Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Somalia – Al Shabab storms African Union base

Mail and Guardian

Militants from Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group rammed a suicide car bomb into an African Union army base and stormed inside.

Al shabab militants. (AP)

There were no immediate reports on casualties, and the rebels said in a statement that the African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom) troops had fled the base, situated in Janale district, 80 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu in the lower Shabele region in Somalia.

The base is thought to be manned by Burundian soldiers.

“There was heavy explosion and fighting broke out at the Amisom base in Janale. We don’t have details but we are hearing that Al-Shebab militants attacked the base,” said Mohamed Shire, a Somali military commander based in the region.

A local eyewitness said Shabab fighters stormed into the base.

“Heavy fighting broke out after a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into the camp,” said local resident Ali Moalim Yusuf. “I saw heavily armed fighters chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is greatest’] pouring into the base.”

The militants, who are fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed and AU-protected government, confirmed they were behind the attack.

“Mujaheddin fighters captured the base after a suicide bomber struck it, the enemy fled,” the Islamists said in a brief statement.

In June, Shebab fighters killed dozens of Burundian soldiers when they overran an Amisom outpost northwest of the capital. The militants also stage frequent suicide attacks inside the capital.

But AMISOM, the 22 000-strong AU force in Somalia, has also made key gains against the Shebab in recent months, pushing them out of several strongholds in the southwest of the country. – AFP

Hurricane Fred hits Cape Verde

BBC

A hurricane with winds of up to 120km/h (75mph) has hit the island nation of Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa.

The government grounded all flights as heavy rain and winds lashed north-western islands in the archipelago.

No hurricane has ever been recorded further east in the tropical Atlantic.

Late on Monday Fred weakened to a tropical storm as it moved away from the islands, the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Strong winds and rain are expected to persist as Fred moves through other parts of Cape Verde on Tuesday, the NHC added.

It said the last time a hurricane was recorded hitting Cape Verde was 1892, although it cautions that records were less exact before the advent of weather satellites in the mid-1960s.

Cape Verde consists of 10 significant volcanic islands, nine of which are inhabited.

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Cliffs stand against the ocean on the northern coast of the island of Santo Antao, Cape Verde

Read more about the Cape Verde islands.

Sudan – Darfur conflict changing and becoming more internecine but not getting better

ISS

In Darfur, things have changed, but not for the better
31 August 2015

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) undertook a field mission to Darfur and Khartoum this month amid growing concern about the situation in Darfur. The African Union (AU) has been involved in attempts to solve the Darfur conflict for over a decade, having started to send peacekeepers to the area in 2004.

In June 2015, the United Nations (UN) Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN–AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), citing a ‘significant deterioration of the security situation’.

The unanimous vote represented something of a defeat: an admission that after 11 years of international involvement, the region remains as dangerous and unstable as ever.

It is important not to underestimate the scale of the Darfur conflict, and its cost – in both human and financial terms. Since the fighting began in earnest in 2003, more than 300 000 people have been killed and an estimated 2.5 million more displaced (this from a population of around 6.2 million).

The AU has had a presence there since 2004, in the form of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which morphed into UNAMID in 2007. UNAMID’s mandate provides for 15 845 military personnel, 1 583 police personnel and 13 formed police units of up to 140 personnel each, which are drawn from 37 different countries. Its budget is currently US$1.1 billion per year. The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that the total international cost of the war in Darfur, including humanitarian aid, has exceeded US$20 billion since 2003.

Over the years, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine
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This investment of money, personnel and diplomatic capital has failed to resolve the situation, however. Even though a high-profile peace deal – the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) – was signed in 2011 between the government of President Omar al-Bashir and various rebel groups, the fighting has intensified over the last 18 months. This has left policymakers wondering whether UNAMID is fit for purpose, and what it should be doing differently.

Changing nature of the conflict

Understanding the tangled web of alliances and motivations that underpin the conflict has never been easy, although when the fighting began it was possible to observe the broad trend, which pitted non-Arab tribes against government forces and government-sponsored militia groups (known pejoratively as the Janjaweed). It is on this basis that peace talks proceeded, and the DDPD reflects this understanding, even though several major rebels groups refused to sign the document.

