. After the release of the "Luanda Leaks", the Angolan courts have swung into action.

 

Angolan Attorney General Hélder Pitta Grós said on the evening of Wednesday 22 January that Isabel dos Santos had been indicted for mismanagement and embezzlement during her tenure as head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol from June 2016 to November 2017.

The announcement was made just before the Angolan prosecutor’s departure for Portugal. Upon his arrival in Lisbon on the morning of Thursday 23 January, he said he was coming “to ask for help on a lot of things”, according to the Portuguese press.

Hélder Pitta Grós is scheduled to meet his Portuguese counterpart, Lucília Gago, at 3pm.


Suspicious transfer of $38m


The indictment of Isabel dos Santos comes after her successor as Sonangol’s CEO, Carlos Saturnino, filed a complaint of mismanagement that led to the opening of an investigation in March 2018. Isabel dos Santos had strongly contested this accusation via Twitter and the media. She had even launched a website called “Factos Sonangol” to “restore the truth”.

The Angolan justice system is looking into a suspicious transfer of $38m from Sonangol, which was made when the daughter of former President José Eduardo dos Santos was no longer its director, to a company she owned that was based in Dubai. The company in question, Matter Business Solutions, managed a group of consultants seconded to Sonangol.

The Portuguese press, especially the newspaper Expresso, reports that more than $100m were allegedly transferred to Dubai under suspicious conditions in connection with the “Luanda Leaks”.

More than half of the sum $57m appears to have been paid after Isabel dos Santos left her post. Some invoices do not detail the services performed. And the authorisation for the transactions is said to have been signed by a new director of Sonangol’s UK subsidiary, previously appointed by Isabel dos Santos.


Four other indictments


In the Sonangol proceedings, four other persons of Portuguese nationality are also under investigation in Angola.

They are:

Sarju Raikundalia, former financial director of Sonangol,
Mário Leite da Silva, the main manager of Isabel dos Santos’ business in Portugal (also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Angolan bank BFA),
Paula Oliveira, a close associate of Isabel dos Santos and director of the Portuguese telecommunications group NOS,
and Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, the director of the Eurobic bank.

 

Libya trapped between a strategy of chaos and the spectre of a new dictatorship

By Jihâd Gillon and Mathieu Galtier, The Africa Report, 23 January 2020


With no foreseeable political agreement in sight, war and chaos continue to prevail, while Turkey and Russia are emerging as the new key players in the Libyan crisis.

 

Abdoussalem Nasser (63) has experienced many wars in Libya, from the Chad-Libya conflict of the 1980s to the siege of Tripoli which began on 4 April 2019 by Khalifa Haftar.

“This one is the most difficult because we are fighting against Russians, Egyptians, Sudanese and modern military equipment, with Emirati drones and French missiles,” he says.

The former air force serviceman along with 120 others, is part of Brigade 80 — affiliated to Operation Volcano of Wrath — charged with the defence of the capital. He describes an unbalanced conflict, despite the approximately 2,000 Syrian fighters brought to the front by Turkey since December. Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) is currently 15km south-east of Tripoli’s centre, making it easier for the LNA to receive logistical and human support from the friendly city of Tarhouna.

The advance of the LNA in recent months is largely thanks to the support of hundreds of Russian mercenaries. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed Libya would have come entirely under the control of the “Haftar putschist” had he not intervened. The promised Turkish troop contingent, however, boils down to a few dozen soldiers and advisers who are limited to the training of the Tripoli forces and the coordination of the various fronts. Abdoussalem Nasser says better equipment is needed, rather than human reinforcements.

Faced with 40,000 LNA troops with Emirati air support, Operation Volcano of Wrath is a military campaign comprising a coalition of armed groups from different cities to drive back the LNA. Misrata’s powerful brigades are fighting in Tripoli, to prevent their stronghold from being surrounded. After Haftar captured Sirte at the beginning of the year, he has opened a front 250km east of Misrata. If Tripoli falls into the hands of the LNA, it will then launch an offensive against the country’s second-largest city.

