Colombia To Extradite Drug Lord ‘Otoniel’ To US

Handout picture released on October 23, 2021 by the Colombian Army press office showing members of the Colombian Army escorting Colombia’s most-wanted drug lord and head of the Gulf Clan, Dairo Antonio Usuga (C) -alias ‘Otoniel’-, after his capture in Bogota. (Photo by Handout / Colombian army / AFP)

 

Colombia’s government announced Sunday it is working towards extraditing the country’s most-wanted drug trafficker “Otoniel” to the United States, a day after he was captured in a major operation in the jungle.

“There is an extradition order against Otoniel, and this extradition order… remains in progress,” Defense Minister Diego Molano told the daily El Tiempo newspaper in an interview.

“This is the path for all those who commit transnational crimes,” Molano told reporters later, adding that nearly 30 percent of the many tons of cocaine exported from Colombia went through the so-called Gulf Clan, the country’s largest drug trafficking gang, led by Otoniel.

The 50-year-old drug lord, whose real name is Dairo Antonio Usuga, was arrested Saturday in northwest Colombia’s dense jungle in an operation involving some 700 uniformed agents backed by 18 helicopters, according to the army.

The United States had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel, one of the most feared men in Colombia.

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“This is the hardest strike to drug trafficking in our country this century,” President Ivan Duque said Saturday, adding that the arrest was “only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar,” the notorious Colombian narco-trafficking kingpin.

“We are going for more, we are going for victory against all high-value targets,” Duque vowed from a military base in the country’s northwest.

The government accuses other armed groups such as the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and rebels who walked away from the peace pact signed with the FARC guerillas in 2016, of financing themselves with drug trafficking revenue.

Born to a poor family, Otoniel joined the EPL, a Marxist guerrilla group that demobilized in 1991. A paramilitary fighter, he ultimately headed the Gulf Clan, with a force of some 1,600 men and a presence in almost 300 municipalities nationwide, according to the independent think tank Indepaz.

In Colombia Otoniel had 128 outstanding arrest warrants for drug trafficking and recruitment of minors, among other crimes.

“He murdered more than 200 members of the security forces… Many soldiers have suffered because of this murderer and his friends,” Duque said.

Otoniel also preyed on minors, “intimidating families and extorting them in order to take their daughters’ virginity,” the president added.

In five decades of a US-backed drug war, Colombia has killed or captured several drug lords, including kingpin Escobar, who was shot by security forces in 1993.

But the country remains the world’s leading cocaine producer, with the United States its biggest buyer.

Colombia’s Most-Wanted Drug Lord ‘Otoniel’ Captured

Members of the Colombian Army and police escorting Colombia’s most-wanted drug lord and head of the Gulf Clan, Dairo Antonio Usuga (C) -alias ‘Otoniel’- after his capture, in Bogota. AFP

 

Colombia’s most-wanted drug trafficker “Otoniel” has been captured, officials said Saturday, a major victory for the government of the world’s top cocaine exporter.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, who headed the country’s largest narco-trafficking gang known as the Gulf Clan, was captured near one of his main outposts in Necocli, near the border with Panama.

Images released by the government showed the 50-year-old Otoniel in handcuffs and surrounded by soldiers.

“This is the hardest strike to drug trafficking in our country this century,” President Ivan Duque said in a message, adding that the arrest was “only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar,” the notorious Colombian narco-trafficking kingpin.

Some 500 soldiers backed by 22 helicopters were deployed in the Necocli municipality to carry out the operation, which left one police officer dead.

It was “the biggest penetration of the jungle ever seen in the military history of our country”, Duque said.

A live broadcast by the police later showed a handcuffed Otoniel landing in Bogota before being taken into custody under heavy security.

Colombia’s police chief Jorge Vargas said during a press conference that authorities carried out “an important satellite operation with agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom.”

According to police, Otoniel was hiding in the jungle in the Uraba region, where he is from, and did not use a telephone, relying on couriers to communicate.

