Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: U.S. Embassy in Uganda tells citizens to seek shelter

Ugandan authorities have uncovered a “terrorist cell” run by the Somali militant Islamist group al Shabaab, which they believe was planning an imminent attack, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda said on Saturday. “At this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport,” the embassy said in a statement on its website. Uganda, as one of the countries that contribute forces to an African Union peacekeeping mission battling al Shabaab in Somalia, has suffered militant attacks in recent years, and al Shabaab has threatened more. The U.S. Embassy, shortly before issuing its announcement, told its citizens, in a message posted on Twitter, to stay at home or proceed to a safe location while Ugandan authorities completed operations against a suspected cell in Kampala.


Newsline: Egyptian embassy tries to prevent auction of 2300-year-old coffin in UK

An ancient Egyptian coffin lid being sold at auction in Cambridgeshire should be withdrawn from sale and repatriated to Egypt, embassy officials in London have said. They are furious at the refusal of Willingham Auctions to withdraw the partial sarcophagus, which dates back thousands of years. It was discovered by auctioneer Stephen Drake during a clearance of a house in Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, last month. The property was the home of the big game hunter and journalist Captain “Tiger” Sarll, who is thought to have found the coffin lid in Africa and had it shipped back to Britain. He died in 1977, and his widow continued to live there until her death in 2005. The two-metre artifact is an ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic coffin top made for “Hor, son of Wenennefer” and dating back to around 330 years BC, according to an initial assessment by Egyptologists at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. An Egyptian embassy official told The Independent that sellers or owners of Egyptian antiquities “should have proper provenance and an export licence”. The Ministry of Antiquity in Cairo has instructed them to try to prevent the sale from going ahead, they added. “We tried to encourage the auction house to convince the family that we are keen to repatriate it to its country of origin. We wanted them to give it up voluntarily but unfortunately they refused.” Earlier this week, the Egyptian Embassy, London, reported the proposed sale to Scotland Yard, but it is understood that the police are powerless to act since it is a civil matter, not a criminal one. Auctioneer Stephen Drake was unrepentant: “Legally we are allowed to sell it; the vendor wants us to sell it for them, we are acting on their behalf.” He added: “While being sympathetic to the Egyptian embassy, it’s not our decision to put it into sale. The Egyptian government are welcome to bid for it.” But the Egyptian Embassy official ruled out such a move, as that would simply be “encouraging more people to loot items and put them on sale”.


Newsline: Austrian court unfreezes ex-U.S. diplomat’s family assets

An Austrian court has unblocked assets owned by the wife of former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, ruling that Vienna prosecutors overstepped their authority by having her bank accounts frozen, the couple and their lawyers said. Khalilzad – U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations under President George W. Bush – and his wife, author Cheryl Benard, had fought the seizure, which came to light after Profil magazine reported U.S. authorities were investigating him for suspected money laundering. Their lawyers have stressed that no charges have been filed against either of the pair. A court spokesman confirmed the Sept. 3 ruling. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined comment.


Newsline: Kuwait denies embassy staff attacked Turkish pilot

Kuwait has denied claims that embassy staff beat a Turkish air force pilot in a road rage incident in Ankara. The country’s ambassador to Turkey, Abdullah Al-Duwaikh, denied allegations that Major Hakan Karakus was attacked in front of his wife and baby. The pilot, who had recently returned to Ankara from a NATO exercise, claimed he was taking his six-day-old infant to hospital to be vaccinated on Thursday when he was nearly involved in an accident with a Kuwaiti diplomat’s car in an upmarket district of the capital. Four men got out of the Kuwaiti car and allegedly attacked him. It is said that passersby had to intervene to prevent the officer, who was treated in hospital for his injuries, being more seriously hurt. “It is opposite of what you heard,” said Al-Duwaikh. “There were not four guys in the car, there were just our diplomat and his driver.” Al-Duwaikh claimed the diplomat was going to the bank when Major Karakus blocked his car’s path. “The bank’s security camera, security personnel and workers there are witnesses,” the ambassador said. “He kicked the diplomat’s car, there are pictures, so security told our diplomat not to leave the bank.” Al-Duwaikh also said the accused diplomat did not touch Major Karakus, accusing the flyer of involvement in blackmail. Turkish media reported that the pilot had filed a criminal complaint.


