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African leaders discuss rapid-deployment emergency force
by Staff Writers
Pretoria (AFP) Nov 05, 2013

Zambia ex-president pleads not guilty to graft
Lusaka (AFP) Nov 05, 2013 - Zambia's embattled ex-president Rupiah Banda pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of illicitly receiving election campaign vehicles from a Chinese-linked construction firm.

Banda, who ruled Zambia between 2008 and 2011, is accused of receiving 10 trucks from the local subsidiaries of China's Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group.

"I understand the charge your honour and I plead not guilty," Banda said after the magistrate read the charge.

The 76-year-old also pleaded not guilty to a second charge of concealing the fact he received the trucks by registering them under the names of family members and a supporter.

It is alleged that the former leader used the vehicles, including Mitsubishi Canters and Fuso Fighters, in his 2011 re-election campaign, which he lost to current president Michael Sata.

Since Sata came to power he has rolled out an anti-corruption drive that has seen senior politicians and diplomats hauled before courts.

But critics accuse him of using the campaign as an excuse to clamp down on critics, including launching a slew of charges against Banda.

The former president has been accused of personally benefiting from a $2.5 million oil deal and has been blocked from leaving the country three times since April.

The trial was set for 26 November and Banda was released on police bond.

African leaders opened talks on Tuesday in South Africa to discuss the formation of a rapid-deployment emergency force to swiftly intervene in crises on the continent.

The idea of the new force is to bridge the gap pending the coming into operation of the long planned fully-fledged peacekeeping African Union's African Standby Force.

The aim of the summit being attended by a handful of leaders -- including those of Chad, Tanzania and Uganda is "to enable Africa to act swiftly and independently in response to the urgent security challenges this continent faces", said host South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.

"This decision came about due to the realisation that independent and swift African responses to crises that arise on our continent could not wait while the building blocks of the African Standby Force are carefully being put in place," he said.

The AU's standby brigade has made little headway since preparations for a proposed force of 32,500 troops and civilians drawn from the continent's five regions started a decade ago.

"We believe that the time has come that African leaders must be able to act in the interim - swiftly, decisively and when needed," said Zuma.

The AU was criticised for not responding fast enough to the crisis in Mali after the military seized power in a coup in March 2012.

"We need to ensure that we are not helpless or slow to respond without the help of external partners," said Zuma.

"Africa can, and has the capacity and the means to act swiftly and decisively," he added. "All what we need is to better organise ourselves."

He expressed the hope that by end of this year there will be "a mechanism that can breathe life into our aspirations for African ownership and leadership in immediately and urgently responding to security challenges faced by this great continent".

The meeting is being attended by countries that have said they are willing to contribute to the force. It was not immediately clear how many countries have so far pledged troops to the new force.

The new force will go by the name the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC).


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