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AFRICA NEWS
French kill jihadist commander in Mali
by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) March 14, 2014


Morocco adopts law to end military trial of civilians
Rabat (AFP) March 14, 2014 - Morocco's government approved a law Friday ending the trial of civilians in military courts, a practice heavily criticised by human rights groups.

"Civilians, regardless of who they are or the nature of the offence they committed in times of peace, can in no circumstances be referred to military courts or tried by them," states the draft law, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

It was endorsed on Friday at a cabinet meeting chaired by King Mohammed VI, and must now be voted on in parliament before becoming law.

Its approval follows calls by international rights groups to end the practice of trying civilians in military courts, which the king pledged to do when he visited the White House in November, a commitment welcomed by US President Barack Obama.

Morocco's official National Human Rights Council (CNDH) hailed the new law, which it recommended in March last year, as "a major step towards strengthening the rule of law, reforming the judiciary and protecting human rights".

Pressure on Rabat to end military trials for civilians rose after a military court in February last year jailed 25 Sahrawis accused of killing 11 members of the security forces in Western Sahara near Laayoune, the disputed territory's main city.

Nine of the accused were given life sentences.

Human Rights Watch said the military tribunal in Rabat rejected defence demands to investigate allegations by the defendants that police had tortured them in pre-trial custody and forced them to sign statements they had not read.

The new law also excludes minors from military tribunals and establishes a military court of appeal, while aiming to reinforce the independence of military judges and align the procedures of military tribunals with those of civilian courts.

Government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi called the legislation "historic".

He said it was designed to implement the judicial provisions of the new constitution introduced in 2011, by "strengthening the foundations of an independent and specialised judiciary which guarantees rights and freedoms".

A notorious Islamist militia leader known as "Red Beard" has been killed in French missile strikes in north-eastern Mali, a senior Malian army officer told AFP.

Omar Ould Hamaha was a commander of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), armed groups which occupied northern Mali for almost ten months in 2012.

"Omar Ould Hamaha, the terrorist of Malian nationality, is one of ten terrorists killed last week by French planes," the officer said late on Thursday.

Hamaha's death was confirmed by a regional security source who said he was killed "with weapons in hand".

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week as many as 12 AQIM fighters had been killed in a counter-terrorism operation by French forces between March 4 and 5.

The AQIM fighters were spotted in the Amettetai Valley, in the Kidal region, by French forces operating the US-made Reaper drones, Drian said.

A former lieutenant of one of the main jihadist chiefs in the Sahel, Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Hamaha was wanted by the Malian government and the United States, which offered $3 million (2.2 million euros) for information leading to his capture.

Hamaha, nicknamed "Red Beard" because he regularly died his facial hair with henna, was implicated in the April 2012 abduction of Algerian diplomats in Gao, Mali's largest northern city, claimed by MUJAO.

Mali was thrown into chaos in 2012 when Tuareg separatist rebels launched an offensive in the northern desert helped by AQIM and MUJAO, after the country's president was toppled in a coup.

The Islamists took control of northern Mali, ruling it under a brutal version of Islamic law until former colonial ruler France sent in troops to flush them out in January 2013.

UN peacekeepers took over security in July last year from the Pan-African AFISMA military mission, which had been supporting the French troops.

France is winding down its deployment from a peak of around 5,000 soldiers but is to keep 1,000 troops in Mali beyond the spring.

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