EU on difficult mission to overhaul Mali Army

AFP-JIJI, AP.Apr 1, 2013 Coat of arms of the European Union Military Staff.svg

The EU begins an ambitious top-to-toe overhaul Tuesday of Mali’s ragtag army, far from ready to take the place of foreign troops to defend the West African nation against fresh attacks by Islamist insurgents.

As France prepares to withdraw its 4,000 troops after routing al-Qaida-linked forces from northern cities, the first of four Malian battalions will begin training Tuesday with battle-hardened European instructors as part of a wider effort to bring the army up to scratch as quickly as possible.

“Objectively, it must be entirely rebuilt,” said French Gen. Francois Lecointre, who heads the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM).

Underpaid, ill-equipped and riven by divisions, Mali’s armed forces fell apart last year when well-armed Islamist extremists seized the country’s vast northern reaches, imposing Shariah law and terrorizing locals.

Today, no one knows exactly how many soldiers are left, probably around 6,000 — about half of whom will train with the EUTM over the next year.

The jihadists continue to make their presence felt. A suicide bomber attempted to force his way past the defenses of the city of Timbuktu on Saturday, detonating himself on its outskirts, while a land mine exploded in another part of northern Mali, killing three people.

The incidents come as French President Francois Hollande told French television that French forces had attained their objectives in Mali. After the extremists began a southward push early this year, Hollande unilaterally authorized military intervention, quickly liberating the main cities in the north. Outside the heavily fortified cities such as Timbuktu, however, the jihadists are leading an increasingly brutal insurgency.

“The Malian authorities are well aware of the need to reconstruct the army, very aware that Mali almost disappeared due to the failings of the institution,” Lecointre said.

Class is at a dusty green-shuttered military academy 60 km from the capital, Bamako, its grounds now packed with rows of EU-supplied troop transport vehicles, a field hospital, tents, and trunk-loads of equipment.

After 10 weeks of training, the first 670 Malians are expected to be ready for combat by the end of June or early July and deployed to northern Mali, where French and Chadian troops are still on the lookout for pockets of jihadist fighters.

The French are to hand over to an African force of 6,300 likely to come under a U.N. mandate in the coming weeks. But U.N. leader Ban Ki Moon has said that up to 11,200 troops were needed as well as a second “parallel” force.

While mission commander Lecointre expects the last batch of Malian soldiers to graduate in early 2014, he says the EUTM — running on a budget of €12.3 million ($15.7 million)— may have to be extended.

Speaking in Bamako, Mali Defense Minister Yamoussa Camara deemed the 15-month mission “too short” but said it “will enable the training of a core of instructors who will be able to continue training others.”

A major issue, according to Lecointre, is the army’s poor and “heterogeneous” equipment, made up of materiel donated by richer nations over two decades.

“Mali accepted equipment from any country offering but it doesn’t function as a whole and often can be either obsolete or oversophisticated,” he said.

EU nations were ready to donate equipment but too often “are inclined to give equipment they no longer want, whilst we are seeking above all to avoid receiving a patchwork of weaponry,” he said.

The bigger problem however is the army’s lack of a clear hierarchy and chain of command, with no “esprit de corps.” “The army is very unstructured,” Lecointre said, with soldiers more often than not banding together for one-off missions and not training.

A total of 23 EU nations are taking part in the 550-strong EU mission, including 200 trainers, a protection force of 150, another 150 providing medical and logistical support, and 50 administrative staff.


Iran, North Korea, Syria block U.N. treaty to regulate arms trade

AP. Mar 29, 2013

Iran, North Korea and Syria have blocked the adoption of a U.N. treaty that would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade for the first time, arguing it fails to ban sales to terrorists, but other countries are refusing to let the pact die.

The treaty’s adoption required the agreement of all 193 U.N. member states, but some nations said Thursday they would ask U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to bring the final draft before the General Assembly for adoption as soon as possible.

“This is not failure,” British Ambassador to the U.N. Jo Adamson said. “Today is success deferred, and deferred by not very long.”

There has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade. For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.

After two weeks of intensive negotiations, many delegates had been optimistic that consensus was within reach, but Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus announced they could not support the proposed treaty. Both Iran and North Korea are under U.N. arms embargoes over their nuclear programs, while Syria is in the third year of a conflict that has escalated to a full-blown civil war.