Over the years, however, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine. ‘Violence in Darfur has continually evolved. In 2003–2005, it was mostly due to attacks by pro-government, largely Arab militias targeting non-Arab communities accused of supporting the rebels. While those continued and intensified again in 2014, violence has mutated since 2006, with Arab communities and militias fighting each other and, to a lesser extent, non-Arab communities targeting non-Arab communities. Arab militias also turned against their government backers, while rebel factions fragmented and fought against each other as well,’ said the ICG in a report in April 2015 entitled ‘The chaos in Darfur’.

It is also important to note that the conflict has outgrown Darfur itself, especially with the occasional cross-border incursion by Chadian forces, and the deal between several major Darfuri rebel groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SFR).

This poses challenges for any effective peace talks (although the prospect of new peace talks remains illusory, as the Sudanese government resolutely refuses to renegotiate the DDPD). Where should the international community begin: With the rebels and the government? With the government and the Janjaweed, themselves increasingly resistant to Khartoum’s dictates? With the intra-Arab spat between the Salamat and Misseriya, or the resource-fuelled dispute between the Beni Husein and abbala Reizegat? With the long-standing tensions between the non-Arab Zaghawa and other non-Arab militias? With the faction fighting between fragmenting rebel groups?

Involving armed groups in parallel processes

‘Resolution of Darfur’s diverse conflicts requires many things, including a rethink by the international community, in particular the UN Security Council, of many aspects of its relationship with Sudan. One element of that resolution, however, must be to involve as many armed groups as possible in parallel peace processes, including local inter-tribal conferences; Darfur regional security talks; and the national dialogue. In particular, Arab militias need representation in all processes, and government and rebels must acknowledge that they do not fully represent those communities,’ concluded the ICG.

There are encouraging signs that the AU is cognizant of the need for a new, inclusive peace process, particularly in the wake of the PSC’s field mission to Darfur and Khartoum from 19–21 August. Following this visit, the PSC met to discuss the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan, and issued a communiqué that emphasised the importance of national dialogue. Most significantly, the communiqué indicated that the PSC had extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan:

The PSC extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan
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‘[The PSC] notes the statement made by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that the Government of Sudan is ready to observe a two-month ceasefire in order to create the necessary confidence for all stakeholders, including representatives of the armed movements, to join the National Dialogue process, and further notes the commitment made by President al-Bashir to grant amnesty to members of the armed movements to enable them to attend the National Dialogue in safety,’ said the communiqué.

This is a ‘big picture’ issue, however, and if it is to have any chance of success it will need a great deal of political will, and time. In the short term there is still an important role for UNAMID and the international community to play. But to do so they may need to focus on smaller, more readily solvable issues.

Room for improvement

In assessing the effectiveness of any peacekeeping mission, there are two distinct levels of analysis. Firstly, would the situation be worse without the presence of the mission? And secondly, what can the mission do better?

To the first point: almost certainly, Darfur and its beleaguered civilian population would be worse off without UNAMID. The mission not only provides protection to various camps for internally displaced persons but also conducts regular patrols and containment operations to minimise the opportunity for violence. According to the most recent report of the UN secretary-general on UNAMID, during the period from 26 February 2015 to 15 May 2015, the mission ‘conducted 10 376 patrols, comprising 5 567 routine patrols, 682 short-range patrols, 204 long-range patrols, 2 007 night patrols, 178 humanitarian armed escorts and 1 738 logistics and administrative armed escorts. A total of 5 008 villages were covered during these patrols.’

In addition to this, UNAMID provides protection and support for other humanitarian operations, and support for high-level mediation efforts. All these go some way towards improving the situation on the ground, even if only marginally.

‘What can UNAMID do better? This question can be answered by asking another question. What would Darfur look like if UNAMID was not there? Clearly, the situation without UNAMID would have been much worse than the situation on the ground now. It is not perfect, but I believe the mere presence of UNAMID contributes a lot,’ said Meressa Kahsu, a Researcher and Training Coordinator for the Institute for Security Studies who has visited Darfur recently.

