18 AFRICA Monday, March 26 2018 | NEW ERA Mugabe’s wife Grace under probe for ivory smuggling Harare Zimbabwean police are investigating former ruler Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace, accused of smuggling ivory worth millions to underground foreign markets, a state-owned weekly reported Sunday. The Sunday Mail said investigators from the parks and wildlife authority handed documents to police showing that the former first lady “spirited large consignments of ivory to China, the United Arab Emirates and the United States among other destinations.” Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba confirmed receiving a report but declined to elaborate when questioned by AFP. The Sunday Mail said the report accused Grace Mugabe of ordering officials to grant her permits to export the ivory as gifts to the leaders of various countries. “Once outside Zimbabwe, the ‘gifts’ would be pooled together with other consignments of the product and routed to black markets,” The Sunday Mail reported. A senior official in the presidency, Christopher Mutsvangwa, told the paper the government was tipped off by an unnamed whistleblower. “Police and whistleblowers laid a trap for suppliers believed to be working for Grace Mugabe,” Mutsvangwa said. “The culprits were caught and that is how investigations started. When we were confronted with so much evidence, there is no way we could ignore.” The paper said police may question the former first lady soon. Grace Mugabe was tipped alongside the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980 until he was forced to step down in November 2017 following a military takeover. She earned the sobriquet “Gucci Grace” for her lavish lifestyle. Zimbabwe has suffered rampant poaching of elephants, targeted for their ivory tusks which are used for ornaments and medicines. At least 400 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange, Zimbabwe’s biggest national park in the northwest of the country, between 2013 and 2015. But parks director-general Fulton Mangwanya said poaching had declined since Mugabe’s ouster. “Poaching levels have dropped sharply in Hwange because the market has been disturbed,” The Sunday Mail quoted him as saying. -Nampa / AFP Nigerian town awaits release of Christian girl held by Boko Haram Kano, Nigeria Residents of the Nigerian town of Dapchi were hoping for the release of the last schoolgirl kidnapped by Boko Haram, following encouraging indications from the authorities after the militants returned more than 100 youngsters they had seized. Her released schoolmates said the girl, Leah Sharibu, is a Christian who remained in captivity because she refused to convert to Islam. “There is so much expectation in the town following the news that the last remaining girl will be released,” Kachalla Bukar, father of one of the schoolgirls recently freed, told AFP late Saturday by phone from the town in the northeastern state of Yobe. “We were told she was on her way but she has not yet been brought,” said Kachalla, who is the spokesman of the abducted schoolgirls’ parents union. The authorities had asked shopkeepers to close Saturday afternoon in anticipation of her arrival. National police chief Ibrahim Idris told reporters Saturday in Maiduguri, capital of neighbouring Borno State, the girl “may be released today”. Idris said he cancelled a visit to Dapchi to avoid any “security hitch” in the town before Leah’s arrival, without providing further details. In all, 105 of the 111 schoolgirls abducted on February 19 from their boarding school in Dapchi were released on Wednesday, raising questions about possible ransom payments. They were brought back by members of Boko Haram in nine trucks and dropped by the school. According to witnesses contacted by AFP, the girls were held on an island on Lake Chad, which is a known stronghold for fighters loyal to Boko Haram factional leader Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi. Five of the girls died in captivity, according to their colleagues. On Saturday, soldiers deployed in Dapchi disappeared from the town’s checkpoints, raising hopes for Leah’s imminent release. “We believe the news of the girl’s release is true because the body language of the security personnel, police and military, indicates the girl is on her way home,” said resident Tijjani Goni. “The town is in high spirits and full of anticipation,” Goni said. “The sudden withdrawal of soldiers from checkpoints is a clear sign the girl is coming,” said fellow Dapchi resident Sanda Masida. President Muhammadu Buhari vowed on Twitter to do “everything in our power to bring Leah back safely”. The Dapchi kidnapping revived painful memories in Nigeria of the April 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town also in the northeast, which caused global outrage. While some of the Chibok girls have been freed in exchange for ransom and the release of top Boko Haram commanders, a total of 112 remain in captivity. Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools giving a socalled Western education in the mainly-Muslim region as part of an insurgency that has killed at least 20,000 people and displaced more than 2.6 million since 2009. While a 2015 offensive launched by Buhari successfully reclaimed swathes of territory back from the jihadists in Nigeria, the group still stages deadly attacks on both military targets and civilians. -Nampa / AFP Bunia, DR Congo Six civilians were killed in attacks in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo where violence has claimed at least 130 lives since December, a local official said Saturday. Since late last year, scores of people have been killed in a flareup of clashes involving the Hema and Lendu communities, cattle herders and farmers who have a long history of violence over access to land. Six killed in DR Congo violence flareup “Assailants attacked the localities of Penyi, de Dz’lo and de Mbachulu. Until now, we have found six dead and several wounded,” said Mande Lonema, head of an area of the Walendu district where cattle herders and farmers from the Lendu communities live. The attacks in the volatile Ituri province took place overnight Thursday to Saturday and casualties were continuing “to arrive (and) firing can be heard”, he added. Locals told AFP they believed the army had struck a deal with the attackers although this was denied. “These are false allegations. We are a professional army... everywhere where they are enemies we go on the offensive,” said Jules Ngongo, the army’s spokesman in Ituri. The latest bout of violence has so far claimed at least 130 lives, according to an unofficial toll compiled by AFP, while the UN says more than 57,000 people have fled the bloodshed, crossing the border into neighbouring Uganda. In 2003, another surge of violence in Ituri triggered Operation Artemis, a three-month operation by the European Union -- its first military mission outside Europe. The operation averted a humanitarian catastrophe, but the fighting never came to a total halt. The full scale of the latest violence in the remote province remains unclear. The conflict is part of a broader background of violence and instability in eastern DR Congo. -Nampa / AFP ANC to discuss bringing elections forward to capitalise on ‘Ramaphoria’ The African National Congress, is discussing the possibility of bringing forward elections set to be held next year, according to three people familiar with the talks. The ANC is considering the move amid a wave of positive sentiment following the rise of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of Africa’s most industrialized country. He succeeded Jacob Zuma, who was pushed out of office early this year by his own party following a string of scandals that roiled financial markets and cost the party votes in a 2016 municipal poll. Ramaphosa broached the topic of shortening the timeline before elections during a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee, or NEC, in Cape Town on Friday, according to three officials who requested anonymity because the discussions have not been made public. The NEC has scheduled a press conference March 25, on the outcome of their meeting. Pule Mabe, an ANC spokesman, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. South Africa escaped a third junk rating Friday as Moody’s Investors Service kept its assessment of the nation’s debt unchanged, citing more transparent and predictable policies under Ramaphosa. The ANC is experiencing increased investor confidence dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ in the wake of his rise to the top post. - Bloomberg Photo: Nampa/AFP Testing... Students from the University of the Witwatersrand explain the self HIV testing kit, in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018. Self-testing kits and vending machines distributing prescription drugs are two ways that HIV treatment is being automated to reduce stigma in South Africa, home of the world’s biggest HIV epidemic.
Monday, March 26 2018 | NEW ERA WORLD 19 France pays tribute to victims of jihadist attack Trèbes, France Mourners packed a church in a rural French town rocked by a deadly Islamist attack for a Sunday service in tribute to the victims, who included a policeman hailed as a hero for offering himself in place of a hostage. Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after taking the place of a woman whom Radouane Lakdim had been using as a human shield during his attack Friday at a supermarket in the town of Trebes. The sleepy town of 5,000, located on the picturesque Canal du Midi, is just eight kilometres (five miles) from the famed medieval walled city of Carcassone, where a silent march is planned next Saturday, the eve of Easter Day. The bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne celebrated the mass in Trebes’ Church of Saint-Etienne to honour the four killed and three wounded in the attacks claimed by the Islamic State group. “We want this to stop,” said Jean-Pierre Bordeaux, who came with his wife Henriette from the nearby village of Capendu to attend the remembrance mass. “We aren’t safe from anything anywhere.” Parish priest Philippe Guitart warned against blaming Muslims in general for jihadist attacks. “We must... help people to learn to live together,” he said. Representatives from the Muslim community attended the mass, which had an overflow crowd listening to the