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Fearful of authorities, he “slept there in the rain, never approaching inhabited areas,” Vargas said.

The United States had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel, one of the most feared men in Colombia.

He was indicted in the United States in 2009, and faces extradition proceedings to the country, where he would appear in the Southern District of New York federal court.

The Colombian government blames the group — financed mainly through drug trafficking, illegal mining and extortion — for being one of the main drivers of the worst bout of nationwide violence since the signing of a peace pact with FARC guerillas in 2016.

The Gulf Clan is present in almost 300 municipalities in the country, according to the independent think tank Indepaz. However, recent government efforts have seen the organization decimated.

Life of violence

Although Otoniel announced in 2017 he intended to reach an agreement to participate with the Colombian justice system, the government responded by deploying at least 1,000 soldiers to hunt him down.

He took over the leadership of the Gulf Clan — previously known as the Usuga Clan — from his brother Juan de Dios, who was killed by police in 2012.

Born to a poor family, Otoniel joined the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a Marxist guerrilla group that demobilized in 1991.

After laying down his arms, he later returned to fighting, joining far-right paramilitary groups.

Many of these were demobilized in 2006 at the initiative of former right-wing president Alvaro Uribe’s administration, but Otoniel decided to remain in the fight.

Colombia is the world’s top producer of cocaine, with the United States as its principal market, despite half a century of efforts to clamp down on the drug trade.

In remote areas where there is little government presence, criminal groups like the Gulf Clan, dissident FARC guerrillas and leftist ELN rebels fight bloody turf battles to control drug trafficking corridors and illegal mining operations.

A Colombian Man’s Life Shattered By Two Land Mine Explosions

Ivan Rodriguez, 25, victim of a landmine, does physical therapy with his stepson Moises at their house in Catatumbo, Norte de Santander department, Colombia on August 12, 2021.(Photo by Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP)

 

 

Twice in 10 years, Efrain Soto’s life was shattered in landmine explosions in violence-wracked Colombia. The first one robbed him of his eye, the second one killed his brother.

The number of landmine victims is rising in Colombia, as guerrilla violence continues despite a 2016 peace accord meant to end decades of armed conflict.

In the Catatumbo region in northern Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, the sight of people dying or suffering terrible wounds from mines is all too familiar.

Since the explosions, Soto has had a nervous breakdown and seizures.

For the past eight years, he has been taking medication to help with the psychological trauma, but he is still so distressed that even walking to a nearby village terrifies him.

“I want to cry, I want to run, I’m afraid,” said Soto.

While the government has signed a historic peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end a long-running civil war, it did not rid the country of guerrillas and violence.

Territories rife with illegal coca plantations, where the FARC once held sway, are now infested with leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and armed drug traffickers laying landmines indiscriminately.

The number of people killed or wounded by mines is increasing, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In 2020, there were 389 blast victims, compared to 57 in 2017.

During the first six months of this year alone, 263 people, including 21 children, were killed or maimed.

– Lost hope –
In 2011, Soto was talking to his wife on his mobile phone just yards (meters) from his house when he was shaken by an explosion.

Blood started pouring from his eye.

Relatives made a makeshift stretcher and hammock to take Soto, who is over 6 feet 3 inches (1.94 meters) tall, on a five-hour trek along countryside trails to bring him to a hospital in the regional center of Cucuta, where he spent four months in treatment.

In April of last year, Soto’s 41-year-old brother Carlos accidentally set off another landmine, and the ordeal was repeated.

“Running away, looking for the hammock, rushing to the village again, and he was bleeding,” Soto recalled.

When Carlos arrived at the village of Tibu, still some ways away from Cucuta, “his lips were purple” and he died, Soto said.

Since the peace deal, Colombia has de-mined 448 out of its 1,122 municipalities, but there are 137 that “do not have the necessary conditions” to be rendered safe, said the office of Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace.

Catatumbo is in that group, with violence an ongoing scourge in the area.