UN spokesperson describes ‘conspiracy of silence’

Despite its obvious impact, UNAMID has not been immune to criticism that it could and should be doing more to fulfil its mandate, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Most damaging were the revelations from former mission spokesperson Aicha el Basri, who resigned from her position to reveal what she described as a ‘conspiracy of silence’ to mask the mission’s shortcomings. She said that UNAMID troops had repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians, even when incidents happened before their eyes; and that the mission was also guilty of covering up the scale of these incidents. ‘I felt ashamed to be a spokesperson for a mission that lies, that can’t protect civilians, that can’t stop lying about it,’ she told the BBC.

Recognising shortcomings

The UN denied these accusations, but it is well aware of other shortcomings in the mission. In his report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined several factors that prevent it from fulfilling its mandate effectively. These included 60 attacks and hostile incidents against UNAMID personnel in the 90-day reporting period; other attacks against UN agencies and other humanitarian actors; restrictions on movement, access denial and denial of clearances imposed on UNAMID and humanitarian actors, most often by local government officials; and delays or denials of visas for UNAMID staff. These add up to an extremely hostile operating environment.

Despite its faults, Darfur’s civilians would be worse off without UNAMID
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‘The mission is like a prisoner who can’t move outside the jail. UNAMID can’t move outside the base without permission from the Government of Sudan. So how can it be effective in implementing its mandate? One example is the media reports on an incident of mass rape in the village of Tabit towards the end of 2014,’ said Kahsu. ‘UNAMID was unable to reach the village in a timely manner and investigate the alleged cases, only gaining access some days after the incident. This brings the credibility of the UNAMID report on the incident into question.

‘Consent of the host country is one of the principles of UN peacekeeping. In my view, this consent is no longer there,’ said Kahsu. In fact, things have become so bad that the government has demanded that UNAMID leave the country entirely. In response, UNAMID is examining possible options for an exit strategy.

If some of these challenges are beyond UNAMID’s control, it can work harder to address other criticisms. One that is well within the mission’s control is to improve cooperation between the UN and the AU, which is not always as good as it should be. The hybrid nature of the operation poses difficulties, but it also represents an opportunity: by leveraging the UN’s experience with the logistics of such missions and the AU’s political influence with the government in Khartoum, UNAMID should be able to punch well above its weight – and make a real difference. At the moment, Institute for Security Studies research shows that this is not happening.

The international community may not be able to solve the situation in Darfur in the near future. It can, however, take concrete steps to make UNAMID more effective, thereby allowing the peacekeeping force to better fulfil its mandate. Already, UNAMID’s presence is able to mitigate the worst effects of the violence for thousands of Darfuris, and there is no reason why it cannot play this role even more effectively. In fact, if it is truly to live up to its mandate, it must do so.

Relevant documents

Communiqué of the 539th meeting of the PSC on the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan

Report of the Secretary-General on the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, 26 May 2015

UN Security Council Resolution 2228 (2015) [extending UNAMID’s mandate until 30 June 2016]

Mali – clan conflict within Tuareg an obstacle to peace deal

Reuters

The leader of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), Mohamed Ag Najim (R), leads his men in prayer outside Anefis, Mali, August 26, 2015. The United Nations has deployed 10,000 peacekeepers and poured more than $1 billion into Mali but its efforts to end a three-year…
REUTERS/SOULEYMANE AG ANARA

The United Nations has deployed 10,000 peacekeepers and poured more than $1 billion (£650 million) into Mali but its efforts to end a three-year conflict are threatened by the reemergence of a centuries-old rivalry between Tuareg clans.

The U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of its Mali force (MINUSMA) in June in the hope that it could enforce a peace deal signed that month in the West African nation, despite suffering the highest rate of losses of any active peacekeeping mission.

The deal, signed by both pro- and anti-government Tuareg-led militias, envisaged the overhaul of the Malian army to incorporate the militia fighters and its return to the desert north, much of which is controlled by the Tuareg groups.

The army’s redeployment is supposed to allow it to tackle Islamist militants scattered, but not defeated, by French troops after they hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in 2012.

Now, a resurgence in fighting between the Tuaregs, who in total represent just 5 percent of Mali’s 15 million people, could wreck everything.

Diplomats say buy-in from the northern armed groups was always weak because the Algeria-brokered deal, reached after months of shuttle diplomacy, was seen as a foreign imposition.

