- Created on 21 November 2013
AP Photo/Stuart Price
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Central African Republic's government said Thursday that Joseph Kony, an accused war criminal hunted by African troops and U.S. advisers, is believed to be in the country's remote southeast and has been talking with the president. U.S. officials and others expressed doubt the reported talks represent a breakthrough in efforts to bring him to justice.
Kony, who has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity, has evaded capture for decades and was the subject of viral video seen by more than 100 million people last year produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children. His fighters with the Lord's Resistance Army are known for hacking off the lips and ears of their victims, and turning young girls into sex slaves.
Reports over the years have claimed that the brutal jungle gangster was hiding in Sudan's Darfur region or in a remote corner of volatile Central African Republic, where LRA fighters have killed at least 33 people since January and abducted more than 100 others.
Central African Republic government spokesman Gaston Mackouzangba said Thursday that Kony is now believed to be in the town of Nzako. None of the groups searching for Kony reported any indication that Kony was really there.
"The president said he had spoken by telephone with Joseph Kony who wants to lay down his arms," Mackouzangba told The Associated Press. "The negotiations are ongoing."
The government also said it had sent medicine to Kony at his request. The African Union envoy in charge of pursuing the LRA said Wednesday that many reports indicate Kony is seriously ill.
The State Department said Thursday that U.S. authorities are aware that CAR officials have been in contact "for several months" with a small LRA group "that has expressed interest in surrendering." The U.S. said it's clear the LRA is facing significant pressure from African military forces hunting for LRA fighters and Kony.
"At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," the State Department said, adding that Kony and his senior commanders have used "any and every pretext to rest, regroup, and rearm, ultimately returning to kidnapping, killing, displacing and otherwise abusing civilian populations."
The Resolve, a U.S. aid group that carries out anti-LRA work, said the report of talks with Kony is based on a series of engagements between an LRA group near Nzako and local authorities. A few mid-level LRA leaders say they are interested in settling peacefully in the area, said spokesman Michael Poffenberger.
"They have referred to involvement from 'the big boss' but there has been no evidence of actual involvement from Kony in this process. On the contrary, there is some indication that the group may be acting independent of his direction," said Poffenberger, whose group helps run the LRA Crisis Tracker, a website that charts LRA attacks.
The spokesman for Uganda's military also said Thursday that he's pessimistic that the reported contact with Kony or his fighters will bear fruit. Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Uganda supports in principle any initiative by Central African Republic to engage in talks with Kony, but he noted that it's the third time there have been reports of such efforts.
Uganda has about 2,500 troops working to find Kony in CAR and the surrounding region, Ankunda said. The U.S. also has about 100 special forces stationed across central Africa who are helping advise in the hunt for Kony. The LRA leader was the subject of viral video seen by more than 100 million people last year produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children.
Uganda's military is the principal player in the multi-country hunt for Kony, who kidnaps men, women and children, forcing some to become fighters and others to become sex slaves. The LRA, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a popular tribal uprising against the government, has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions.
The U.S. military's Africa Command says the LRA has "murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children" and that more than 380,000 people across three African countries have been displaced while fleeing the violence. The State Department is offering a $5 million reward - up to $15 million total - for help in the arrest of Kony and two of his lieutenants.
Kony and two top commanders are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The State Department said that nearly 100 men, women and children have successfully left the LRA since 2012. U.S. military advisers work with the African Union Regional Task Force and local communities to encourage and facilitate defections from the LRA.
"We will continue to welcome those who are serious about putting down their arms and surrendering," the State Department said.
- Created on 18 November 2013
In this Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008 file photo former president Nelson Mandela, left, and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, during the unveiling of a statue of Mandela at the Drakenstein Prison near Franschhoek, South Africa. (AP Photo / Schalk van Zuydam-File)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Most of Nelson Mandela's handwriting is neat, but it harbors a few mysteries. Archivists sometimes struggle to decipher words in the vast body of documents that Mandela penned, and he often jotted an acronym that nobody, not even the former South African president in later years, has been able to explain.
Now, some of the words that Mandela wrote, which help define the man who led the fight against white rule and became president after apartheid, are on display at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which on Monday unveiled a public facility.
Mandela, now 95 and critically ill, wrote prolifically during his storied career.
In jail, Mandela's associates wrote some things in tiny script, reducing the amount of paper used so that it could be smuggled out of prison more easily. In his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," Mandela notes his copy of the book manuscript was confiscated by authorities, but applauds fellow prisoners with "unique calligraphic skills" who helped get the original manuscript out of prison.
Mandela was a lawyer early in his career, and some letters to family from prison balance sadness with hope and optimism, with carefully chosen words.
"He doesn't shoot from the hip," said Razia Saleh, a senior archivist at the foundation.
Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, was released in 1990 after 27 years in apartheid prisons, and many of the notes he wrote since then include the initials KLM. Nobody at the foundation can figure out its meaning.
