Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Cameroon army frees hostages held by CAR rebels


Cameroon army frees 16 hostages, including Polish priest

2:31pm GMT

YAOUNDE (Reuters) – A Cameroonian army operation has freed 16 hostages, including Polish Catholic priest Mateusz Dziedzic, who were abducted by rebels from Central African Republic last month, Cameroon’s government said on Wednesday.

“A special operation of Cameroonian defence and security forces permitted the liberation last night of 15 Cameroonian hostages …as well as the Polish priest Mateusz Dziedzic,” the statement said.

The head of the organisation that runs Poland’s overseas Catholic missions had said a rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) abducted Dziedzic on the night of Oct. 12 in neighbouring Central African Republic.

The FDPC, one of a number of armed groups that has fought the Central African government and other militants in an off-on conflict in the former French colony over the past decade, had demanded Cameroon release its leader Abdoulaye Miskine.

It was not immediately clear if this condition had been met.

The FDPC was initially allied with Seleka, a coalition of local rebels that also included fighters from neighbouring Sudan and Chad which toppled the Central African government and seized the capital Bangui in March 2013.

After falling out with Seleka, Miskine fled to Cameroon and was arrested there in September 2013.

(Reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Emma Farge)

Nigeria – 65 killed in double suicide bombing in Maiduguri market


Maiduguri market

Two suicide bombers – a male and female – attacked a heavily populated Maiduguri market, killing scores of people, an eyewitness, Yusuf Ahmed, said on Tuesday.

An unconfirmed source said 65 corpses had been evacuated while others claimed 30 people were killed in the explosion.

Ahmed said on the telephone, “As I am talking to you, people are still trying to rescue the injured and evacuate the corpses. It is difficult to know the number of casualties.”

He said the place had been condoned off by security agencies making it difficult to assist in the rescue operations.

A youth vigilante source confirmed that the female attacker kept a parcel in one of the shops on One-way, a commercial area beside the popular Monday Market, telling the traders that she had something to pick from the market,

“The package detonated few minutes later. And as people were still wondering what happened and trying to rescue the injured, a bomber in the same area detonated a bomb planted on her; this claimed so many lives,” the source said.

Details later…

Another source claimed that the third bombing suspect was caught by the people. This also could not be confirmed as the police had yet to give an official confirmation of the explosion.


Nigeria’s Maiduguri city hit by ‘deadly blasts’

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau with fighters. 31 Oct 2014Boko Haram has vowed to create an Islamic state in Nigeria

Two female suicide bombers have blown themselves up at a crowded market in northern Nigeria’s Maiduguri city, causing many casualties, witnesses say.

At least 30 people were killed when the teenage girls detonated themselves, witnesses told AP news agency.

Witness Sani Adamau told Reuters news agency that the second blast occurred while people were trying to help those injured in the first blast.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram is waging an insurgency in Nigeria.

It was based in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, after its formation in 2002, but it has since been driven out of the city by the military and vigilante groups.

It now controls a large number of towns and villages in Borno, amid fears that it is preparing to launch an assault to capture Maiduguri.

Boko Haram has not commented on the explosions.


Who are Boko Haram?

  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria – also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Would an arms embargo help end the South Sudan civil war?

African Arguments

Would an arms embargo help end South Sudan’s civil war? – By James Copnall

JamesCopnallIn filthy camps for the displaced, thatched huts in half-forgotten villages, and Juba’s proud new concrete buildings, South Sudanese are waiting. As the rainy season peters out, and the deadlines rush to expiration, everyone wants to know whether a meaningful peace agreement will be signed.

Alongside the sort of optimism born of desperation, there is also the fear that the squabble over power, and other issues, will lead to renewed heavy fighting. Can leaders from both sides overcome their differences, their desire for revenge, and their overwhelming need for power?

If not, if the war rumbles back to a heightened state of intensity, if thousands more are killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced, there must be consequences.

Already the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on individual commanders accused of breaking the cessation of hostilities agreement. To date, though, these have been on field commanders rather than on those with real decision-making power.

More than 50 South Sudanese and international human rights organisations have called for an arms embargo to be imposed on both sides, in an effort to make further conflict less feasible. The rights groups wanted the regional mediators IGAD to inform the UN Security Council of a ‘clear request’ to impose the embargo.

IGAD did not go quite that far, but the mediators were unusually direct in the November 7 communique following IGAD’s 28th extraordinary summit. South Sudan’s neighbours threatened collective action, including, but not limited to, asset freezes, travel bans, and the ‘denial of the supply of arms and ammunition, and any other material that could be used in war’.

The threat of regional sanctions is now explicit, along with the possibility of further US and EU action, and even UN measures too. But how likely is it that sanctions will be applied?

The first point to note is the extent to which IGAD drives international thinking about South Sudan.  Individual countries or entities may opt to punish the South Sudanese leaders, but UN sanctions are unlikely unless IGAD acts first.

There is some logic to this. After all, IGAD, for better or worse, is in charge of the mediation process. It is also difficult to see how meaningful sanctions could be imposed on South Sudan if neighbouring countries were not prepared to apply them.