“The fundamental problem is that participants don’t think this agreement can resolve the tensions that have always existed in the north,” said Jean-Herve Jezequel, senior Sahel analyst at International Crisis Group.

“They think that it’s really the force of arms that counts.”

In defiance of the peace agreement, the Platform alliance of pro-government militias has been seizing territory in northern Mali and taking revenge on its rival while authorities in Bamako look the other way, security sources say.

The leader of the main pro-government militia GATIA, General El Hadj Ag Gamou, is a former mercenary who fought for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and a member of the Imghad clan.

Power tipped away from the Inghads in favour of the Ifogha clan when fighters from Libya returned after the 2011 revolution to form a state they call Azawad. Arabs have also picked sides and some former jihadists have joined them.

Clashes broke out between Gamou’s militia and the Ifogha-led separatist alliance, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), this month about 80 kilometres southwest of rebel stronghold Kidal, killing at least 20 people.

Sources in Kidal have reported an influx of fighters in recent days in pick-up trucks from Libya and Algeria, resulting in a possible CMA counter-attack.

“We will defend ourselves and our populations,” CMA leader Bilal Ag Cherif told Reuters this week.

FORCED DISPLACEMENT

MINUSMA sources tracking compliance with the peace deal said they first noticed GATIA troops moving north towards Kidal in early July.

Initial findings of the U.N. human rights team backed by MINUSMA aerial footage seen by Reuters show forced displacements and daylight executions of rival clansmen by GATIA forces in several villages in the Gao region.

GATIA’s Secretary General Fahad Ag Almahoud denies responsibility for the incidents, saying they are due to “intercommunal tensions”.

“We think the Malian army should hurry up and return and normalise the situation,” he told Reuters. CMA fighters are also accused of arrests and looting in the same area before June.

Security sources and analysts say old rivalries are being stirred by competition for control of trafficking corridors for both cocaine and legal goods like food and cigarettes north to Algeria and east to Niger.

“Gamou would like to get back the position he had before the rebellion with control over trafficking. He wants a fiefdom,” said Profesor Jeremy Keenan, editor of Menas Associates’ Sahara Focus publication.

Expansion may benefit armed groups if the peace deal proceeds as key army posts and development funding are expected to be distributed to Tuareg and Arab communities.

U.N. Special Envoy for the Mali mission, Mongi Hamdi, estimates that implementing the deal will cost an additional $1-$2 billion over two-three years.

While Gamou is ostensibly loyal to Bamako, analysts say he is unlikely to take direct orders. Many believe that even though President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government has condemned the occupation of Anefis, it is quite happy to allow GATIA to do its dirty work in the north.

“The government doesn’t want peace in the north,” said Keenan. “It wants its own back on the rebels and is thanking its lucky stars GATIA is there.”

“PRISONERS IN THEIR OWN VILLAGES”

Worsening security in the north is slowing the return of the army and government officials who have been forced to leave Kidal. MINUSMA, seen as a soft target for Islamist militants, has camps in major towns but a weak presence in the desert.

Aid workers are struggling to deliver help to the more than 3 million Malians deemed food insecure, including tens of thousands displaced by fighting.

“People are prisoners in their own villages,” said Eric Bertin Mukam, a human rights officer with MINUSMA in Gao.

Despite more than 3 billion euros in aid pledged for reconstruction at Keita’s election in 2013, the streets of Gao are so full of potholes that cars take a parallel dirt track.

Kidal’s airport runway is shut because it is heavily mined, security sources say.

MINUSMA is implementing a series of “rapid impact projects” to improve infrastructure, access to healthcare and electricity.

But many are not seeing the effects.

“I don’t know who my state is,” said Farock Ag Foukana, deputy mayor of Talataye, near Gao. “I haven’t seen any authorities. Since 2012, there is nothing.”

Nigeria – 68 villagers killed by Boko Haram in Borno

Vanguard

Boko Haram kills 68 in Borno village

on August 31, 2015   /   in News 7:03 am   /   Comments

By Ndahi Marama

MAIDUGURI—At least 68 people were killed while several others sustained injuries as Boko Haram insurgents invaded Baanu Village in Nganzai local government area of Borno State on Friday night.

boko-haram-3

A resident of the area, Yuram Musa, who fled to Maiduguri to avoid the attack, said the insurgents came on horses at about 8:30 shooting sporadically and killing everyone they came across.

