Khamis, 19 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

Rape case removed from U.S. Air Force general who made controversial ruling

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 06:55 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force general who provoked outrage early this year by overturning a fighter pilot's sexual assault conviction has been removed as the officer in a rape case after dismissing the charges, military officials said on Thursday.

Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force, was removed in September as the officer responsible for the case against Airman First Class Brandon Wright, who was accused of raping a female sergeant at Aviano Air Base in Italy, an Air Force spokeswoman said.

Following a probable cause hearing, Franklin agreed with his legal advisers that the evidence against Wright was not strong enough to proceed to trial, the spokeswoman said. The case has since been shifted to a new jurisdiction and Wright has been charged again with rape.

The case occurred at a time when the Air Force and other military service branches were reviewing their procedures for handling sexual assault prosecutions, in part because of the outcry over Franklin's decision to overturn a jury's sexual assault conviction in the earlier case at Aviano.

That decision was one of several incidents that fuelled anger this spring over a Pentagon report estimating there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012, a 37 percent jump over the previous year. The report prompted a push by lawmakers and the military to address the issue.

Senior Air Force officials reviewed the rape case against Wright and decided that in light of a move toward new procedures, the evidence should be re-examined in a new jurisdiction to ensure the victim's concerns were fully aired, the spokeswoman said.

Wright, who was reassigned in September to the Washington area, was informed by his new commander on November 12 that he had been recharged in the Aviano case. A hearing is tentatively set for January, the spokeswoman said.

News of Franklin's decision in the Wright case provoked new outrage at the general.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a former sex crimes prosecutor who has led efforts to reform the way the military handles assaults, called for the Air Force to remove Franklin from his command.

"Lieutenant General Franklin should not be allowed to fulfil the responsibilities of military command because he has repeatedly shown he lacks sound judgment," she said.

Kimberly Hanks, the woman who saw her alleged attacker's conviction overturned by Franklin in February, called for the general's ouster from the Air Force. She said in a statement the cases were examples of an "extremely biased and broken military justice system that must be fixed."

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is leading a push for tough reform of military sex crime prosecutions, said Franklin's decision in the two cases proved the need for her legislation to put prosecutors rather than commanders in charge of deciding whether to take sex crimes to trial.

"For months the military has been arguing that commanders retaining ... authority to prosecute sexual assault is the solution to the vast underreporting of sexual assault crimes in the military," she said. "Franklin is a glaring example of how wrong that is."

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. diplomats, but not prosecutors, seek to quell India dispute

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 06:45 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government sought to present a united front on Thursday and play down any signs of a rift between the State Department and law enforcement officials over how to handle the politically sensitive case of an Indian diplomat subjected to a strip search over alleged visa fraud.

The arrest has enraged India, which demanded that charges be dropped against the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade. New Delhi has also demanded the arrest of the housekeeper, also an Indian national, who had accused her of fraud and underpayment of wages.

In an unusual move, the United States flew the family of the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, out of India. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said attempts had been made in India to "silence" Richard and compel her to return home.

"It needs to be asked what right a foreign government has to 'evacuate' Indian citizens from India while cases are pending against them in the Indian legal system," an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

Before the diplomatic blow-up on Saturday, relations between the two countries had been seen as cordial and improving.

While the U.S. State Department attempted to tamp down the furor in India, U.S. prosecutors showed no signs they would drop their case against Khobragade. In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, Bharara defended the investigation and treatment of Khobragade.

His statement came just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry called India's national security adviser to express regret about Khobragade's treatment.

On Thursday, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to again stress the importance of the U.S.-Indian ties and to pledge to work through the complex issues of the case.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denied suggestions that the department was pressuring U.S. law enforcement to drop the case. "Not true," she told reporters.

Khobragade was arrested last week and released on $250,000 bail after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid Richard. She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted of both counts.

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed that Khobragade was strip-searched after her arrest. A senior Indian government source has said the interrogation also included a cavity search, although U.S. officials have denied this.

Some tension between the State Department and the Justice Department is expected, because one is focused on international law and security while the other attempts to investigate alleged crimes without interference, said John Bellinger, who has held senior positions in both departments.

"Whether it was wise policy to actually arrest and detain someone for a non-violent crime like this, even if technically permissible under the Vienna Convention, is questionable to me. It's really quite surprising," said Bellinger, a former State Department legal adviser and now a private lawyer at the firm Arnold & Porter.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations gives consular staff such as Khobragade limited but not absolute protection against prosecution.


Khobragade's arrest has fed into a pre-election ferment in India, with political parties of all colors voicing patriotic outrage.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters that New Delhi was not convinced there was a case against Khobragade, who he said had been treated like a common criminal.

"We have asked for an explanation for what has happened ... and why, and we have asked for the cases to be dropped and withdrawn immediately," Khurshid told reporters.

"The worst that can be said about the lady who was involved ... is that she did not comply with the amount that was supposed to be paid under law," Khurshid said. "I don't think that justifies treating her like a common criminal."

