- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010


Ailing president returns home

LAGOS | Nigeria’s ailing president returned home Wednesday after a long stay in a Saudi hospital, an adviser said, though the leader apparently was whisked away by an ambulance in the night and left his vice president in control of the oil-rich nation.

Nigerians saw only the familiar, official portrait of President Umaru Yar’Adua as a man’s voice read a statement on the government television channel. The vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, was expected to meet with Mr. Yar’Adua’s wife — not him — sparking new worries about whether the president will ever resume power or just came home to die.

Shaky television footage showed an ambulance leaving the presidential wing of the capital airport early Wednesday but offered no images of the 58-year-old Mr. Yar’Adua, who has not been seen in public since leaving Nigeria on Nov. 23 to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

His long absence had raised concerns about who was in charge of the fragile West African country and had prompted lawmakers to put the vice president into power just two weeks ago.

The nation of 150 million people also has not heard Mr. Yar’Adua’s voice since a brief British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview he gave in January.


57 rebels freed after peace pact

KHARTOUM | Sudan on Wednesday began releasing 57 men held over an attack on the capital by Darfur’s largest insurgent force, part of a preliminary peace deal signed with the group.

The move is the first concrete step in a rapprochement between the government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) group since a deal that promised government posts to the rebels was ratified in Qatar Tuesday.

Scores of people gathered outside Kober prison in Khartoum North, while inside the prison Sudan’s justice minister, Abdel Basit Sabderat, told reporters that 57 men would be released, increasing an earlier government promise to release 30 of those detained.

At least 100 men were imprisoned for participating in the JEM attack on Khartoum in 2008. Mr. Sabderat said those to be released included 50 who were on death row.

Meanwhile President Omar Bashir, speaking in El-Fasher, capital of Northern Narfur state, on Wednesday declared that “The war in Darfur is over.”


Freed French hostage arrives in capital

BAMAKO | French hostage Pierre Camatte arrived in the Mali capital Wednesday, the day after his release by al Qaeda in exchange for four Islamist prisoners held by Bamako.

Mr. Camatte, dressed in white robes and a turban, arrived Wednesday morning on a specially chartered plane. He was freed Tuesday after the four militants arrived in northern Mali, where Mr. Camatte spent three months in captivity.

Malian negotiators say they will now concentrate on the three Spanish and two Italian hostages brought to the same desert region after being kidnapped in neighboring Mauritania within days of each other in late November.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy phoned his Malian counterpart to thank him and “assured him of France’s backing to fight terrorism,” and a French source in Bamako suggested he may make a stopover in Mali to fetch Mr. Camatte himself.

Mr. Sarkozy, on a tour of Francophone Africa, is in Gabon Wednesday and heads to Rwanda Thursday.

France denied that it had paid a ransom for Mr. Camatte, who was kidnapped on Nov. 26 from a hotel by Malians who passed him on to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist movement.

The release of the prisoners — two Algerians, a Mauritanian and a Burkinabe — outraged Algiers and Mauritania, which had planned to try them on terror charges and recalled their ambassadors from Mali in protest.


U.S. Marines to train army

KINSHASA | U.S. Marines have begun training Congolese troops in volatile Eastern Congo, U.S. military officials said.

Col. Thomas Crowder said 30 Marines from the U.S. Africa Command are training a battalion of Congolese soldiers in the city of Kisangani. Col. Crowder said Monday the eight-month program for the battalion, which can consist of about 1,000 soldiers, will cover military basics but also will focus on human rights training. Human rights groups have previously accused Congo’s poorly trained and irregularly paid army forces of attacking civilians.

The U.S. Africa Command, or Africom, is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and was formally activated in 2008. Before then, U.S. military programs in Africa were split among three other commands.


Agency approves electricity rate hikes

JOHANNESBURG | South African regulators have approved electricity rate increases of 25 percent for each of the next three years.

The National Energy Regulator said Tuesday the increases will start April 1. The hefty increases are raising concerns about the impact on business and homeowners. But they are less than the 35 percent annual increases electricity company Eskom requested.

Eskom blamed widespread power cuts in 2008 on years of under-investment and rising demand. Gold and platinum production — the backbone of the national economy — were interrupted because of lack of power.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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