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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 13:07 GMT
US threatens Swazi trade deal
The King of Swaziland
King Mswati III could lose access to US markets
King Mswati III, ruler of the tiny southern African kingdom of Swaziland, could be putting his people's future at risk if he continues to ignore the rule of law, the US has warned.

The king has angered the US by pushing ahead with plans to buy a $45m (28.7m) private jet despite the famine gripping his one million subjects. He has also over-ruled the courts.

As a result, the US ambassador to Swaziland has warned that the kingdom could lose its preferential access to US markets under the 2001 Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has generated hundreds of textile jobs.

And while the 34-year-old monarch might still go ahead with his plane purchase, he will not be allowed to land it anywhere in the US.

Human rights abuses

News of the suggested sanctions has leaked out following a more circumspect statement released by the US embassy in the capital, Mbabane.

The statement warned of "abuses of... basic principles of justice and human rights on the rise in Swaziland", after the king ignored the Appeal Court's ruling that 200 tenants he had evicted in 2000 could return to their land.

Now, though, a US embassy spokesman has made clear that the AGOA duty-free market access is at risk unless Mswati changes his ways.

The AGOA rules make access conditional on good government and respect for human rights.

Food aid

Following the king's decision to throw out the appeal court's judgement, six of the court's judges resigned a week ago in protest, while lawyers are threatening to join a general strike planned for later in December.

Even the hand-picked parliament is up in arms, having vetoed the jet deal - although the Prime Minister and the royal household are pushing ahead regardless.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the population is dependent on foreign food aid, and a third of the adult population is HIV positive.

The king's record also includes accusations of having an 18-year-old girl abducted to become his 10th wife - a charge which has led to the subpoena of the attorney-general after he tried to sack the judges hearing the girl's mother's complaint.

See also:

04 Dec 02 | Africa
12 Nov 02 | Africa
01 Nov 02 | Africa
17 Oct 02 | Africa
23 Aug 02 | Africa
03 Jun 02 | Africa
15 Mar 02 | Business
12 Nov 01 | Africa
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