Second, the terms of IGAD’s sanctions threat are interesting. Targeted sanctions are directly tied to any ‘violation of the cessation of the hostilities by any party’. The key point here is that IGAD is not threatening sanctions on leaders who fail to make the necessary concessions needed for peace, merely on those who break the cessation of hostilities.

It is not immediately clear if this would target the individual commanders, or those higher up the chain. Is IGAD sending a shot across the bows of Riek Machar and Salva Kiir? Or warning those giving the orders in the field?

Linking the sanctions to Cessation of Hostilities violations means that it is particularly important to increase the effectiveness of the monitoring and verification teams. At the moment, they struggle to work in SPLM/A – In Opposition areas.

So far, although the monitors have accused both sides of initiating conflict, most of the blame for the violations has been directed at the SPLM/A-IO forces.

Both the rebels and the government have expressed, at different times and for different reasons, their reservations about IGAD’s neutrality. In fact, there are strong reasons to question whether IGAD are the right people to adjudicate sanctions.

Uganda is heavily involved militarily in the conflict. Its troops have fought alongside forces loyal to Salva Kiir. Both Uganda and Kenya have strong economic interests in South Sudan too. Neither is particularly likely to want to impose sanctions on those in power in Juba.

Sudan, for all its public declarations of support for Kiir, has also been accused of supporting his enemy, Riek Machar. The neighbours are all too involved in the conflict to be considered impartial.

There is a possibility that any regional punishments will not be a fair reflection of the abuses on the ground. There must also be serious doubts, given their obvious interests, whether the region is really prepared to take the necessary steps to impose sanctions.

This is unfortunate, because I believe sanctions are necessary.

It is certainly possible to argue that they may not be effective. Economic sanctions in Sudan have largely hurt the people, not the politicians. Travel bans and asset freezes may not be enough to deter further conflict.

However, those who commit abuses simply cannot be allowed to escape without punishment. Those who have fled conflict, or been raped by unruly soldiers, or suffered the unnecessary pain of a lost loved one, deserve to know that the world is watching, and will punish anyone who continues to fight.

This idea must be extended, too, to a more general sense of accountability, which has been missing in South Sudan for so long. When the conflict ends, the worst abusers must face justice, both for the sake of their victims, and to deter future fighting.

The AU Commission of Inquiry report on South Sudan will make interesting reading. Several sources suggest a strong draft has already been written, in which names are named. This could form the basis for future prosecutions – if that version makes it out into the public domain.

Among the sanction options suggested by IGAD, the arms embargo seems the most promising. It has the potential to squeeze the warring parties’ ability to fight, if not stop the war entirely. It would need to be thoroughly policed, however, and here regional commitment to the embargo would be vital.

However one option outlined by IGAD seems to me to contain more risks than potential rewards.

Point 4 of the 7 November communique states that: ‘Further, the IGAD region shall, without further reference to the warring Parties, take the necessary measures, if need be, to directly intervene in South Sudan to protect life and restore peace and stability.’

This threat of military action, surely intended to push Kiir and Machar to a deal as quickly as possible, should remain just that: a threat.

Already the military presence of the Ugandan troops, and apparent Sudanese support for Machar, has made resolving the conflict more complicated.

Regional military action runs the risk of regionalising the conflict, the last thing South Sudan needs.

James Copnall is a journalist and author of ‘A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce’He is editor of ‘Making Sense of the Sudans’.

Mauritania hits at anti-slavery and land reform activists


Mauritania cracks down on land reform activists

NOUAKCHOTT, 21 November 2014 (IRIN) – The latest arrest of a group of prominent anti-slavery activists in Mauritania has once again brought to the fore the country’s struggle with slavery and discrimination based on colour.

The Global Slavery Index classifies Mauritania as the most egregious offender when it comes to modern slavery, with 155,600 people still living in enslavement or about 4 percent of the population.

The index defines slavery as the status of a person who is owned by another, which could also include practices similar to debt-bondage, forced marriage, and slavery based on descent.

Several veteran activists were arrested on 11 November near the Mauritanian city of Rosso, on the Senegalese border. They were crisscrossing the Senegal River Valley holding public meetings and rallies to raise awareness about the need for land reform to benefit former slaves. People descended from slaves are often the victims of discrimination and have difficulty gaining access to land.

Senegal River Valley is the site of some of Mauritania’s best (and only) agricultural land, since the Sahara desert covers more than three-quarters of the country.

The nine arrested activists included Biram Dah Abeid, president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and the runner-up in the country’s recent presidential elections.

Abeid and his organization have long been outspoken about the links between the legacy of slavery and poverty in Mauritania.

“The Mauritanian slave masters have estates that they owe almost completely to the hard work of slaves,” Abeid told IRIN in an interview just a few days before his arrest. “It was on the backs of these slaves that they derived all of their wealth. The slaves only receive the leftover crumbs.”

