Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for March, 2012

Newsline: Foreign Office talks about British man’s mysterious death in China

What’s been remarkably noticeable about the death of Neil Heywood is that no one wants to talk on camera about the circumstances of his death. The UK Embassy is now referring questions about the circumstances surrounding his death to the London press office at the Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO). The FCO is now not denying that the police chief in Chongqing, Wang Lijun, tried to have a meeting with diplomats at the UK Consulate back in early February. Government sources say he didn’t come to the Consulate. We do know he then pops up at the US Consulate in Chengdu, some 200 miles away. The suggestion is that Wang raised suspicions or concerns about the death of Neil Heywood. As police chief of the city where the British man died he would have had access to important details about the case. It’s some time after Wang seeks asylum at the US Consulate, it’s believed, when the UK Embassy asks the Chinese to investigate Neil Heywood’s death. Any investigation is going to be complicated by the fact that Mr Heywood’s body was cremated soon after his death and no post mortem was carried out.


Newsline: US official to discuss embassy security in Baku

US Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Safety Erick Boswell is to pay a visit to Azerbaijan next week. Boswell overseas programs for provision of security of American state officials and facilities abroad to ensure their protection from terror and other attacks and of the confidential information of these facilities. During the upcoming Baku talks, the parties will speak about the recent neutralization by Azerbaijani security bodies of a group of persons accused of preparation of terror attacks against US and Israeli citizens in Azerbaijan at the order of Iranian security bodies.


Newsline: Free WiFi for Philippine embassy clients in Kuala Lumpur

Filipino consular applicants at the Philippine embassy in Malaysia may avail of free Internet access via Wi-Fi, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. The DFA said the Wi-Fi facilities were opened to the public, as part of the Embassy’s efforts to improve services to the public. “We recognize that the time of our consular clients and other guests is highly valuable. Even while we work to shorten our processing time, we would like them to be able to continually communicate electronically with others,” Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Jose Eduardo Malaya said. He said applicants may now use their mobile computers and smartphones while waiting to be served. The DFA said the free Wi-Fi service was a big hit among the community members. Last December, the Embassy launched its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/PhlembassyKL. On the other hand, the DFA said the Philippine Embassy is one of the few Philippine embassies around the world that provides free Wi Fi services to its consular clients.


Newsline: Bolivia seizes weapons from US Embassy vehicle

Bolivia’s interior minister says his government has seized three shotguns, a revolver and more than 2,300 rounds of ammunition from a vehicle owned by the U.S. Embassy. The minister claims the weapons were being transported without authorization. But the U.S. Embassy says the weapons confiscated Tuesday were being transferred under an agreement with Bolivia’s police. It said in a statement that Washington routinely contracts and arms local police in foreign countries to protect its diplomats. Interior Minister Carlos Romero told reporters that the vehicle’s driver and a police officer accompanying him were detained pending investigation.


Newsline: Cambodian seeks ‘clarification’ from Australian Embassy

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Hun To said yesterday that he has filed a complaint with the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh against Australian newspaper The Age after it named him in connection with a drug-trafficking and money-laundering racket. The complaint to the embassy follows a similar complaint filed by Hun To’s lawyers with the Ministry of Interior. “This complaint is to ask the paper for clarification and to show the proof to me. If they don’t, I will seek a lawyer and file a lawsuit,” Hun To said. On Monday, the Australian daily reported that Hun To had been targeted by Australian police investigating a massive heroin drug-trafficking scheme between Cambodia and Australia in the early 2000s, funnelling the funds through a Melbourne casino. Hun To, whose wife and children reside in Melbourne, vehemently denied the accusations made in The Age. Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak, who met with Hun To’s lawyers the day the article was published, said he had checked the information in the story and it “wasn’t true”, and denied Hun To’s name had ever been connected with drug trafficking. A spokesman for The Age said yesterday that the newspaper stands by the veracity of its story. The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh refused to comment on the issue and would not confirm or deny receipt of Hun To’s complaint, stating that they do not comment on current legal investigations.