In response to Khobragade's treatment, India has withdrawn some privileges given to U.S. diplomats and removed security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

In a report filed by Khobragade with police in India, the diplomat said the nanny told her in June that she felt "overburdened" by her work and wanted to be free to leave the house between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Khobragade responded that Richard had come to the United States on an official passport and "perhaps government rules do not permit her to stay beyond the limit of consulate premises," according to police and court documents seen by Reuters.

The report alleged that Richard had committed crimes under Indian law by making a "false promise" in order to enter the United States and was duty-bound to surrender her passport the moment she stopped working as a domestic servant for Khobragade.

A court order issued an arrest warrant for Richard, and - according to foreign minister Khurshid - her Indian passport has been revoked.

"Unless she takes asylum she will have to come back, she doesn't have a valid passport," he said.

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Sruthi Gottipati and Suchitra Mohanty in New Delhi; Editing by Howard Goller, Ross Colvin and Mohammad Zargham)

Troops clash in South Sudan, African states mediate

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 06:25 PM PST

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudanese government troops battled to regain control of a flashpoint town and sent forces to quell fighting in a vital oil producing area on Thursday, the fifth day of a conflict that has deepened ethnic divisions in the two-year-old nation.

The conflict, which has so far killed up to 500 people, has alarmed South Sudan's neighbours. African mediators held talks with President Salva Kiir on Thursday to try to broker peace, and U.S. President Barak Obama urged the clashing factions to stop fighting.

The clashes that erupted around the capital Juba on Sunday night have quickly spread, pitting loyalists of the former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, against Kiir, a member of the dominant Dinka clan.

Machar, whose dismissal in July led to months of tensions, has denied Kiir's accusation that he had led a coup attempt.

Rivals have fought fierce gunbattles over the town of Bor, north of Juba, the scene of a 1991 massacre by soldiers loyal to Machar of hundreds of Dinkas.

Thousands of people have sought refuge in U.N. bases, including 200 oil employees in a main crude-producing region. U.N. officials said one base in Jonglei state, where Bor is located, was breached by Nuer and there may have been deaths.

The fighting adds new instability to an already volatile region of Africa, derailing the young and undeveloped nation's halting efforts to build a functioning state.

A team of mediators sent by the Addis Ababa-based African Union arrived in Juba for talks. An Ethiopian official said representatives were from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the first major peace initiative since clashes first erupted.

"The African Union is until now meeting with the president," spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said, without giving details of the team. "Their message is that they are trying to broker peace between the two forces."

Ateny said Bor was in the hands of Machar's forces. "Bor has surrendered actually because the forces that were in Bor were mainly loyal to Machar," he said. "They control the town but government forces are trying to retake the town."

In Washington, Obama issued a statement saying the conflict threatened to derail progress South Sudan has been making since gaining independence.

"Inflammatory rhetoric and targeted violence must cease," Obama said. "All sides must listen to the wise counsel of their neighbors, commit to dialogue and take immediate steps to urge calm and support reconciliation."


Jodi Jonglei Boyoris, a senior official in Juba, said his family were trapped in Bor and were trying to reach a U.N. camp for safety.

"There is no fighting at all because those soldiers who were in Bor town evacuated as of this morning," he said.

U.N. diplomats have estimated between 400 and 500 dead in the clashes and say about 20,000 people have flocked to the bases of U.N. peacekeepers for refuge. But the United Nations says its 7,000 to 8,000 peacekeepers will not intervene in the conflict.

A U.N. base in Akobo in Jonglei state was attacked on Thursday and the United Nations received reports that some people had been killed, Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said. "The situation in Jonglei has deteriorated," he said.

A U.N. spokesman said the 200 or so oil workers who fled to a U.N. base in the Bentiu oil-producing area were expected to be evacuated by their company, which he did not name.

Mabek Lang De Mading, deputy governor of Unity State, one of the main oil-producing areas, said forces were sent to Unity field, where five people were killed after workers fought with spears and sticks, and to Thar Jath field, where 11 were killed.

"It is stable now," he told Reuters.

China National Petroleum Corp, India's ONGC Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas are the main firms running the oilfields. Total has exploration acreage in country. South Sudan, a nation the size of France, has the third-largest reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa after Angola and Nigeria, according to BP.

Oil production, which had been about 245,000 barrels per day, supplies the government with most of its revenues.

As tension in South Sudan mounted following the sacking of Machar, the former vice president said Kiir was acting like a dictator. The president said his rivals were reviving the splits of 1991 that led to bloodshed.

South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011. A persistent dispute with Sudan over their border, oil and security have added to the sense of crisis.

The row led to the shutting of oil production for about 15 months until earlier this year, slashing state revenues and undermining efforts to improve public services in a nation of 11 million people but with barely any paved roads.

(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic in Nairobi and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by George Obulutsa, Rosalind Russell and Eric Walsh)


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