No sooner had Soto overcome his grief from his brother’s death, he was randomly shot in the stomach and spent another month in hospital in Cucuta.

Soto says he has lost hope of seeing peace in Colombia.

– ‘Phantom limb’ –
In April, Ivan Rodriguez was cutting down a tree when he heard a blast and was engulfed by “smoke and earth.”

The 24-year-old managed to stay “conscious” and “calm” during the near three hours it took him to reach a hospital.

Rodriguez lost his right foot and came close to having his injured arm amputated.

With little medical supervision, he is now recovering at home with help from his wife and five-year-old son.

Rodriguez is suffering from a phantom limb, a condition in which a person vividly perceives and feels pain from a lost limb.

He hopes to get a “prosthesis to be able to walk” and play football again.

His 23-year-old wife, Paola Acuna, marvels at his bravery.

“Rather than us giving him strength, he gives a lot to us,” she said.

“You’re not the same anymore,” explained Rodriguez. “But I try to keep going because why make yourself feel even worse when you know the foot won’t grow back.”

With over 2,200 dead and more than 8,000 wounded between 1999 and 2017, according to watchdog Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, Colombia is one of the countries worst affected by landmines after Syria and Afghanistan.

Copa America: Diaz Stunner Downs Peru To Give Colombia 3rd Place

Colombia’s Luis Diaz celebrates after scoring the team’s third goal against Peru during their Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament third-place match at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 9, 2021. – Colombia won the match 3-2. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

 

 

Luis Diaz scored a sensational winner with virtually the last kick of the match as Colombia beat Peru 3-2 in Brasilia on Friday to finish third in the Copa America.

The goal was the 24-year-old Porto forward’s second of the match and came just 10 minutes after Gianluca Lapadula looked to have sent the game into a penalty shoot-out.

It was a thrilling encounter that ebbed and flowed, with Yoshimar Yotun giving Peru a first half lead before Colombia captain Juan Cuadrado equalized early in the second period.

 

Colombia’s team poses on the podium with their medals and trophy after defeating Peru 3-2 in their Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament third-place match at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 9, 2021. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

 

“We’re happy, it was important to finish by winning,” said Cuadrado, whose side lost their semi-final on penalties to Lionel Messi’s Argentina, who play Neymar’s Brazil in Saturday’s final.

“I’m happy with how we reacted (to going behind) and how we went after the result.”

Colombia had the better start and piled on early pressure but Peru held firm despite the ball often pinging around in their box.

And Peru even had the first clear chance on 28 minutes when Christian Cueva’s clever pass found Lapadula, but under pressure from a defender he fired narrowly wide from just inside the box.

 

Colombia’s Luis Diaz (L) celebrates after scoring the team’s thrid goal against Peru during their Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament third-place match at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 9, 2021. – Colombia won the match 3-2. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

 

Diaz had a chance for Colombia but fired straight at goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.

On 40 minutes Sergio Pena left Colombia’s centre back Oscar Murillo on the floor with a clever turn, rounded goalkeeper Camilo Vargas but blazed well over the bar from a tight angle.

Peru got the lead they deserved just before the break as Cueva’s precise pass and Lapadula’s clever run took out four defenders to set up Yotun for an emphatic finish.

Colombia were back level just four minutes after the break as Cuadrado fired a free-kick through a disintegrating wall and past Gallese at his near post.

Alexander Callens had given away the free-kick on the edge of the box with a clumsy challenge and compounded his error by jumping away from his fellow members of the wall to create the gap that Cuadrado exploited.

Colombia’s tails were up and Cuadrado’s cross picked out man-of-the-match Diaz whose acrobatic overhead kick was parried over by Gallese.

The game opened up and the dangerous Lapadula cut inside a defender on the right before firing in a left-foot shot that clipped the bar as it went over.

It was end-to-end stuff with the goalkeepers playing a role in launching long-range attacks.

Gallese picked out Cueva to run at goal only for a Wilmar Barrios bodycheck to stop him in his tracks.