Driving Haftar out of the west guarantees Misrata’s survival and will enable it to regain its influence in the capital. “We are promised a return to the past,” says a disillusioned figure from the revolutionary district of Souq al-Juma. “Either Haftar wins and it’s the return of the dictatorship, or he loses, but Tripoli is once again in the hands of the militias of Misrata, Zintan, Zaouïa, etc., as it was between 2012 and 2014.”

Since 2011, Libya seems to have been condemned to instability and chaos, whatever the intentions of the various international actors.


Ghassan Salamé and the UN


More than two years after his appointment, the UN envoy for Libya Ghassan Salamé acknowledges the almost insurmountable obstacles to his mission.

“I spent 18 months trying to bring the Libyans together,” he said in Rome in December, during the Med Dialogues, the regional forum organised by Italy. “But when you go from the failure of a dialogue to the failure of an agreement, it is clear that many outside actors are playing against you.”

According to the former Lebanese minister, the main issue is the multiplication of states fuelling the conflict in defiance of the UN arms embargo.

“I interpret what we heard in Rome as the will of Ghassan Salamé, whose replacement the Russians are asking for and expecting,” says Emmanuel Dupuy, president of the Institute for Prospective Studies and Security in Europe.

But, claims Michel Scarbonchi, a French consultant who has worked to promote the Haftar solution in Paris, “Haftar no longer wants to hear from him. The last time he saw him was several months ago.”

Ghassan Salamé is not spared by his critics in Tripoli either, although he has better relations there.

“It’s not him that’s at fault,” says Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute. “Of course, Salamé could have been Superman but to no avail!”

In Rome, the UN envoy admitted that he had changed his strategy. “I am now trying to reach a minimum consensus among those who interfere in Libyan affairs.” The idea of the Berlin conference was born with this in mind.

“Angela Merkel wanted to help Salamé break the taboo of the arms embargo. And Turkey had sharply reduced its aid from October onwards, in the run-up to the Berlin conference but also because its drones were encountering difficulties compared to those of the Emirates. Not to mention the funding problems”, Harchaoui explains.

“The problem is last autumn there was no lull in the Emirati strikes. On the contrary, Abu Dhabi has only intensified its air campaign,” he added, saying if Salamé does not achieve tangible results at the Berlin conference on 19 January, he will no doubt be tempted to throw in the towel.


AU wants to have its say


Criticism of the UN also comes from Africa, especially from Moussa Faki. The president of the African Union (AU) Commission denounced the marginalisation of his institution on the Libyan issue, which he stated at the Doha Forum. He repeated his complaint in Brazzaville in mid-December, in the company of Denis Sassou Nguesso, chairman of the AU High Committee on Libya.

“There is no problem with Moussa Faki. The AU wants to have a say in all African conflicts, not just Libya,” says Ghassan Salamé, in an interview with Jeune Afrique. “And if the AU wants to send an emissary to Tripoli, I will welcome him myself,” he adds, while acknowledging the pan-African institution is not very responsive to his regular reports.

The AU may be asserting its competence in mediating African conflicts, as recently demonstrated in Sudan, its room for manoeuvre in Libya, however, leaves observers sceptical.

“If we hope that the AU takes up Salamé’s torch, we will be disappointed. Since 2011, the AU has understood that it is good form to complain about Libya. In fact, apart from Algeria, Egypt and Congo, few African countries maintain high diplomatic expertise on the Libyan file,” asserts Jalel Harchaoui.

Congo does not intend to let the diplomatic ballet dance proceed without the AU’s input and announced a new meeting on Libya on 25 January in Brazzaville. The Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Claude Gakosso, has already briefed African heads of state invited to Brazzaville. But can the transition to a South African presidency of the AU in February breathe new life into African mediation?

“South Africa would be particularly relevant on this issue, because it will hold both the presidency of the Brics and that of the AU in 2020,” says Emmanuel Dupuy. “This gives it a strong capacity for action on this issue, especially vis-à-vis Russia, with whom there has been economic, diplomatic, and military cooperation for a long time.”


Will the Turks and Russians divide the country?