Newsline: NZ embassy repair man paid $154,000

Lucrative allowances are nearly doubling the pay of some overseas-based foreign affairs staffers – including a maintenance worker making as much as $154,000 a year. It is not uncommon for overseas Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff members to collect $100,000-plus a year in allowances, and even workers on roughly the average wage are collecting six-figure sums. Once extra costs such as rental accommodation and school fees are taken into account, a person earning $51,874 in salary – such as a maintenance worker at the New Zealand embassy in Moscow – can collect about an extra $100,000 once direct employee benefits including allowances, phones and internet are included. Rent is not included in that figure. MFAT refused to comment on the figures but confirmed it was taking “appropriate” steps over the leak of information. This month, ministry chief executive John Allen announced radical plans to scale back the allowance system and introduce a merit-based appointment system after being told to find $40 million in savings. He also suggested that overseas staff might have to pay a “nominal” contribution to rent. But Mr Allen’s plans have sparked a furious response from diplomats, and a threatened exodus of senior diplomatic staff has pitted him against the Government, which has warned that his plans are too “harsh”. Some workers could apparently lose $60,000 a year as a result of the cuts. Among the 144-overseas based staff allowances can reach as high as $211,000 a year, not including rent. Some workers earning under $100,000 a year can push their packages to well over $200,000 once allowances are included.


Newsline: Gunmen attack American Embassy in Abuja

The United States of America Embassy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, came under attack by unknown gunmen. Details of the attack were sketchy, but it was learnt that the gunmen were over-powered by superior fire of a combined team of security men on guard at the embassy located along the Diplomatic Drive, Central Business District. According to reports, several shots were heard within the vicinity of the embassy in the afternoon, when the Ambassador was having a meeting with staff of the embassy. The internal security had to set off the alarm and got everyone to take cover. It was gathered that as the shooting was going on everyone within the embassy ran for dear life before the situation was brought under control. Two suspected assailants were apprehended and taken into custody at the end of the incident. The embassy has been under heavy security watch since the attack on the United Nations Building in Abuja, last year. It has been heavily barricaded, while fierce-looking security men keep watch around its vicinity. A terse statement by the US authorities confirming the incident said, “we believe there were shots fired in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy. The Nigerian authorities have two individuals in custody. We refer you to the Nigerian police for further information.”


Newsline: Zimbabwe’s Russian Embassy Not Paying Rent, Faces Eviction

A Zimbabwean man has asked the High Court to evict the Russian embassy from his premises, which he is leasing to the foreign mission after failing to pay rentals. In a summons in the high court recently, James Brennan accused the Russian embassy of failing to pay rentals at a residential property he has been leasing to the embassy since April last year. Brennan claims that the embassy has defaulted on rental payments for three consecutive months and had refused to leave the Chisipite property in contravention of a lease agreement signed between the two parties. The Russian embassy was supposed to vacate Brenna’s residential property in December after the expiration of the lease agreement but had refused to do so and continued to occupy the place without paying rentals. Brenna said the embassy’s illegal actions had cost him $10 800 and $8 100 for the three months from January. President Robert Mugabe’s administration considers Russia as long time ally which supported the liberation war in the 70’s. Recently, the Zimbabwean government unsuccessfully attempted to shield the Zambian embassy from settling its mobile telecommunications bill with Econet after informing the telecoms operator’s lawyers that the embassy enjoys diplomatic immunity that saves its assts from being seized and auctioned to recover debt.


Newsline: SA embassy in Mali to reopen

The International Relations Department said it planned to reopen its embassy in Mali, as soon as the security situation has stabilised. The West African country’s borders were closed and airports shut down on Wednesday, after President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted by the military in a coup. Embassy officials and other stranded South Africans were advised to stay indoors on Monday because the situation was still volatile. The department’s Clayson Monyela said it was unclear when communications will be restored. “As soon as the security situation improves we will reopen the embassy. At the moment the embassy is closed and all our officials are accounted for.”


Newsline: Turkey shuts embassy in Damascus

Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus on Monday because of deteriorating security conditions in Syria, a Turkish diplomatic source said. “Activities at the Turkish embassy have been suspended from this morning,” the source said on condition of anonymity, adding that all diplomatic personnel have left the Syrian capital. Turkey has called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and imposed a number of sanctions on Damascus, while emerging as the main haven for Syrian opposition groups rebel fighters. It is due to host a “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul on April 1 to pressure the Damascus regime following a first such meeting in Tunis last month attended by leading officials from Western and Arab countries. Despite the closure of the embassy, Turkey’s consulate in the northern city of Aleppo will remain open, the diplomatic source said. A number of countries have already closed their embassies in Damascus, including the United States, some EU members and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf.



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