 

Colombia’s Luis Diaz (covered) celebrates with teammates after scoring the team’s thrid goal against Peru during their Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament third-place match at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 9, 2021. – Colombia won the match 3-2. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

 

But then Vargas launched a long ball up field for Diaz to scamper away and beat Gallese with a rasping finish on 66 minutes.

Lapadula looked to have sent the match to penalties eight minutes from time when he rose almost unopposed to head home a Raziel Garcia corner from six yards out.

But Diaz had the last word with a stunning strike from 25 yards that Gallese could only get his fingertips to as it rifled into the top corner.

Colombian Military Accused Of 6,400 Extra-Judicial Killings

Colombian flag

 

 

Colombia’s military carried out at least 6,400 extra-judicial killings and presented them as combat deaths from 2002 to 2008, a special court set up under a peace accord said on Thursday.

That number is almost three times higher than previous estimates.

The court, called the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, is investigating crimes and atrocities committed during half a century of armed conflict between government troops and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Marxist rebels who laid down arms following the historic 2016 peace accord.

The tribunal described the killings as “illegitimate deaths presented as combat fatalities,” which are known in military circles as “false positives.”

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Until last year, the public prosecutor’s office had acknowledged 2,249 executions of civilians between 1988 and 2014 — the majority of which were carried out between 2006 and 2008, during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, the political mentor of current President Ivan Duque.

Although the military high command has always denied there was a systematic policy of declaring “false positives,” some soldiers and officials have told the court that they were put under pressure by superiors to inflate the success of their military operations against rebels.

The court said most of the killings took place in northwestern Antioquia department where soldiers and right-wing paramilitaries fought battles with left-wing rebels.

It said the IV Brigade of the army, which operated in the region, “could be responsible for 73 percent of the deaths identified in the department between 2000 and 2013.”

AFP

Colombia And US Announce New Anti-Drug Trafficking Plan

Handout picture released by Colombia’s presidency press office showing President Ivan Duque (C), US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (L) and US International Development Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler (R) during their visit to the Narino presidential palace, in Bogota on August 17, 2020. (Photo by Handout / Colombian Presidency / AFP)

 

The United States and Colombia on Monday announced the launch of a new joint plan to combat drug trafficking, including investments in areas affected by violence.

Colombian President Ivan Duque and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien made the joint statement at the presidential palace in Bogota, following a meeting. They did not specify the exact amount of resources allocated to the plan.

O’Brien said the US “will support all of Colombia’s efforts… to ensure security in the country, to combat criminal organizations, some of which are transnational, and in doing so, we will help create the conditions for economic growth” in both nations.

Duque added that the US government “has not only seen the importance of… continuing to effectively combat drug trafficking and terrorism,” but also of “combining those efforts… with quality investment in places that have been affected by violence.”

They both presented the initiative as a new phase of the “Plan Colombia,” an aid package from Washington aimed at combating drug trafficking in the South American country.

The US gave Colombia more than $7 billion between 2000 and 2016 under the Plan Colombia agreement, but the money ended up being used to fight guerillas without eliminating the drug trade.

The announcement comes amid a spike in violence throughout Colombia, resulting in 33 massacres so far this year, according to the UN.

The UN believes that criminal gangs are responsible for nearly 80 percent of massacres in Colombia this year, the vast majority of them occurring in departments with “illegal coca-producing enclaves.”

 

 

-AFP

11 Missing, Six Injured In Colombian Military Helicopter Crash

Although FARC laid down its arms in a historic deal in 2016, a multi-faceted conflict continues to rage in Colombia. Photo: Google Earth.

 

 

Eleven Colombian military personnel were missing and six injured after a helicopter crashed in the southeast of the country during an operation against guerrillas, the army said on Tuesday.

The Blackhawk helicopter was carrying 17 military personnel when it went down. The armed forces’ high command did not reveal whether it was shot down or an accident.

Authorities found the helicopter in a stretch of the river Inirida in Guaviare state, an area where dissident former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are active.