Marginal players as recently as a year ago, Ankara and Moscow now weigh more than ever on Libya’s future. Turkey has committed itself alongside the Government of National Accord (GNA), while Russia has managed to keep a foot in each camp. The support given to Marshal Haftar’s troops by the private military company Wagner — close to the Kremlin — has enabled the LNA to record several successes in recent months. It also affords Russian diplomacy some room for manoeuvre on the Tripoli side, since Russia has not officially taken Haftar’s side.

“There is a lot of talk about the Total-ENI rivalry in Libya,” notes Emmanuel Dupuy. “But the new world is Gazprom, Tatneft, and Rosneft, who have signed contracts with the National Oil Corporation [NOC, the Libyan national oil company]. That’s why the Russians are playing both sides. The Central Bank and the NOC are still in Tripoli.”


No illusions


Turkey clearly exploited the GNA’s distress at the end of November, forcing it to sign a military support agreement coupled with a maritime agreement giving Turkey access to economic areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus. “With this agreement, we have extended to the maximum the territory over which we have authority. This will allow us to carry out joint [hydrocarbon] exploration activities,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 9 December.

“Turkey is defending its own interests in Libya, we have no illusions about its assistance to the GNA,” a Misrata notable says. He detected a division of tasks between the two countries.

“Russia, for its part, wants to control the Haftar side. Thus, even if they militarily support rival camps, we are right to speak of an understanding between Turkey and Russia, who have understood that their common interest is to eclipse Europe in this part of the world,” Harchaoui says.

Giving the middle finger to European diplomacy, the two countries inaugurated the Turkstream gas pipeline at the beginning of January and managed to set up a short-lived ceasefire between the Libyan protagonists.

“Only three countries are capable of pushing the Libyans to the negotiating table: Turkey, Russia, and the United States, even if the latter does not want to get involved in the Libyan bazaar,” says a Misrata businessman.

However, Sarraj and Haftar refused to meet in Moscow on 13 January and the latter left the Russian capital the next day without having ratified the ceasefire agreement, raising questions about Emirati and Egyptian pressure. In addition, the plan provided for the withdrawal of the NLA to its pre-4 April positions.

“What do you want Haftar to negotiate now? He controls 90% of the territory,” Scarbonchi points out.


Europe and the United States out of the game?


The French initiative on the Libyan dilemma seems to be over. “The failure of Emmanuel Macron’s mediation in 2018 has left its mark. At the Élysée Palace, there was a strong Libyan interest, thanks to diplomatic adviser Philippe Étienne,” explains Emmanuel Dupuy. “His replacement, Emmanuel Bonne, in my opinion, is less focused on the Western Mediterranean and more on the Middle East — the crisis in the Persian Gulf and Iran. There is less personal involvement. There have also been changes in the Maghreb-Middle East advisers on the presidential team who played a role in the close monitoring of the Libyan portfolio.”

Beyond questions of people, Paris is discredited in Tripoli’s eyes because it is seen to be too explicit in its support Haftar. Rome claimed to take up the torch that had fallen from the hands of its French rival, but its hopes have also been dashed. Long in favour of Tripoli, Italy gave the impression of a change of course in the wake of Haftar’s latest military successes, inviting him and Fayez al-Sarraj on 8 January in the hope of negotiating a ceasefire. Learning that the Marshal had preceded him in Rome, the head of the Libyan government preferred to turn his heels and did not honour his appointment with Giuseppe Conte until 11 January.

The German initiative has been complicated by the controversy surrounding the states associated with the Berlin process, with Qatar, in particular, getting testy about the invitation extended to its Emirati rivals.

“The French have used their diplomatic skills to subvert the German initiative, for example by asking for a crowd of African states to be invited or by extending the process to general questions on elections and economic reforms,” Harchaoui says.

“The result has been a conference with vague objectives that change according to diplomatic negotiations. The question arises as to whether German diplomacy is equally as ineffective as Italian or French diplomacy,” concludes Emmanuel Dupuy. “Europeans, who wanted to be peacemakers, no longer have any role other than to physically host summits in which they no longer have control over the debates and guests.”