Newsline: US Embassy to Reopen in Central African Republic

The United States is reopening its embassy in the Central African Republic after a nearly two-year diplomatic absence. In a letter to Congress on Thursday, President Barack Obama said 20 U.S. troops arrived a day earlier to secure the embassy in Bangui. Obama did not give a firm date for the arrival of new diplomatic staff. However, the soldiers are seen as the first step toward reestablishing the mission, which closed in late 2012 amid rebel threats to overthrow the government. The decision comes as the United Nations begins a new peacekeeping mission in the country, where the government struggles to function amid widespread violence following a March 2013 coup.


Newsline: Canadian embassy’s social media ‘fans’ in China mostly zombies

It has the air of a startling Canadian diplomatic success in the Middle Kingdom, where the size of a social-media following is a mark of influence and, indeed, prestige. It is social currency and in China, Canada seems to have an account stuffed full. The problem: A good deal of it seems to be counterfeit, as online companies compete for users amid strengthening censorship. In fact, Canadian officials and other Weibo users suspect Sina, the company running Weibo, is responsible for running a factory for fake followers. The Canadian government says it hasn’t paid for the fakes and doesn’t know who has. But there are a lot of them. An analysis of the embassy’s website, using publicly available Chinese software, estimates that just 12.9 per cent of its 1.1 million followers are real. That number is likely low. But it’s clear that many are, like Hongmingzi520 and User512237168, almost certainly fake – or, in the preferred appellation of Chinese Internet experts: zombies. Zombie accounts aren’t unique to the Canadian embassy, nor even to China. On Twitter, according to a testing tool run by Socialbakers, 66 per cent of the accounts following Barack Obama are empty or suspicious. For Stephen Harper, it’s 42 per cent. But Canada occupies a unique position in Beijing’s diplomatic corps. The online tool shows that 45.8 per cent of the U.S. embassy’s close to 900,000 followers are real; as are 39.9 per cent of the U.K.’s 365,000 followers and 51.2 per cent of Japan’s 289,000 followers. Weibo followers are commonly bought and sold in China, where companies openly advertise their services.


Newsline: Columbian imposter poses as Lebanese diplomat

A Colombian man is being investigated for posing as a Lebanese diplomat after giving lectures on the Middle East and advising the Colombian military under a false identity, local media reported. Jeyson Puello, a resident of the northeast city of Valledupar, was using diplomatic papers with a UN seal to pass himself off as Jason Ali Hakim Abdullaziz Al Nayb, supposedly a high-ranking diplomat and former Lebanese foreign minister, news reports said. Despite his perfect Spanish and ordinary clothing, Puello managed to get into official meetings and establish a network of army contacts under the assumed identity. But a curious colonel who noticed the “diplomat” always arrived at meetings on foot contacted the Lebanese embassy in Bogota. “There’s no person by that name,” he was told in a letter printed in newsweekly Semana. The letter called on Colombian authorities to investigate and try the “imposter.” Police caught Puello by sending a fake invitation to “the honourable ambassador.” He was briefly detained but has been released pending further investigation. Puello had two diplomatic accreditations, one from the Colombian foreign ministry and another identifying him as the Lebanese ambassador, said daily newspaper El Tiempo. The Colombian foreign ministry declined to comment. The incident comes 50 years after a seminarian in Neiva, in central Colombia, passed himself off as India’s ambassador, living a lavish life until the ruse was discovered. The episode inspired the 1987 film “El Embajador de la India” (The Indian Ambassador).



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