- Central African Republic rebel chief to name power-sharing government
- Quake hits Guatemala, no initial reports of damage
- Rights groups slam new U.N. arms trade treaty draft
Posted: 25 Mar 2013 05:34 PM PDT
BANGUI (Reuters) - The leader of rebels in Central African Republic pledged to name a power-sharing government in a bid to defuse international criticism of a coup that killed 13 South African soldiers and has plunged the mineral-rich nation into chaos.
Regional peacekeepers said that leader of the Seleka rebel coalition, self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia, appealed for their help in restoring order after his own men joined in a second day of looting on Monday in the riverside capital Bangui.
The rebels' ousting of President Francois Bozize on Sunday was condemned by the United Nations and African Union. But in a sign of pragmatism, the United States, France and regional powerbroker Chad called on the insurgents to respect a January peace deal creating a unity government.
Some 5,000 Seleka fighters swept into the capital on Sunday after a lightning offensive in which they fought their way from the far north to the presidential palace in four days after the collapse of the power-sharing deal, the Libreville Accord.
Neighbouring Cameroon confirmed on Monday that Bozize had arrived there but said it was not giving him permanent refuge.
The removal of Bozize, who had himself seized power in a coup backed by Chad in 2003, was just the latest of many rebellions since the poor, landlocked country won independence from France in 1960.
"We will lead the people of Central African Republic during a three-year transition period, in accordance with the Libreville Accord," Djotodia said in a recorded statement issued to reporters. It was not broadcast due to power cuts.
January's peace deal signed at Libreville, the capital of Gabon, was drafted by regional mediators after the rebels has besieged Bangui in December. The accord had created a government drawn from Bozize loyalists, rebels and the civilian opposition.
Djotodia said that civilian opposition representative Nicolas Tiangaye would remain in place as prime minister.
The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for all parties to refrain from violence against civilians, the restoration of the rule of law, constitutional order and the implementation of the Libreville deal. The council said it would monitor the situation and was ready to consider further steps if necessary.
In Bangui, 600,000 residents of the capital remained without power and running water for a third day. Despite a curfew, there was widespread pillaging of offices, public buildings and businesses by rebels and civilians.
"Public order is the biggest problem right now," said General Jean Felix Akaga, commander of the regional African peacekeeping force. "Seleka's leaders are struggling to control their men. The president has asked us to help restore calm."
He said rebels would be confined to barracks from Monday.
International aid group Doctors Without Borders said its offices in Bangui and elsewhere in the country had been looted, and urged all sides to ensure people had access to health care.
'SAD MOMENT' FOR SOUTH AFRICA
With France's military contingent refusing to intervene, two heavily armed columns of insurgents in pick-up trucks stormed into Bangui the previous day, brushing aside a South African force of 400 troops which attempted to block their path.
South African President Jacob Zuma said at least 13 soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded in the fighting, the worst military setback for Pretoria since the end of apartheid in 1994 and an embarrassing snub to its efforts to project its power in the resource-rich heart of Africa.
"It is a sad moment for our country," Zuma said, adding that another soldier was still missing.
"The actions of these bandits will not deter us from our responsibility of working for peace and stability in Africa."
Zuma said South Africa had yet to decided whether to pull out its force, which he said had inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels during a nine-hour attack on the South African base.
"This is complete disaster for South Africa," said Thierry Vircoulon, Central African specialist at the International Crisis Group. "They did not at all understand they were backing the wrong horse. They did not consult within the region."
French troops patrolling the international airport in the capital killed two Indian citizens when three vehicles tried to enter the facility, France's defence ministry said.
Seleka, a loose coalition of five rebel groups whose name means "alliance" in the Songo language, was formed last year after Bozize had failed to implement power-sharing in the wake of disputed 2011 elections boycotted by the opposition.
It resumed hostilities on Thursday after military leaders of the group detained its five members of Bozize's government and accused the president of violating January's peace deal by failing to integrate 2,000 of its fighters into the army.
"The movements that make up Seleka have a long history of divisions," Vircoulon said. "The cohesion of Seleka will be tested now they are in full control."
Despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium, Central African Republic remains one of the world's least developed and most unstable nations.
Bozize rose in the military during the 1966-1979 rule of dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a self-styled emperor found guilty of the murder of schoolchildren and other crimes.
In recent years, Bozize's government had hosted U.S. Special Forces helping regional armies hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, led by a Ugandan warlord, who have killed thousands of civilians during decades of conflict.
FRENCH NATIONALS SAFE
Paris, which already had 250 soldiers in Central African Republic, has sent another 300 troops to ensure the security of its citizens and diplomatic missions.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was no need to evacuate the 1,200 French nationals, most of whom are in the capital. "Things are under control from our point of view regarding French nationals," Fabius told Europe 1 radio.