On the Washington side, the Trump administration has shown itself incapable of defining a clear line on Libya and is content simply to denounce foreign interference there. A consensual position that poorly masks American disinterest in the Libyan question, which is primarily viewed through the prism of oil.

 

 


The Eco and the CFA franc: four weddings and a funeral

The Africa Report, 23 January 2020

Economist Kako Nubukpo believes that “when someone pretends to die, we have to pretend to bury them” and envisions four possible scenarios of how the Eco’s replacement of the CFA franc could play out.

 

After Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara announced on 21 December 2019 in Abidjan that the CFA franc is nearing its end and set to be replaced by the Eco, people in Africa’s Franc Zone began buzzing about monetary policy and it is giving rise to every kind of excess imaginable, particularly from those who are just now discovering that the CFA franc currency is not compatible with development in Francophone Africa.

While it is important to keep putting pressure on the CFA franc, it is also essential to propose a potential outline regarding the transition to the replacement currency, the Eco, whose (re)birth was announced on 29 June 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria, by the Summit of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.

In this regard, four options, among others, appear to be effective ways to unite the 15 member states invited to the Eco table [1]:


Option 1: The Eco as simple avatar of the CFA franc


This plan, which seems to have been inspired by Ouattara’s announcement in Abidjan on 21 December 2019, is based on meeting nominal convergence criteria and highly favours a fixed exchange rate with the euro. It assumes that the UEMOA will gradually expand to include ECOWAS economies sharing the same agricultural commodities export profile as its members.

Under this option, the pooling of foreign currency reserves is crucial, and it is the principle on which the CFA franc was historically established. The option is predicated on a high amount of political solidarity between member states and this cannot be neglected if the monetary zone were to be expanded.

Likewise, the external guarantee mechanism France provided on the institutional level for the CFA franc has a significant political dimension: it serves as the basis for the system’s stability in theory and in practice.

If we retain the principle of pooling reserves, but redirect their management to a different institutional structure, monetary sovereignty will be transferred over from France to UEMOA and then to ECOWAS.

Parity also needs to be considered: a few years back, important research was conducted on this issue to come up with a flexible exchange rate regime or, better yet, an adjustable exchange rate regime, as the latter is based on an index calculated using a basket of currencies.

Ouattara’s announcement that a fixed exchange rate with the euro would be maintained as a transitional measure is the main stumbling block between those in favour of a flexible currency (ECOWAS) and those in favour of an Eco-CFA (Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal).


Option 2: An Eco based on real convergence: GDP per inhabitant


If this option were to be chosen, ECOWAS economies would have to converge towards the three top-performing countries, i.e., Cabo Verde, Nigeria and Ghana. The Eco would have a flexible exchange rate regime governed by inflation targeting.

Accordingly, the convergence dynamic would be completely different and the UEMOA states would lose their superior reputation for convergence and, along with it, their role as heavyweights in the Eco implementation process.

But is Nigeria – ECOWAS’ true heavy hitter given that it accounts for 70% of the zone’s GDP and 52% of its total population – ready to take on a leading role in the Eco zone? Why would the country accept to be ECOWAS’ lender of last resort, a role it did not want to play when the second West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) was set up in 2002.

Above all, why would it want to abandon its currency, the naira, at a time when money is being printed to resolve internal tensions within the Nigerian federation?


Option 3: The Eco-naira


This would take us back to the original philosophy behind WAMZ. On 20 April 2000 in Accra, Ghana, six West African countries (Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) announced that they intended to create a second monetary zone in West Africa which would use the Eco as its currency, alongside the CFA franc of UEMOA.

The project provided for a future merger of the two zones in order to dovetail the borders of the monetary union with those of ECOWAS. In April 2002, WAMZ was established and each country made a commitment to maintain its domestic exchange rate within a fixed range of 15% against the dollar.

After that, no progress was made in terms of introducing the single currency until the ECOWAS summit in Abuja on 29 June 2019.

