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Entries in Congo (8)

Friday
Aug242012

10 Dead from Ebola Outbreak in Congo

Hemera/Thinkstock(ISIRO, Congo) -- Doctors Without Borders is working to contain an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

Ten people have died after contracting the disease, and another six people in the town of Isiro have been either confirmed or considered probable cases, BBC News reports. One person, according to South African newspaper The New Age, has made a full recovery.

Officials say this strain of the deadly disease is not related to the recent outbreak in neighboring Uganda, where 16 people died from a strain that now seems to have been contained.  

"The outbreak in Uganda and the one in DRC are not related," Olimpia de la Rosa, a Doctors Without Borders coordinator, told The New Age. "This strengthens the idea that the Ebola virus is transmitted by close contact, making it less likely to cross borders."

Ebola outbreaks occur periodically in central Africa, where the virus originated and was first detected in humans in 1976.

Symptoms of Ebola include sudden fever, weakness, headache, vomiting and kidney problems, BBC News reports. There is no vaccine to reduce risk of infection.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul102012

Congolese Warlord Thomas Lubanga Sentenced to 14 Years in Jail

MICHAEL KOOREN/AFP/Getty Images(THE HAGUE, Netherlands) -- The International Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga to 14 years behind bars for recruiting child soldiers to fight for his militia.

Lubanga, the former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots, was found guilty in March of using children between 2002 and 2003 to fight for his group and maintain control of the Ituri region in northeastern Congo.  The 51-year-old became the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC.

The conflict between ethnic groups in the region is estimated to have claimed 60,000 lives, reports the BBC.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar142012

Former Congo Warlord Found Guilty of Recruiting Child Soldiers

Hemera/Thinkstock(THE HAGUE) -- The International Criminal Court convicted a former Congo warlord on Wednesday of recruiting child soldiers to fight for him.

Thomas Lubanga was found guilty by three judges in a unanimous decision. Lubanga, the former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots, was accused of using children under the age of 15 between 2002 and 2003 to fight for his group.

Presiding judge Adrian Fulford delivered the verdict saying Lubanga used the children in order to maintain control in Ituri region of northern Congo. More than 60,000 people reportedly died in conflicts between two ethnic groups in the region, reports BBC News.

Lubanga faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan252012

NBA Star's 'Abject Negligence' Cited in Gold Smuggling Scam

Jemal Countess/WireImage(NAIROBI) -- A former U.N. official says former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo showed "abject negligence" in a gold deal that resulted in him getting ripped off for millions of dollars involving a militia leader wanted for war crimes.

A U.N. report said Mutombo, who has cultivated a reputation for honesty and charity, is not guilty of any crimes. Mutombo could not be reached for comment by ABC News, but U.N. investigators said he was unaware that his business deal involved the wanted warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

Mutombo's actions may not have been criminal, says Jason Stearns, the former head of the U.N. group of experts on Congo, but he does call them inexcusable.

"For anybody involved in business in a place like the Congo, before they carry out any deals they need to do due diligence," Stearns says. "He can't really argue he didn't know."

Stearns says the humanitarian is guilty of "abject negligence."

A recent report by a team of U.N. officials investigating the violence and corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that Mutombo, along with a Nigerian-American head of a Houston-based oil company and another investor, lost tens of millions of dollars that ended up in Ntaganda's pockets.

Officials say they believe Mutombo acted as more of an intermediary, rather than knowingly taking part in a criminal enterprise, but say the case highlights how corruption, lack of government oversight and mineral wealth continue to fuel Congo's conflict.

In 2010 Mutombo and three of his Congolese relatives met with Kase Lawal, the Nigerian-American and his partner Carlos St. Mary, the director of a diamond trading company, in New York.

The men worked out a business deal estimated at more than $10 million to acquire and sell more than 1,000 pounds of gold extracted from Congo's vast mines.

But Mutombo never saw the gold. Instead his money ended up in the hands of Ntaganda, a militia leader wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

According to the U.N., Mutombo's business partners knew before the handoff of the gold and the money in the Eastern Congo city of Goma that Ntganda was involved. Instead of pulling out, the report said, they were "reassured" by the warlord's role.