FARC rebels laid down their arms in a historic 2016 peace deal that ended a half-century conflict and turned the guerrillas into a communist political party.

But more than 2,000 dissidents, according to authorities, refused to join the 13,000 rebels that signed the peace deal and continue to resist the government, financing themselves through drug-trafficking and illegal mining.

The army said the helicopter was taking part in an operation against dissidents in an area where there are drug plantations.

The army’s air assault division said in a statement it was “on site beginning the corresponding investigations to determine the circumstances regarding the time, manner and place that the events occurred.”

The armed forces’ top commander, General Luis Fernando Navarro, travelled to a military base nearby to direct the “manoeuvres aimed at recovering the missing.”

Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo referred to the incident as a “plane crash” but that version has not been corroborated by the military high command.

Trujillo said on Twitter that the six injured service personnel “have already been rescued and will be transferred to Bogota for their medical attention.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque has faced criticism over murders and the use of the military to crush the 2019 Colombian protests, among other things.

 

The banks of the Inirida river are in a strategic zone for the drug-trafficking trade where one of the most powerful criminal groups to emerge from FARC dissidents, led by Gentil Duarte, operates.

Duarte originally took part in peace talks but finally opted to continue the guerrilla struggle and is trying to unite other groups that broke away from the FARC peace movement.

Peace has not been easy with the former rebels complaining that 219 ex-fighters have been murdered since the peace deal was signed.

Despite FARC laying down its arms, a multi-faceted conflict continues to rage.

Alongside FARC dissidents, another left-wing guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), right-wing paramilitaries, and drug-traffickers continue to battle each other and the Colombian army.

The more than half-century conflict left nine million people dead, missing or displaced.

AFP

Riot In Colombia Prison Leaves 23 Dead – Government

Inmates extend their hands at the Modelo prison in Bogota after a riot on March 22, 2020. – A riot in a prison in the Colombian capital has left 23 inmates dead and 90 wounded, Justice Minister Margarita Cabello announced Sunday. The riot was triggered by an attempted mass breakout overnight from La Modelo prison. DANIEL MUNOZ / AFP.

 

Rioting that swept through a crowded prison overnight in the Colombian capital Bogota left 23 inmates dead and 90 wounded, Justice Minister Margarita Cabello announced Sunday.

The riot was triggered by an attempted mass breakout from La Modelo prison, Cabello said, as the capital was on a weekend lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Riots occurred “in several penitentiary centers in the country,” Cabello said in a statement. “The result of the attempted escape in the Modelo was 23 inmates dead.”

La Modelo is Bogota’s second largest prison after La Picota, where protests also erupted on Saturday night.

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According to Cabello, 83 inmates and seven guards were injured in the disturbances inside La Modelo. Around half the injured prisoners were hospitalized, and two of the guards were in “critical condition.”

“There were no escapes,” she added.

The head of Colombia’s prison authorities, General Norberto Mujica, said his forces had taken back full control of the prison.

“Our guards prevented the escape from being carried out. We achieved that today and as a result are not looking for 5,000 prisoners that would have escaped.”

The government rejected accusations that the riots were sparked by unsanitary conditions inside a prison system unprepared to face the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no health problem that would have caused the escape plan and these riots,” Cabello said.

“Today there is not a single infection, and no prisoners, nor administration or custodial officials, that have the coronavirus.”

AFP

Colombia Announces First Coronavirus Death

Members of Colombian army wear face masks agaisnt the spread of the new coronavirus as they unload milk boxes from a truck to be delivered at a childcare center in Bogota on March 21, 2020. Juan BARRETO / AFP
Members of Colombian army wear face masks agaisnt the spread of the new coronavirus as they unload milk boxes from a truck to be delivered at a childcare center in Bogota on March 21, 2020. Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Colombia has reported its first coronavirus death, the country’s health minister announced Saturday, with the central American nation recording 210 infections.