At that time, it was announced that the Eco would be adopted in 2020 and on 16 January 2020, in response to Ouattara’s Eco announcement, the Council of Ministers of Member States of WAMZ issued a statement accusing the UEMOA states of contravening the intent of the currency.


Option 4: The Eco, a common, but not single, currency


This plan would be a less onerous agreement compared to a single currency agreement. The idea, a first step towards an integration process between countries, was first suggested in 1960 by Senegalese economist Daniel Cabou, who would later become the first secretary general of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).

The suggestion, although resurrected nine years down the road by Egyptian economist Samir Amin in a report for former Nigerien President Hamani Diori, was ultimately discarded.

It could resurface today if countries that are not yet able to join the single currency unite around the idea by entering into exchange rate agreements.

Symmetric correction mechanisms for trade imbalances could help put trade surpluses back into circulation within the ECOWAS zone by encouraging specialisation processes between economies, as they provide a basis for increasing intra-zone trade. Increasing such trade is in turn one of the major political and economic goals of the integration process.

Ultimately, several options are on the table for West African decision-makers. The Eco’s creation process constitutes a true test of the credibility of West Africa’s vision and governance. For France, the process serves instead as a test of its sincerity concerning its willingness to effectively put the CFA franc to rest.

According to a Togolese proverb, “when someone pretends to die, we have to pretend to bury them.”

Let’s organise a funeral for the CFA franc and, when it is put to rest, meaning when the Eco is effectively created, we will celebrate the genuine death of the former franc of the French African colonies official.

If a real Eco is not created, the ‘corpse’ will move, and the fight will resume.

 

[1] Massimo Amato – Kako Nubukpo, “Una nuova moneta per gli Stati dell’Africa dell’Ovest. Le condizioni teoriche e politiche della sua fattibilità”, to be published in March 2020 in a special edition of Moneta e Credito (“Modelli di sviluppo e aree monetarie: percorsi alternativi e vincoli strutturali”).

 

Africa

By Catarina Demony

LISBON - Angola may ask Portuguese authorities to seize assets belonging to Isabel dos Santos, billionaire daughter of a former Angolan president, who is a suspect in a fraud investigation, Angola’s attorney general said on Friday.

Angola named dos Santos a formal suspect over allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds during her time as chairwoman of state oil company Sonangol, while Portugal’s market watchdog has opened inquiries into various firms in which she holds stakes.

Dos Santos, eldest child of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement to Reuters on Thursday she said she “always operated within the law and all my commercial transactions have been approved by lawyers, banks, auditors and regulators”.

The attorney generals of Portugal and Angola, Lucilia Gago and Helder Pitta Groz, met in Lisbon on Thursday to discuss, among other things, how both countries could collaborate on the dos Santos’ case, Pitta Groz told Portuguese broadcaster RTP during a television interview.

Asked by RTP if Angola could ask Portugal to seize dos Santos’ assets, namely her shares in Portuguese companies and Portuguese bank accounts, Pitta Groz said: “It could happen ... It could happen.”

“I will not say this is a reality now ... but when teams start working they could reach that conclusion,” he said.

Separately, in an interview with Portuguese TV channel SIC, Pitta Groz highlighted that the civil case against dos Santos could be closed if she and her associates paid the state the $1.1 billion it alleges she and her associates owe for alleged embezzlement of public funds.

The second, separate case against her and three Portuguese nationals is a criminal case related to alleged mismanagement of Sonangol, which would remain open regardless of whether the debt was paid.

Pitta Groz told SIC dos Santos and other suspects, regardless of their nationality, should face justice in Angola.

One of the companies where dos Santos held shares, Efacec, said on Friday that dos Santos would offload her controlling stake in the firm - her second such move this week.

Efacec said in a statement that dos Santos had told the board she had decided to withdraw from the company’s shareholding structure. It did not specify a reason and made no mention of any accusations against her.

On Wednesday, small Portuguese lender Eurobic, in which dos Santos was the largest shareholder with a 42.5% stake, said the businesswoman had decided to sell her share.

Dos Santos bought her controlling stake in Efacec for around 200 million euros in 2015 through offshore company Winterfell Industries.