The scandal is a blight on Mutombo's otherwise-squeaky clean reputation. The 7-foot-2 basketball star played for the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks, and was considered a model player during his 12 years on the court, twice receiving the league's Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for his humanitarian work and sportsmanlike conduct.

In 1997 he founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation committed to improving the lives of people in Congo. He has built hospitals, schools and even paid for the women's basketball team's trip to play in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

In 2007, President George W. Bush honored Mutombo in his State of the Union speech, calling him the "son of Congo" who never forgot "the duty to share his blessings with others."

Ntaganda, however, is on a U.N. sanctions list, but that hasn't kept him from earning an untold fortune operating businesses across eastern Congo and abroad. He's known to be so ruthless that he's reportedly executed officers within his rebel group who disagree with him.

The ICC indictment alleges Ntaganda, usually referred to using his first name Bosco, commanded a force responsible for arresting, torturing and murdering hundreds of civilians in 2002-2003.

Ntaganda takes advantage of elaborate gold and mineral smuggling schemes that involve interlopers in neighboring Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. While the trade in coltan, the mineral found in tin used to make cellphones and other electronics, has received so much attention the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring electronic companies to verify the origin of material used, gold continues to trade with almost no oversight at all.

For example, the monitoring group found that there was a difference of more than three tons of gold between the import statistics of the United Arab Emirates, where much of Congo's gold ends up, and the exports claimed by the government of Uganda.

High gold prices and little oversight make trading the commodity a lucrative venture for not only people like Mutombo, wanting to invest in the war-torn country, but also for Congo's brutal military and rebel groups.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct052011

Obama Waives Funding Restriction for Yemen and Congo

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Tens of millions of dollars of U.S. military financing will continue to flow to Yemen and three other countries that recruit and use child soldiers, despite a 2008 U.S. law designed to restrict U.S. taxpayer funding of foreign militaries that enlist children to fight in war.

The White House issued a memorandum Tuesday evening to allow military funding to Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Chad, three of the six countries on the State Department's list of foreign governments that recruit and use child soldiers in state-backed armed forces and militias.

Human rights advocates say the presidential waivers, issued for a second year in a row, undermine the intentions of Congress.

"The law could be very effective if it was applied the way Congress intended, but instead the administration has chosen to disregard the law and exert poor leadership on this issue," said Jo Becker, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch's Children's Rights Division. "Last year, the administration said they were putting governments on notice and giving them time to address the problem, but this year governments that have shown no progress are still getting assistance no strings attached."

In Yemen, children who are 15 years old and younger have been recruited to fight in the government's conflict with rebels. Becker says that as recently as August, Human Rights Watch observed children serving in Yemen's Central Security force, an elite paramilitary unit, and with the army's First Armored Division, which defected to the opposition in March.

The renewed waiver for Yemen comes on the heels of the killing of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, which has been hailed as a major success in the U.S. collaboration with the Yemeni government to root out militants in the region. The State Department has requested $35 million in foreign military financing for the Yemeni government for the 2012 fiscal year. The aid represents one portion of the total military, security and other assistance to the country, which has exceeded $100 million annually in recent years.

The White House has argued that cutting military aid to Yemen would hurt U.S. efforts to work with countries like Yemen that provided crucial cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda militants. When the waiver was issued last year, then-White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The New York Times the Obama administration believed that continued engagement with Yemen and the other countries receiving waivers would allow the U.S. to work with these governments to end their use of child soldiers.

Tuesday's presidential memorandum cited "national security interests" as the basis for granting the waivers for Yemen and Congo. "This is an issue the President takes very seriously, and these waivers are not made lightly," said Vietor, now a spokesman for the National Security Council, in a statement to ABC News Wednesday. "In this specific instance, the waiver for Yemen reflects the United States' vital interest in supporting the Government of Yemen's ability to conduct counterterrorism operations against AQAP."

"The partial national interest waiver issued for the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Vietor, "fully restricts the provision of Foreign Military Financing to the Government of the DRC, and sends a clear signal to the Government of the DRC that it must do more, while allowing for the provision of certain forms of training and supplies that will serve to further professionalize the DRC's military."