Amnesty International said all three countries “have abysmal human rights records — having even used arms against their own citizens.”

This was the second attempt in eight months to get countries with very different interests behind an arms trade treaty. Hopes of reaching agreement were dashed in July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final conference and set Thursday as the deadline.

Dan Mahley, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the global body, said Thursday that Washington supported the proposed treaty as “fair and balanced” and looked forward to its quick adoption by the General Assembly.

The United States — along with Britain, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway — backed Kenya, which announced that because “the will of the overwhelming majority is clear,” it was sending a letter to Ban immediately asking him to bring the treaty before the General Assembly for adoption.

The secretary general did not immediately address the request but expressed deep disappointment at the failure to agree on a treaty text.

“He is confident that the arms trade treaty will come to pass and is encouraged by the shared determination to make this happen as soon as possible,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The Control Arms Coalition, representing about 100 organizations that have campaigned for a robust treaty, said the earliest the General Assembly could vote is Tuesday, when the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador to the U.N. Peter Woolcott, will present his report to the full world body.

The draft treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components, and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The final draft made the human rights provision even stronger, adding that the export of conventional arms should be prohibited if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings, such as schools and hospitals.

In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists or organized crime. The final draft would allow countries to determine whether the weapons transfer would contribute to or undermine peace and security.

The draft would also require parties to the pact to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said the draft treaty has “many legal flaws and loopholes,” is “hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination” and ignores the “legitimate demand” to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who commit aggression.

“How can we reduce human suffering by turning a blind eye to aggression that costs the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?” he asked.

North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ri Tong Il, called the text “a risky draft which can be politically abused by major arms exporters,” citing arms embargoes and human rights as criteria to prohibit arms exports. “Under this, major exporters are entitled to privileges while imposing self-proclaimed restrictions on arms trade to importers, whereas many countries have the right to legitimate self-defense and right to legitimate arms trade,” he said.

Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja’afari said his country is perhaps the best example of the results of the illicit arms trade. He cited seven objections, including the treaty’s failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons “to terrorist armed groups and to nonstate actors.”

2 Nigerian scientists bag UNESCO-L’Oreal 2013 award

VANGUARD.March 31, 2013

Two Nigerian female scientists have bagged the UNESCO-L’Oreal “Women in Science Partnership’’ award for their contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the country.

The awardees were recognised in the “Laureates and fellows’’ categories in Paris.

Prof. Francisca Okeke, the first female Head of Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka bagged the 2013 Laureate award for her significant contributions to the scientific study climate change.

She was the only recipient in that category from Africa and the Arab nations and the third Nigerian Laureate since the UNESCO-L’Oreal partnership was established in 1998.

Four others also got awards in the Laureate category with each representing Europe, Latin America, North America and the Asia Pacific regions.

The second Nigerian award recipient, Dr Eucharia Nwaichi, an environmental bio-chemist from the University of Port Harcourt joined 15 other young scientists in the “International Fellows’’ category.

Okeke said that she would continue to encourage women to participate in the development of science and technology in the country.

She noted that cultural challenges were impeding on women’s participation in global innovations, stressing that “even though it is seen as a male dominated field, people like us inspire others’’.

Similarly, Nwaichi, who was recognised for her research on “scientific solution to environmental pollution’’, stressed the need for increased motivation to support women in the field.

Amb Mariam Katagum, Nigeria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, said candidates who met the criteria were selected by a jury based on their submitted projects.

“Two important elements are respecting the deadline and also making their submission through the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO, because that gives it authenticity.

“For us as delegates, as soon as we knew we had possible candidates from Nigeria, we ensured that due process was followed.

“There is no interference as you can see, an international jury determined the outcome,’’ she said, adding that the recipients had broken the frontiers in the field of science.

According to her, they have become role models for girls, for us as a country, we need to encourage more girls to go into science.

“We can only do that by providing the environment, access to quality education and making sure that the facilities that will make them interested in science subjects are in place,’’ she stressed.

The international jury which selected the 2013 awardees was led by Nobel Prize winner, Mr Ahmed Zewail.

NKorea Says It Is In ‘a State Of War’ With SKorea


   Associated PressMarch 30th, 2013


North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula was entering “a state of war” and threatened to shut down a border factory complex that’s the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, noting that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years. But the North’s continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgment between the sides could lead to a clash.

