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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


China

  • A seafood market in Beijing closed—and the district it’s located in announced a “wartime emergency mode”—after 45 of the 517 vendors and customers swabbed tested positive for coronavirus. The entire district will be locked down for 24 hours, and then face strict curfews thereafter.

Libya

  • UNSMIL says the GNA has entered Sirte, triggering a third round of ceasefire talks with the LNA.

  • A good Economist article (pasted below) fills in some key updates on Libya: in particular, Khalifa Haftar may be losing his grip on the LNA to a “less belligerent politician” from the east, Aguila Saleh.

  • Algeria, which has thus far mostly stayed out of the conflict, offered to mediate between the LNA and GNA.

DRC

  • A new report by the UN Group of Experts on the Congo estimates that 1.1 tons of gold was smuggled out of Ituri province alone in 2019—compared with official production of ~60 kg from Ituri and North and South Kivu provinces that year. The group thinks around 95% of Ugandan gold exports in 2018 and 2019 did not actually come from Uganda…most of it likely came from DRC’s troubled eastern provinces, Ituri and the Kivus. A Reuters article pasted below has more.

Venezuela

  • Ocean Bay—a retired top Venezuelan racehorse—was stolen from a farm 82 miles (130 km) southwest of Caracas and butchered for meat, sparking outrage. Horse theft has become common in Venezuela: thieves often sell the meat as “beef” to unsuspecting buyers. Police haven’t detained any suspects in Ocean Bay’s case.

  • Pres. Maduro had a new National Electoral Council sworn in ahead of congressional elections later in the year. Pres. Guaido’s opposition promptly rejected it. (Guaido’s National Assembly was supposed to name the Council’s members, but Maduro’s stacked Supreme Court ruled that Guaido missed his chance and allowed Maduro to force his way.)

A warlord retreats: Libya’s government regains control of western Libya (Economist)

Taking the east will be harder

For over a year the un-backed Government of National Accord (gna) in Libya had been under siege by the forces of Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general. Then, all of sudden, it wasn’t. On June 3rd militias aligned with the gna pushed General Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (lna) out of Tripoli’s international airport. The next day they took back Tarhouna, a city 90km to the south-east (see map). By June 7th the oilfields in Sharara were back in the gna’s hands—and pumping for the first time since January. The militias are now fighting the lna in Sirte, the gateway to General Haftar’s heartland in the east. Fight “for the whole of the homeland”, says Fayez al-Serraj, the gna’s prime minister.

Mr Serraj, however, is not calling the shots. Drawn by Africa’s largest oil reserves and over 1,700km of Mediterranean coastline, foreign armies have piled into Libya. A surge of support from Turkey beginning in December saved Mr Serraj. It now determines how far the gna advances. Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (uae) have long backed the lna and are trying to shore up its hold on the east. After six years of civil war, the division of Libya into a Turkish zone of influence in the west and a Russian zone in the east—in other words, de facto partition—looks increasingly likely. “We’re heading towards a frozen conflict,” says a diplomat in Tripoli.

Russia and Turkey also back opposing sides in Syria, where they have learnt to co-ordinate their operations in order to avoid a big escalation. The risk is greater in Libya, at least for now. The Turks have frigates off the coast, warplanes and drones in the sky and mercenaries on the ground. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, wants the gna to punch into the oilfields that lie beyond Sirte and take the airbase in Jufra. He believes this would give Mr Serraj a financial boost and a strategic buffer against General Haftar and other eastern predators. But last month Russia moved 14 warplanes to Jufra. Hundreds of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private-security firm with connections to the Kremlin, support General Haftar. Egypt has moved a column of tanks to (and, some say, across) its western border. It and the uae see the war as a struggle against Islamism.

Libyans in the east are uneasy. “We’ve had enough of Turkish colonialism,” says Fawzia al-Furjani, a businesswoman in Benghazi, referring to centuries of Ottoman rule. But a growing number of people also question whether General Haftar, who in April hailed himself Libya’s military ruler, can be their saviour. His defeat in Tripoli, at the cost of hundreds of lives, has revived memories of the disastrous campaign he led against Chad in the 1980s.

Big eastern tribes are keeping their distance from him. Tribal elders in the south have declared for the gna. Talk of a challenge to General Haftar is rife. Even his foreign supporters seem to be growing tired of his boasting. At the launch of a peace initiative in Cairo on June 6th, General Haftar shared the stage with Aguila Saleh, a less belligerent politician from the east. Last month Mr Saleh declared himself commander-in-chief of the lna.

Despite the gna’s victories, the situation in the west is also unstable. Mr Serraj says he wants to “construct a civil, democratic and modern state”, but the militias who fight for him are divided by tribe, city and ideology. The threat of General Haftar (not support for the gna) was the glue that held them together. The jihadists among them want to push on to Benghazi, their home before General Haftar booted them out in 2017. The militias of Misrata, the strongest force in the west, want to dominate the region. Leaders from other cities, such as Zintan, would prefer to carve out their own fiefs from the land they have captured. Each has a separate line to Turkish commanders on the ground and foreign powers abroad. Mr Serraj may no longer be under siege, but his rule does not extend far beyond his glass office block in Tripoli. ■

Congo's Gold Being Smuggled Out by the Tonne, U.N. Report Finds (Reuters)

Gold production in Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be systematically underreported while tonnes of the precious metal is smuggled into global supply chains through its eastern neighbours, a United Nations report has found.

The countries along Congo's eastern border have long been conduits for gold worth billions of dollars mined using rudimentary means by so-called "artisanal" miners.

Difficult to trace, trade in the precious metal has fueled regional wars, funded rebel fighters and led to UN sanctions on traders involved in a bid to staunch the flow.

North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces reported official production of just over 60kg of artisanal gold in 2019, yet exported a total of just over 73kg, the UN Group of Experts on the Congo found in its annual report.

The group estimated that at least 1.1 tonnes of gold were smuggled out of Ituri province alone in 2019. That would have earned the government up to $1.88 million in taxes had it been legally exported.

Across all gold-producing provinces the loss is likely much greater. Artisanal miners in Congo produce 15 to 22 tonnes of gold a year, Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources has estimated.

"The country remained one of the Great Lakes region's largest artisanal gold producers, and yet one of its smallest official exporters," the Group of Experts wrote.

Asked by Reuters about the report, Congo's mines minister, Willy Kitobo Samsoni, said he could not immediately share his figures on mineral smuggling from the east of the country.

The UN experts also found that Uganda and other neighbouring countries export far more gold than they produce, suggesting they might still be staging posts for smuggled Congolese gold.

More than 95% of gold exports from Uganda in 2019, which totaled just over 25 tonnes, were not of Ugandan origin, the group estimated, based on 2018 production and 2019 export data.

Uganda's gold exports more than doubled in 2019 compared with the previous year, central bank data showed in March.

Uganda's energy minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Smugglers told the Group of Experts that Kampala was a main trading hub for gold from Ituri. Smuggled gold from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates, and Tanzania, the report added.

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