Becker says that the issuance of blanket waivers has not proven to be effective in addressing the recruitment of child soldiers. She points to the example of Congo, which has used hundreds of child soldiers and resisted efforts to demobilize children from its units while receiving U.S. funding over the past six years.

"This is not an all-or-nothing proposal," said Becker. "$35 million is a lot of money. The administration could tell the government of Yemen it will withhold a portion of its funds until it takes concrete steps to remove children in its forces."

President Obama voted for the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 while serving in the Senate. The law, which went into effect in June of 2009, prohibits international military education and training, foreign military financing, and the issuances of licenses for sales of military equipment. Funding for peacekeeping and law enforcement is not applicable under the law.

Obama's memorandum also certified that the government of Chad, another country on the State Department list of countries using child soldiers, had taken steps toward ending the use of child soldiers in the last year. The government of Chad signed an action plan in June to remove children from the ranks of its national forces, known as the ANT, but human rights groups say it is too early to tell how effective the demobilization efforts will be.

Copyright ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr042011

Several Killed After UN Plane Crashes in Congo

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(KINSHASA, Congo) -- At least 10 people were killed when a United Nations plane crashed in the Democratic Republic of Congo Monday, the BBC reported, citing U.N. sources.

Witnesses said the plane was attempting to land amid heavy rain when it hit the runway at Kinshasa airport, causing the aircraft to sever into many pieces.

The plane was reportedly coming from the eastern city of Kisangani, according to the BBC.

No other details are known at this time, and the U.N. has yet to make an official comment on the incident.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar072011

Actor Ben Affleck, Republican Cindy McCain Team Up to Help Congo

ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- When Ben Affleck first called up Cindy McCain to ask for her help in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she thought it was a joke.

"She thought it was a prank call," Affleck said.

But last month, the political odd couple of a Hollywood actor and wife of a former Republican presidential nominee traveled to Africa together, and now they're teaming up to bring attention to the intense suffering of the Congolese people and how Americans can make a difference.

On Tuesday, McCain and Affleck will testify together about the issue on Capitol Hill, but ahead of their testimony, the pair sat down together Monday with ABC's Jake Tapper to discuss their recent trip to Congo and the simple steps that could change lives there.

"Politics doesn't have anything to do with this. This is about human lives," McCain said.

Affleck, who first traveled to Congo five years ago, said there's a moral responsibility to pay attention to the suffering there and to get involved.

"People are dying, really dying and have been for a long time," Affleck said. "Fifteen years, three-plus million people have died. I don't know that I can make any more argument about why you should pay attention to this."

Affleck and McCain said there's a need for a special advisor to the region who can coordinate the efforts of governments and western aid organizations.

McCain herself got involved in Congo in 1994, and at first, she said, she was skeptical about Affleck, fearing that he was like other celebrities that she'd seen who drop in to Africa for what she called a "parachute photo op."

"My past experiences with other folks in the same, perhaps, arena have not been good. It hadn't been heartfelt. It hadn't been, what I believe, truly committed to the issue and the people," McCain said.

But Affleck, she said, has done the hard work of learning the issues on the ground in detail.

"This has been not only a wonderful opportunity but a wonderful treat," she said. "Ben has a working knowledge of this region. He not only understands the issues, but he understands what we need to be doing."

And Affleck added that while the Democratic actor and the Republican political wife may be separated by a partisan divide, the two have found plenty of common ground on Congo, family and even politics.

"I'd say we have, actually, frankly, quite a bit in common. I don't know if, maybe she doesn't want me to say that out loud," Affleck joked.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Friday
Dec102010

'Devastated' American Kayakers Survive Congo Croc Attack

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ABUJA, Nigeria) -- A pair of American kayakers who escaped a crocodile attack that killed their famed guide are "devastated" by the death of the guide, Hendrik Coetzee.

Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic could only watch in horror as a crocodile snatched Coetzee, 35, from his kayak on Tuesday as the three men paddled on the Lukuga River in Congo.

"They beached their boats about 500 meters from the incident in a very remote area," Ciaran Donnelly of the International Rescue Committee told ABC News. "They found villagers who lent them a cell phone to call the IRC."

The IRC and another humanitarian organization working in the area Solidarites International dispatched teams to evacuate them. Both men are still in Congo meeting with local authorities, but are expected to return the United States soon.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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