North Korea’s threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid. North Korea’s moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong Un strengthens his military credentials.

On Thursday, U.S. military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on an uninhabited South Korean island as part of annual defense drills that Pyongyang sees as rehearsals for invasion. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike American targets if provoked.

North Korea said in a statement Saturday that it would deal with South Korea according to “wartime regulations” and would retaliate against any provocations by the United States and South Korea without notice.

“Now that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have entered into an actual military action, the inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war,” said the statement, which was carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Provocations “will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war,” the statement said.

Hours after the statement, Pyongyang threatened to shut down the jointly run Kaesong industrial park, expressing anger over media reports suggesting the complex remained open because it was a source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

“If the puppet group seeks to tarnish the image of the DPRK even a bit, while speaking of the zone whose operation has been barely maintained, we will shut down the zone without mercy,” an identified spokesman for the North’s office controlling Kaesong said in comments carried by KCNA.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded by calling the North Korean threat “unhelpful” to the countries’ already frayed relations and vowed to ensure the safety of hundreds of South Korean managers who cross the border to their jobs in Kaesong. It did not elaborate.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said the country’s military remains mindful of the possibility that increasing North Korean drills near the border could lead to an actual provocation.

“The series of North Korean threats — announcing all-out war, scrapping the cease-fire agreement and the non-aggression agreement between the South and the North, cutting the military hotline, entering into combat posture No. 1 and entering a ‘state of war’ — are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.

“We are maintaining full military readiness in order to protect our people’s lives and security,” he told reporters Saturday.

Naval skirmishes in the disputed waters off the Korean coast have led to bloody battles several times over the years.

But on the streets of Seoul on Saturday, South Koreans said they were not worried about an attack from North Korea.

“From other countries’ point of view, it may seem like an extremely urgent situation,” said Kang Tae-hwan, a private tutor. “But South Koreans don’t seem to be that nervous because we’ve heard these threats from the North before.”

The Kaesong industrial park, which is run with North Korean labor and South Korean know-how, has been operating normally, despite Pyongyang shutting down a communications channel typically used to coordinate travel by South Korean workers to and from the park just across the border in North Korea. The rivals are now coordinating the travel indirectly, through an office at Kaesong that has outside lines to South Korea.

North Korea has previously made such threats about Kaesong without acting on them, and recent weeks have seen a torrent of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang. North Korea is angry about the South Korea-U.S. military drills and new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear test last month.

Dozens of South Korean firms run factories in the border town of Kaesong. Using North Korea’s cheap, efficient labor, the Kaesong complex produced $470 million worth of goods last year.

Israel Starts Tamar Gas Production


Shoshanna Solomon & Gwen Ackerman –BLOOMBERG. Mar 31, 2013

Israel started gas production at the Tamar offshore field in an effort to put the country on the road to energy independence and save a projected 1 billion shekels ($274 million) a month, according to the government.

The gas was expected to reach Israel’s port city of Ashdod by afternoon today, the Energy and Water Ministry said.

The field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, estimated to hold 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is being developed by a group that includes Noble Energy Inc. (NBL), Delek Drilling-LP, Avner Oil Exploration LLP (AVNRL) and Isramco Negev 2 LP. (ISRAL) Along with Noble, Israeli energy exploration companies have discovered enough gas under the Mediterranean over the past three years to supply the country for 150 years. … showing Noble Energy’s drilling locations offshore Isreal and Cyprus

“We are talking about billions of dollars coming to the state from tax revenues from Tamar gas over a 20-year period,” Gilad Alper, a senior analyst at Excellence Nessuah Brokerage Ltd. in Tel Aviv, said in a phone interview. “It will also reduce energy costs as we will replace expensive imports with a cheap domestic supply of natural gas. The start of the flow is a big positive for the economy.”

The Tamar and Dalit fields could supply Israel with gas for two decades. The larger Leviathan field is estimated to hold 18 trillion cubic feet of gas, Noble said in a statement March 6.

“This is an important day for the Israeli economy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today in an e-mailed statement. “We are taking an important step toward energy independence.”