French President Francois Hollande spoke to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Chadian President Idriss Deby to suggest that any solution to the crisis should be based on the Libreville agreement, Fabius added.
"For now, there is no legitimate authority there," he said, adding that France did not see it as its place to intervene.
France offered its condolences to India for the killing of Indian civilians and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was due to speak with his Indian counterpart in the coming hours, the defence ministry said in a statement.
The U.S. State Department also called on Seleka to ensure the implementation of the Libreville agreement and provide full support to Tiangaye's government. Regional military power Chad said the same in a statement on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas in Paris, Richard Valdmanis in Dakar and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Daniel Flynn and David Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff, Anna Willard, Alastair Macdonald and Cynthia Osterman)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 25 Mar 2013 05:05 PM PDT
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck Guatemala close to the capital on Monday, though residents of Guatemala City felt little movement from the deep tremor and emergency services said there were no initial reports of damage or injuries.
The epicentre of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake, initially reported as a magnitude 5.8, was only 6 miles (9.5 km) southeast of Guatemala City but it was at a depth of 124.6 miles (200 km), lessening its effect.
Two Reuters witnesses in the city said they did not feel the quake, nor did they see people running outdoors as is often the case when powerful tremors hit.
David de Leon, a spokesman for Guatemala's emergency agency, CONRED, said he had no reports of damage or victims.
A magnitude 6.2 quake is capable of causing severe damage.
Last November, more than 50 people were killed in a 7.5 magnitude quake in Guatemala in San Marcos state, a mountainous region near the Mexican border.
That earthquake was the strongest to shake the country since 1976, when a magnitude 7.5 quake centred about 99 miles (160 km) northeast of Guatemala City killed some 23,000 people.
(Reporting by Mike McDonald and Sofia Menchu; Editing by Sandra Maler)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 25 Mar 2013 05:01 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Human rights groups on Monday sharply criticized the latest draft of what could become the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion (46 billion pounds) global conventional arms trade, accusing the United States and others of pushing to dilute it.
Several Western delegations, however, played down the complaints of groups like Oxfam, Amnesty International, the World Council of Churches and Control Arms, saying the latest draft showed progress, though improvements were clearly needed.
United Nations member states began meeting last week in a final push to hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over conventional arms sales. On Friday, Peter Woolcott of Australia, president of the drafting conference, distributed a revised draft treaty.
One of changes was in the list of arms the treaty covers.
The previous draft treaty said that the following weapon types would be covered by the pact "at a minimum" - tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms.
But in the new draft, the words "at a minimum" have been removed, which rights groups said has dramatically narrowed the scope of the weapons to be covered by the treaty.
"This treaty is not good enough," said Anna Macdonald of Oxfam. "This is not the treaty that is going to save lives and protect people."
Jonathan Frerichs of the World Council of Churches told reporters predator drones and hand grenades are examples of deadly arms that should be explicitly covered but are not.
Arms control campaigners and human rights advocates say one person dies every minute worldwide as a result of armed violence, and that a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition that they argue helps fuel wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
They say conflicts in Syria, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast and elsewhere highlight the need to keep arms from going to governments that use them for atrocities.
NRA APPLAUDS SENATE MEASURE
Several Western diplomats said that the rights groups were ignoring improvements and exaggerating shortcomings of the new draft, noting a new draft comes out on Wednesday ahead of the final day of negotiations on Thursday.
If the pact does not get the required unanimous approval of member states, it would go to a vote in the 193-nation General Assembly, where diplomats say it is very likely to pass.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for states to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.
In addition to the narrowing of the scope of weapons covered, rights groups and supporters of a tough treaty said ammunition is not properly covered, and loopholes that exclude defence cooperation agreements, loans and leases remain in the draft.
Oxfam's Macdonald suggested it was the United States, the world's top arms producer, that had pushed for a narrowing of the scope of the weapons covered in the treaty. The U.S. mission did not have an immediate reaction, but several diplomats also blamed it on the United States and other major arms exporting nations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced conditional support for the treaty last week, saying Washington was "steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability."
But he did not promise U.S. support. He repeated that the United States would not accept a treaty that imposed new limits on U.S. citizens' right to bear arms, a sensitive political issue in the United States.
Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobby, welcomed a measure adopted by the U.S. Senate on Saturday that called on the United States not to join the U.N. arms trade treaty. The NRA has vowed to fight hard to prevent ratification of the treaty if it reaches Washington.
The measure, which was put forward by Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, passed on a 53-46 vote. Several U.N. diplomats in New York said this was a sign of the difficulties the United States would have securing Senate approval of a pact.
"Thanks to the efforts of Senator Inhofe, we are one step closer to ensuring the U.N. will not trample on the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us," said Chris Cox, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, last month disputed the NRA position on the treaty, saying in a paper that "ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms trader - reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.
(Corrects spelling of ambassador's name in third paragraph)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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