service through loudspeakers outside the small church as armed police stood by. “We have had a long friendship with them,” Bishop Alain Planet said. “They are very aware of this sadness, which affects them as well.” People laid bouquets of white roses outside the town hall in Trebes, with one message reading “Stop the violence, stop, stop”. A national tribute will be held at a later date for Beltrame, who President Emmanuel Macron said had “died a hero” and deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”. Beltrame’s brother Cedric said the policeman would have known all too well the risk he was taking. “He certainly knew he didn’t stand a chance,” he said. “He gave his life for another.” Following the worst jihadist attack of his presidency, Macron has called a meeting later this week of the security services who monitor individuals suspected of radicalisation. Lakdim, 25, a petty criminal, was on a watchlist, but authorities had concluded the Moroccan-born French national did not pose a threat. Investigators found notes referring to IS at Lakdim’s home in Carcassonne, a legal source said, including a hand-written letter in which he claimed allegiance to the jihadist group. Lakdim, who was armed with a gun, knife and homemade explosive devices according to a security source, was shot dead as police moved in to end his siege of the Super U supermarket where he had holed up after a shooting spree in Carcassonne. Earlier Friday the gunman had hijacked a car in Carcassonne and shot the two people inside, killing the passenger and leaving the Portuguese driver in a critical condition. He also shot and wounded a police officer out jogging. Lakdim had already shot dead the supermarket’s butcher and a customer when Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman he had taken hostage. Lakdim shot and stabbed the policeman before he was himself killed by anti-terror officers. Beltrame died of his wounds early Saturday, becoming the fourth victim in the shooting spree. World leaders paid homage to the slain officer, with British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeting that his “sacrifice and courage will never be forgotten”, while US President Donald Trump denounced the “horrible attack”. The shootings come as France, part of the US-led coalition fighting IS, remains on high alert following a string of deadly attacks that have killed more than 240 people since 2015. Lakdim fit a familiar profile as a petty criminal who had turned to extremism. A small-time drug-dealer, his rap sheet included convictions for carrying a banned weapon and for drug use. He spent a month in jail in 2016. His girlfriend and a 17-year-old friend were in custody. According to a source close to the investigation, Lakdim had hinted at travelling to Syria in 2014, but did not go. During the attacks, he demanded the release of certain prisoners Merciless... Mourners leave the service of remembrance at the Saint Etienne Church in Trebes in southwest France, on March 25, 2018, two days after a man carried out an Attack in which four people were killed. Mourners in this rural French town rocked by a deadly Islamist Attack held a mass on Palm Sunday to pay tribute to the victims, including a policeman hailed a hero for offering himself in place of a hostage. Lieutenant- Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after taking the place of a woman whom Radouane Lakdim had been using as a human shield during his Attack Friday on a supermarket in the small town of Trebes. In memoriam... Relatives of a victim leave the service of remembrance at the Saint Etienne Church in Trebes in southwest France, on March 25, 2018, two days after a man carried out an attack in which four people were killed. Photos: Nampa/ AFP -- notably, according to a security source, Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks. IS claimed Friday’s attack was in response to its call to target Western enemies, as is customary when the assailant has pledged allegiance to the jihadists. -Nampa / AFP German police arrest ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont Berlin German police on Sunday arrested Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont as he crossed over by car from Denmark. Puigdemont “was arrested today at 11:19 am by Schleswig- Holstein’s highway patrol force,” a German police spokesman told AFP, adding that the detention was based on a European warrant. “He is now in police custody”, added the spokesman. Puigdemont’s party spokeswoman Anna Grabalosa also separately confirmed that he was detained on arrival in Germany from Denmark. “It happened as he crossed the Danish-German border. He was treated well and all his lawyers are there. That is all I can say,” she said. Puigdemont is wanted by Spain on charges of “rebellion” and “sedition”, over his independence bid for Catalan. He had been visiting Finland since Thursday, but slipped out of the Nordic country before Finnish police could detain him. Puigdemont’s lawyer Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, said on Twitter that Puigdemont was picked up by German police as he was travelling back to Belgium where he has been living in self-imposed exile. -Nampa / AFP