‘International Player’

The three fields provide Israel with reserves more than 14 times larger than Germany’s total proven gas reserves, which the BP Statistical Review of World Energy published in June 2012 lists at 2.2 trillion cubic feet. Russia holds the biggest gas reserves, followed by Iran, according to BP Plc. (BP/)

“This is the beginning of a new era,” said Isaac Tshuva, controlling shareholder of Delek Group Ltd. (DLEKG), which owns stakes in Tamar via its Delek Drilling and Avner units. “The Israeli economy will be able to exploit the advantages of natural gas environmentally, geopolitically, socially and economically, and turn Israel into an important international player.”

Qatar, the Persian Gulf emirate with the world’s third- largest reserves of gas, said on March 10 it found a deposit with 2.5 trillion cubic feet of the fuel, its first discovery since locating the world’s biggest gas field 42 years ago. The North Field, shared with neighboring Iran, provides Qatar with 900 trillion cubic feet of reserves.

GDP Boost

The flow from Tamar is expected to contribute about 1 percent to Israel’s gross domestic product, the Bank of Israel said in a March 24 report, forecasting that the economy will grow 3.8 percent in 2013, including the contribution from gas.

The Bank of Israel also said the flow from the Tamar field will improve the nation’s current-account balance by as much as $3 billion this year. For every $1 billion improvement in the balance, the exchange rate should appreciate about 1 percent, the bank has estimated.

In February, Russia’s OAO Gazprom (GAZP), the world’s biggest natural gas producer, signed an agreement for the exclusive rights to export liquefied natural gas produced from the Tamar floating LNG plant. Noble Energy forecast Israeli demand for gas to grow at a compounded rate of 15 percent in 2012-2017. The Leviathan field is expected to supply the domestic markets in 2016, Noble said in December.

Australia’s coup culture


Nick Bryant. BBC News.20,March 2013

From left, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Kim Beazley (top right) and Paul Keating (bottom right)
Julia Gillard and her predecessors:  Kevin Rudd (main picture), Kim Beazley (top right) and Paul Keating (bottom right)


Australia has one of the most brutal political cultures in the democratic world, in which party leaders are dispatched with abandon. As yet another prime minister faces down a threat from her own side, has the country become the “coup capital” of the world?

Not yet three months old, 2013 is already shaping up as one of Australian politics’ more casualty-strewn years.

The wounded and slain include the chief minister of the Northern Territory, who suffered the humiliation of learning that he had been deposed as leader by telephone while on a trade mission to Japan.

Elected last year, in a victory that brought 11 years of Australian Labor Party (ALP) rule to an end, Terry Mills had spent just over six months in the job.

The Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, survived longer – just over two years – but decided earlier this month to resign as leader before being pushed as scandal engulfed his office.

Weeks earlier, the Liberal leader in South Australia, Isobel Redmond, who once famously volunteered to be tasered by police, also became the victim of a party room mutiny. At the state and territory level, three party leaders have gone in as many months.

Canberra, the nation’s capital, offers no refuge from the bloodletting. If anything, it is even more vicious.

Malcolm Turnbull, John Howard, Brendan Nelson and Tony Abbott
Four Liberal Party leaders (clockwise from top left): Malcolm Turnbull, John Howard, Brendan Nelson and Tony Abbott

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who only last year survived a leadership challenge, was today forced to face down another “spill” as these party room votes are popularly known.

In 2010, she herself was the beneficiary of a coup, knifing her one-time boss, Kevin Rudd, less than 1000 days into his first term in office.

Four years earlier, Ms Gillard had also played the decisive role in helping Rudd oust his predecessor, the gaffe-prone Kim Beazley. In the past decade alone, the ALP has had five different national leaders.

On the conservative side of politics, the Liberal Party has seen an even higher attrition rate.

It has had four different leaders in the past six years – its once-dominant prime minister, John Howard, the short-lived Brendan Nelson, the hugely ambitious Malcolm Turnbull and the present incumbent, Tony Abbott.

Whether in government or opposition, party leaders have about as much job security as managers of Chelsea.

Canberra, then, is in danger of becoming the coup capital of the democratic world. Arguably, it is already.

Oppostion leader Tony Abbott looks at Prime Minister Julia Gillard during House of Representatives question time
Party leaders face off – but the real danger often comes from their own benches

Perhaps its stiffest challenge comes from Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales. Here, the Labor Party has seen five different leaders over the past eight years. Between 2008-09, it had three different premiers.