The decisions to withdraw from Efacec and Eurobic coincided with increased scrutiny of dos Santos after hundreds of thousands of files - dubbed the “Luanda Leaks” - were released by several news organizations on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the European Banking Authority (EBA) told Reuters on Friday the regulator was “aware” and “following developments” in the dos Santos case and, without providing any further details, said they were in touch with competent entities.

Dos Santos still holds significant indirect stakes in several important Portuguese firms such as oil firm Galp Energia and telecoms company NOS.

Dos Santos and Portuguese retailer Sonae each own 50% of holding company ZOPT-SGPS, which controls 52.15% of NOS.

Following the scandal, three non-executive board members at NOS stepped down from their roles on Thursday, the company said in a statement.

NOS shares fell by more than 5% on Friday morning before recovering most of the losses to trade 0.5% lower.

AB/

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia’s electoral board said on Wednesday it expects to hold national elections on Aug. 16, 2020, the first vote under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in 2018 and has directed political and economic reforms.

Birtukan Mideksa, the head of the electoral board, told Reuters that the date was tentative.

Abiy released political prisoners and appointed former dissidents to high-level positions.

But the reforms have also unleashed long-simmering ethnic divisions, and the electoral board said last June that the security situation could delay this year’s election.

But Abiy, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said last week elections would be held this year in May or June despite concerns over security and logistics.

AB/

GENEVA - The targeting of the Hema community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with violence, including killings and rape, may amount to crimes against humanity, said the UN on Friday.

An investigation carried out by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, found that at least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured following attacks involving the Hema and Lendu communities in the country’s northeast province of Ituri, between December 2017 and September last year.

“In addition, at least 142 people have been subjected to acts of sexual violence” the report said, “most of them members of the Hema community.”

Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have become increasingly organized in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, the investigators said.

Among their objectives is to take control of the land of the Hema communities and their associated resources, they added.

The report documents numerous cases of women being raped, of children - some in school uniforms - being killed, and of looting and burning of villages.


Rape and beheadings


On 10 June last year in the district of Torges, a Hema man who was trying to prevent armed assailants from raping his wife witnessed his 8-year-old son being beheaded.

"The barbarity that characterizes these attacks, including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war, reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages," the report said.

"The violence documented... could contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution."

Schools and health clinics have been attacked and destroyed. The report said that most attacks occurred in June around the harvest period, and in December during the sowing season. "This makes it more difficult for the Hema to cultivate their fields and exacerbates their lack of food.”


Taking refuge


As the violence has intensified, for the past two years around 57,000 have taken refuge in neighbouring Uganda, and more than 556,000 have fled the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, in Ituri, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Several camps and villages where the Hema have taken refuge, have been “stormed, burned and destroyed” by Lendu armed groups, the report details.

Investigators have also documented acts of reprisal by some Hema community members, including village-burning and “isolated attacks” targeting the Lendu.

Army and police units deployed since February 2018, have failed to stop the violence, the report states, adding that the security forces themselves have also committed abuses such as extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention.

So far, two police officers and two soldiers, have been convicted in the Congolese courts.


UN recommendations


The joint rights office, UNJHRO, is recommending now that the DRC authorities properly address the root causes of conflict, including access to resources – including the contentious land issue – and that they maintain “ongoing reconciliation efforts between the two communities and their peaceful cohabitation.”

The report urges an independent and impartial investigation be carried out by the Government, into the years of violence, as well as “ensuring the right to reparation for victims and their access to medical and psychosocial care.”

AB/

KHARTOUM - An economic crisis in Sudan which has driven up food prices in the African country has contributed to an increase in the number of people needing aid; that’s according to the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency, OCHA.

Some 9.3 million people, nearly a quarter of the population, are expected to need humanitarian assistance in 2020, up from some 8.5 million this year.

In Kassala state, in the east of the country, more than 400,000 people suffer crisis levels of food insecurity and many cannot afford to buy the medicines they need when they fall ill.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, visited Kassala in November and called on the international community to provide more aid, more quickly.