PRETORIA - South Africa has told a United Nations (UN) Security Council committee that it has intercepted a North Korean weapons shipment bound for Central Africa, which diplomats say is a violation of a UN ban on arms sales by Pyongyang. The seizure took place in November, when South African authorities received information that a ship headed for the Congo Republic was carrying containers with suspicious cargo, according to a letter sent by South Africa to the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee. Several Western diplomats describe the incident as a "clear-cut violation" of Security Council Resolution 1874, which bans all North Korean arms exports and most weapons-related imports in response to its nuclear programme. The letter, parts of which were seen by Reuters, says that a North Korean company was the shipping agent and the cargo was first loaded onto a ship in China and then transferred to a vessel owned by French shipping firm CMA CGM in Malaysia. Diplomats say that the French company alerted authorities to the fact that it had suspicious cargo on board. The South Africans intercepted the vessel and seized the containers, which held tank parts.
Africa & the world
GENEVA - Gloom and frustration pervade the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the prospects of completing a new global commerce pact this year recede. The WTO's 153 members had agreed to take stock at the end of March on whether the eight-year-old Doha Round could be concluded this year, as called for by political leaders. But WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has told the general council that there are too many gaps and uncertainties in the negotiations to bring in Ministers at this point. Lamy says that the decision on whether the Doha talks can be completed this year is a political one to be taken by Ministers. "Given where we are right now, it is also clear, however, that the end of March is too early for that," he says. The decision prompted an outpouring of gloom by delegates, even as they pointed to advances in some technical aspects of the multifaceted negotiations. Egypt says that the talks have made no tangible progress since an abortive meeting of Ministers in July 2008, and are now stuck in an abyss between rhetoric and reality. India's WTO ambassador, Ujal Singh Bhatia, says the prospects of reaching a deal in 2010 are now in question. Mexico's ambassador, Fernando de Mateo y Venturini, speaking in English, says he learnt a new word last week - "despondent" -though "angst" may be more appropriate. Gaps between countries are now wider than in July 2008, he says.
LAGOS - Nigeria's acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, says that he is committed to overhauling Africa's biggest oil and gas industry so that it better serves the country's national interests. Lawmakers have been working for years to finalise the far-reaching Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which will rewrite Nigeria's decades-old relationship with partners including Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Investors and analysts have been concerned that the legislation, which has been on the drawing board in one form or another for more than a decade, could be further delayed by the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia with a heart condition for three months. But Jonathan, who assumed full executive powers last month, says that ensuring the bill is passed quickly is one of his top priorities. Yar' Adua returned to Nigeria last week but is still recuperating.
HARARE - The multicurrency system adopted by the Zimbabwe government early last year will remain in place until at least 2012, the Herald reports. It cites Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister Elton Mangoma. "The multicurrency will be in place for the next two years," Mangoma says. "Zimbabwe is the only country in the world that does not have foreign exchange risk," he adds. After 2012, the government will decide whether to revert to the local unit or to adopt a regional currency, he says. The Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned in late 2008 at the height of macroeconomic instability and hyperinflation.