Small wonder commentators refer to the “New South Wales” disease, even though it now seems like a nationwide contagion.

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Whether in government or opposition, party leaders have about as much job security as managers of Chelsea”

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For the watching world, this high political casualty rate must be somewhat perplexing. Australia, having weathered the last three global downturns, has enjoyed 22 consecutive years without recession. So why are its politicians, who have contributed to this national success story, nowhere near as resilient?

First of all, there is a ruthlessness that astounds even hardened political operatives from Westminster and Washington.

In its 113-year history, the British Labour party has never knifed a leader. The ALP is nowhere near as squeamish or sentimental.

At its most pitiless, it dumped the leader Bill Hayden on the eve of the 1983 election and installed in his place Bob Hawke, a freshman parliamentarian.

After eight years as prime minister, Hawke himself was “rolled,” to use another Australianism (that politics here has its own vocabulary of leadership challenges is in itself instructive).

Bob Hawke and his then foreign minister Gareth Evans in 1991
Bob Hawke (left): sacked after four consecutive election victories

A ministerial delegation tapped him on the shoulder and urged him to resign, with Gareth Evans, the then foreign affairs minister, delivering the now immortal line: “Pull out digger.”

In came Paul Keating, who had mounted a leadership challenge six months earlier, and then gone to the backbenches to plot another takeover bid.

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Australian MPs have as much to fear from their fellow party members as they do from the electorate”

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Charismatic and folksy, Hawke was Labor’s best-loved prime minister, but the romance ended heartlessly.

Hawke had led Labor to a record four consecutive victories, but Keating was seen as the best bet for keeping the party in power. The fact that he went on to do so in the 1993 election validated the idea that you had to be cruel to be re-elected.

The influence of factional powerbrokers, the so-called “faceless men,” also sets Australian politics apart. Whether from the “New South Wales right” or the “South Australian left,” the leaders of these factional groupings wield enormous power, not least because if MPs defy them they risk de-selection as parliamentary candidates.

In Australian constituencies, MPs often have as much to fear from their fellow party members as they do from the electorate.

On the eve of the 2010 leadership contest, for example, it became obvious that Kevin Rudd was about to be felled when Paul Howes, the leader of the Australian Workers’ Union, appeared in a late night interview on national television to announce his withdrawal of support.

Canberra: Deathly dull at 100?

Canberra seen from above

If Sydney is brash and bold, and Melbourne is cool and classy, then Canberra, at least in the Australian public imagination, is dull and devoid of soul.

“Canberra: it’s not that bad” is the caption on a well-known car licence plate in the capital city. Talk about damning with faint praise.


A small handful of key powerbrokers have the ability to overthrow a prime minister, which is why leadership challenges can be mounted so speedily and, in Rudd’s case, so stealthily. All it takes is for a few factional players to start pressing their speed dials.

A fixation with public opinion polling exacerbates the problem. Because of the attention lavished on them, Canberra makes a mockery of the political cliché that “there’s only one poll that counts”.

Indeed, weekly polls published by Fairfax newspapers (the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age) and The Australian have become major news events in their own right.

And in a country not exactly awash with breaking news, they regularly dominate not just the front pages but also the radio and television bulletins.

When Rudd suffered from a string of mediocre polls early in 2010 (although his numbers, compared to Julia Gillard’s, were actually not that bad) it led quickly to his downfall.

Rudd, who had once been considered a very promising leader, did not even get to contest another election.

The hothouse effect of Canberra, combined with the effect of Twitter’s 140 character news cycles, means politics is almost always close to the boil. With relatively few other distractions, palace gossip and backroom intrigue are the highest form of entertainment.

Spills, coups and leadership speculation have become so embedded in the political culture as to become the rule as much as the exception.

As I wrote this piece, numbers were being counted, factional players were being sounded out, and a leadership challenge was in the offing. But it turned out to be a contest without a challenger, and a spill without bloodshed, with Julia Gillard re-elected as leader of the Labor Party unopposed because Kevin Rudd did not have the numbers to oust her.

With the prime minister this morning delivering a moving apology to victims of the policy of forced separation, this should have been one of the more solemn and orderly days in the parliamentary calendar. An occasion that transcended politics. But Canberra’s coup culture helped transform it into one of confusion, comedy and commotion that many Australians would prefer to forget.