He said: “We had to flee into the bush and hide and after they left, we return back to pick some of our belongings. I counted 68 corpses, some were slaughtered, while others were with gunshot wounds. The number of those killed is worrisome as corpses littered the streets of the village.

“Government should do something, otherwise, these Boko Haram members will continue to kill innocent citizens. Every surrounded villages, which is five kilometres away from Gajiram, the headquarters of Nganzai, had been taken over by the insurgents, as most of them are residing around the area.’’

Confirming the attack, the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, while addressing the parents of the abducted Chibok girls over the weekend, said the insurgents killed 56 persons at Nganzai village.

“The Boko Haram crisis is a calamity that befalls us as the insurgents do not discriminate whether somebody is Christian or a Muslim nor tribal affiliations.

“Just yesterday, they killed 56 people at Baanu village of Nganzai local government. As I am speaking to you, their corpses are still littered on the streets of the village,” the governor said.

Sierra Leone – American arrested in Spain on blood diamond charges

Reuters

American arrested on Sierra Leone ‘blood diamond’ charges

Spanish authorities have arrested a American man on charges of enslavement and diamond pillaging during Sierra Leone’s civil war, a victims’ association said on Saturday.

Michel Desaedeleer, who has U.S. and Belgian citizenship, is suspected of forcing enslaved civilians to mine for diamonds in Sierra Leone’s eastern district of Kono between 1999-2001, according to Swiss-based Civitas Maxima.

During Sierra Leone’s long conflict, the diamonds were sent to neighbouring Liberia where former President Charles Taylor used the proceeds to finance weapons for rebels.

“(The case) will help to raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere,” said Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, which has been working for years to document the crimes and assist victims.

A Belgian investigation led to a European arrest warrant being issued against Desaedeleer earlier this year. He is normally resident in the United States.

More than 50,000 people died in the 11-year conflict and many more were left maimed by the notorious Revolutionary United Front. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes.

South Sudan – rebels says they repulsed army attacks in Unity State

Sudan Tribune

(GANYLIEL) – South Sudanese rebels say they twarted attempts by pro-government forces (SPLA) to recapture Taiyar port in Payinjiar county, south of Unity state.

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SPLA soldiers sit in a pick-up in the key north oil city of Bentiu after capturing it from rebels on 12 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Simon Maina)

The rebel-appointed commissioner for Payinjiar county, John Tap Puot said their forces pushed back the enemy on Thursday.

“Our forces have repulsed the attackers, and we are still speedily pursuing them towards Shambe port,” he toldSudan Tribune over satellite phone from Ganyliel payam.

Heavy fighting reportedly occured east of Ganyliel payam at Lieda, some 10 kilometers south of Taiyar main port the country’s armed opposition faction and forces allied to President Salva Kiir, according to local officials and aid agencies operating in the area.

The attack comes a day after President Kiir signed the long-awaited IGAD-brokered peace agreement to end the 20-months old onflicts in the country on Wednesday.

Puot accused government forces of renewed military offensives against their forces in the area.

He claimed forces loyal to President Kiir heavily shelled Taiyar port at 4:30pm and largely accused the Juba government for failing to adhere to the recently signed peace accord.

“It is not a surprise to us that pro government will violate this document, which they have signed yesterday [Wednesday]. Our position is to inform the international community that the government of Juba does not stick on its words and this has reflected [that] they are not ready to bring peace to the people of South Sudan,” Puot told [Sudan Tribune].

The official further claimed the rebels mainly reacted in self-defense and warned of imminent attacks should government forces continue attacking their positions.

“I want to tell our supporters around the world that Payinjiar county shall never and will never be captured by anyone. It would be better we all die first than surrendering our home land to the enemies,” he added.

Puot says the armed opposition leadership remains committed to the peace deal, but claimed the Juba regime was not supporting an end to the war through negotiations.

A source, who asked not to be named, said the government-appointed Payinjiar county commissioner, William Nyuon Joak commanded forces that attacked the area Thursday.

Sudan Tribune was, however, unable to independently verify these claims.

(ST).

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