"Madiba hasn't been able to tell us what it means," Saleh said. "So that's a mystery. Maybe somebody can solve it at some point."
The former president's orderly handwriting stems from his education in Christian mission schools, though it's sometimes hard for archivists to make out letters such as "s" and "h" in Mandela missives.
"We've transcribed his desk calendars, and sometimes we battle to make out words," Saleh said.
The display at the non-profit Nelson Mandela Foundation is open by appointment and includes a small piece of stone from the hut where Mandela was born in the rural village of Mvezo in Eastern Cape province. The hut was demolished a few years ago to make way for new construction.
"There isn't much that survived from his early childhood. There's no photograph. We don't have a birth certificate," said Saleh. The stone, she added, is "one of the few things that's tangible, that links us to Madiba's early life."
The opening of the public facility coincides with the 20th anniversary of the approval of an interim constitution and an electoral bill that set the stage for South Africa's first all-race elections in 1994.
Mandela now stays in a big house in a Johannesburg neighborhood near the center named after him, attended by doctors. President Jacob Zuma visited him on Monday, and the president's office said Mandela remains in stable but critical condition.
The Sunday Independent, a South African newspaper, quoted Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as saying he is unable to speak because of tubes that keep his lungs clear of fluid. Mandela has been in intensive medical care at his home since Sept. 1, when he was discharged after nearly three months in a hospital for a recurring lung infection.
- Created on 15 November 2013
Toronto (CNN) -- Toronto's City Council voted Friday to strip embattled Mayor Rob Ford of his ability to govern in an emergency and to appoint and dismiss committee chairs -- unprecedented moves aimed at reining in the controversial politician.
Despite admitting last week that he had smoked crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor" about a year ago, Ford has defiantly said he will not leave his job and vowed Friday to challenge the actions in court.
"Obviously, I can't support this," Ford said told council members, warning that the legal fight will cost taxpayers "an arm and a leg."
But, he added: "I perfectly understand where they're coming from. ... I would have supported what they're doing. I want to move on. I'm not mad at anybody."
The City Council meeting reflected the tragicomedic state of municipal affairs in Toronto, where police have investigated the mayor for smoking crack cocaine and other indiscretions. Some council members compared the move to strip Ford of his duties to a coup d'etat.
Councilor John Filion said the actions were being taken "reluctantly" but they "sadly are both warranted and necessary."
The mayor's brother, Councilor Doug Ford, chastised fellow council members, saying they didn't have the "moral or legal authority" to strip an elected official of his responsibilities.
- Created on 15 November 2013
Tombstones in the Westpark cemetary in Johannesburg Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Johannesburg's city parks say it will allow microchips to be placed into tombstones in public cemeteries, where nearly 20 marble tombstones are stolen monthly, to curb the theft of marble and granite. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Amid a rash of tombstone thefts from cemeteries in Johannesburg, a company will be offering relatives of the deceased a high-tech solution: microchips that can be inserted into the memorial that will sound an alarm and send a text message to their cell phones if it is disturbed.
The city already allows microchips to be placed inside graves to help families locate their loved one's final resting places in the vast grassy spaces. Now, with thefts often carried out at night and the recycled marble or granite tombstones winding up in the hands of crooked stonemasons, authorities are taking technology a step further to foil those who take "graveyard shift" a little too literally.
The new tombstone microchips developed by a private company will be offered at the beginning of next year as part of the city's "smart" initiatives, said Alan Buff, the manager of Johannesburg City Parks Cemeteries and Crematoriums.
Nearly 20 marble tombstones are stolen monthly from the city's 36 public cemeteries, despite security guards and perimeter sensors. Buff said the city has allowed two pilot projects at its Avalon and Westpark cemeteries, and will roll out the technology further if it stems the thefts of the valuable items.
"This is peace of mind for the family," said Buff. "Tombstones are the property of the owner which is the family member, and you'll find you cannot insure a tombstone or it's too expensive for many. By doing this, it is insured."
The microchip system is called Memorial Alert, said Mark Pringle, the director of the private company that established the technology.
"We place a transmitter unit into the tombstone, so that it is not visible or accessible. Any unauthorized tampering activates a number of alarms," he said. First, a loud alarm goes off at the cemetery.
"This in itself should be a fair warning to the perpetrators," he said. Then text messages are sent to the mobile phones of delegated family members and any integrated security companies.
The technology has a provision to put a tracking device in it, but Pringle said the company is not including that in the first wave of installations because it decreases the battery life and would make it too expensive for many families. Considering that moving the heavy headstone will trigger alarms, Pringle said that should be enough to dissuade thieves from trying to lug it away and he is confident that tracking devices won't be needed.
Memorial Alert has a patent granted in South Africa, where it will officially launch in January, and also a British patent, Pringle said, adding that he hopes the technology will expand beyond South Africa since tombstone thefts are a worldwide issue.
A price for the chips and related fees have not yet been set.