Fernando Ruiz said the patient was “a 58-year-old man, living in the town of Cartagene, working as a taxi driver, who transported two foreign citizens in his vehicle in the past few days.”

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He died on March 16, but the cause was not established until several days later, the minister said.

Colombians will go into obligatory self-isolation for almost three weeks from Tuesday evening in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

AFP

Atalanta Sign Colombian Striker Duvan Zapata

Inter Milan’s Uruguayan defender Diego Godin (L) vies with Atalanta’s Colombian forward Duvan Zapata during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Atalanta on January 11, 2020 at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

 

Atalanta has completed the purchase of Colombian striker Duvan Zapata at the end of his two-year loan deal from league rivals Sampdoria, the Serie A club confirmed on Friday.

The Bergamo club spent a total of 26 million euros ($29 million) to bring the 28-year-old to Bergamo.

“I’m very happy,” said Zapata. “First of all, I want to thank Atalanta for this further demonstration of confidence in me.

“We are building something important and can achieve great things together.”

Zapata, who has played 15 times for Colombia and scored three goals, also previously played for Napoli and Udinese.

He joined Atalanta on loan in 2018 and last season was the second top scorer in Serie A with 23 goals scored helping lift the club into the Champions League for the first time.

This season he has scored seven goals in all competitions, despite missing nearly three months with a thigh injury.

Atalanta are through to the Champions League last 16 and next play Spanish club Valencia.

AFP

Colombia Orders Uber To Halt Services

A woman checks the Uber transport application on her mobile phone after authorities ordered its suspension in Colombia, in Bogota on December 20, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Uber has been told to immediately suspend its ride-sharing services in Colombia, the industry and commerce authority announced Friday, citing unfair competition laws.

The US tech giant has around two million active users in the country, and roughly 88,000 drivers.

The ruling, which is subject to an appeal, follows a lawsuit by a group of taxi drivers who accuse the company of unfair business practices.

The head of the Industry and Commerce department — which regulates the market — said that the company must cease operation immediately, citing “unfair competition” and a “significant advantage” over older and more traditional taxi services.

The “effects (of the measure) are immediately fulfilled,” they added.

In a statement, the US firm regretted and rejected the ruling, which it “appealed immediately.”

Although Uber was allowed to operate in Colombia by the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications and pays tax as a result, the use of drivers to transport passengers is illegal and the police are able to sanction drivers using the app.

Uber — founded in 2009 — arrived in Colombia in 2013 but taxi owners and unions have repeatedly protested in the streets against Uber and similar competitors, who they claim steal their work.

Protests have also been held in other cities, where pressure has even led to the withdrawal of these applications. For example, Uber does not operate in Catalonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark and northern Australia.

 

AFP

‘Valley Of Souls’ Triumphs At Marrakesh Film Festival

British actress Tilda Swinton (R) stands as Colombian director Nicola Rincon Gille holds his trophy of the ” Etoile d’Or ” during the closing ceremony of the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival on December 7, 2019, in Marrakech. FADEL SENNA / AFP

 

 

Colombian director Nicolas Rincon Gille’s “Valley of Souls”, the story of a father’s solitary search for the bodies of his murdered sons, won top prize Saturday at the Marrakesh film festival.

It follows the journey of Jose, who comes home from a night of fishing to discover that paramilitaries have killed his two sons and dumped their bodies in the river.

So he sets off in a canoe to try to find their bodies and give them a proper burial.

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Marrakesh’s 18th annual festival was attended by top cinema stars such as Harvey Keitel, Marion Cotillard, Tilda Swinton and Robert Redford, who received a lifetime achievement award.

Toby Wallace won Best Actor for his role in the Australian comedy “Babyteeth”, directed by Shannon Murphy.

Nichola Burley and Roxanne Scrimshaw shared the Best Actress prize for British comedy “Lynn + Lucy”, directed by Fyzal Boulifa.

Tunisia’s Ala Eddine Slim was named Best Director for “Tlamess”, a drama about a soldier who deserts the army after his mother’s death.