Servitude and discrimination

The population of Mauritania is divided into three categories: an Arab-Berber group, making up the ruling class; black moors or Harratin, who are the current and former slaves; and other sub-Saharan African groups. The Arab-Berber group, despite, being a minority, dominates the political and economic life of the country. Both the black moors and the sub-Saharan African groups, which make up more than 70 percent of the population, have difficulty finding work.

Despite the 2007 law criminalizing slavery, it persists.

Aichetou Mbareck was a slave. Mbareck does not know how old she is, but her little sister thinks Aichetou might be around 40. She was released from slavery in Rosso only four years ago. “I was often beaten by my former masters,” Mbareck told IRIN, “with a stick, with electrical wire and with anything that came to hand.” She said her little sister helped her flee. “She came back to look for me after running away herself. I do not know if I would have had the courage to go alone, without her help,” said Mbareck.

The Global Slavery Index says the government has systematically failed to enforce its own slavery laws, thus perpetuating impunity. Only one person has ever been convicted for slavery – a case tried in 2011, but the individual served less than a year in prison.

Boubacar Ould Messaoud, president of SOS-Esclaves, the first anti-slavery organization in Mauritania, said the government is in denial about slavery. “We have observed that judges systematically requalify the proven cases of slavery that we present to them as just forms of unpaid work,” Messaoud told IRIN.

Messaoud and his fellow anti-slavery activists are worried. “We are concerned about the wave of arrests of human rights activists and call for the immediate cessation of this campaign of repression,” said Messaoud.

Amnesty International, in a statement released on 12 November, echoed this sentiment. “The Mauritanian authorities must stop the harassment, intimidation and repression of anti-slavery activists,” it said.

Access to land

Land reform that Abeid and the other activists were canvassing for is the latest front in an ongoing battle against the inequalities created by slavery.

“All land belongs to the state in theory,” said Bilal Ould Merzeg, a former ambassador and the founding member of the El Hor political movement (founded in the 1970s to fight for the rights of black moors). “But in the distribution of land, even at the state level, feudal reflexes also remain, and land is distributed to the powerful.”

Isselmou Ould Abdelkader, a former minister of foreign affairs and a consultant on human rights, disagrees. “Land belongs to the tribe,” he told IRIN. “And everyone has access to it.” Abdelkader said the “slave mode of production” has been dead for years. But, he said, it is common for certain people in society – what he would prefer to call serfs instead of slaves – are expected to pay a tithe to their masters, former or otherwise, after the agricultural season.

Abdoulaye Sow, a professor of sociology at the University of Nouakchott, told IRIN that serf or slave, the problem is about the country’s deep hierarchies. Land reform for the benefit of the slaves and former slaves, “would undermine the foundations of Mauritanian society, which is profoundly unequal,” said Sow.

The Mauritanian government continues to crack down on the anti-slavery activists. Several IRA members were arrested in a Nouakchott mosque in October. And on 13 November, a few days after Abeid’s arrest, the police and National Guard used violent force to put down a protest led by IRA members and supporters at Nouakchott’s main market.

According to Mamadou Sarr, president of the National Forum on Human Rights, the administration of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has regularly suppressed both anti-slavery activists and campaigners who talk about racial discrimination in general. “For each peaceful demonstration, there has been a corresponding extremely brutal police crackdown,” Sarr told IRIN.

Nonetheless, many Mauritanians have not been cowed. “These endless violent repressions are useless,” said Aliou Diarra, a student at the University of Nouakchott who is tired of discrimination against black Mauritanians. “We saw the Arab Spring and we have seen what happened in Burkina Faso. When the demands of the people, or a large majority of the people, are solid and legitimate, there is nothing the authorities can do to stem the tide of our quest for equality.”

South Sudan – SPLA says plans for uprising uncovered in Equatoria

Sudan Tribune

November 23, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) claimed it uncovered a plan by some politicians and former militia members allegedly to form a rebellion parallel to that of the armed opposition led by the country’s former vice president, Riek Machar.

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Troops from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) have been engaged in an armed struggle with rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar since mid-December last year (Photo: Reuters)

“Through coordination and the work of true and patriotic south Sudanese people from Equatoria region, who are peace loving members, we have discovered some disgruntled politicians and former members of militiamen in the person of Martin Kenyi,” a senior military intelligence officer told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

The army, he claimed, has closely been following activities of Kenyi and his group over the past months until it allegedly landed on a group that agreed to reactivate Equatoria Defense forces to fight an independent state from the rest of the republic of South Sudan.

“The group conducted their meeting in Kampala, Uganda on Tuesday last week and they agreed to appoint Martin Kenyi as the overall commander of the group,” said the senior army officer.

The group, as part of its resolutions, reportedly agreed to operate as a separate entity from the armed opposition led by Machar.

“Their objective is to fight for separation of Equatoria region from the rest of South Sudan,” claimed the military source.

Sylvester Akar and Michael Okuni were allegedly named the movement’s chief of general staff and head of mobilisation respectively.

Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the allegations from the military, although several opposition sources and government critics from Equatoria region do not rule out the existence of armed opposition groups intending to defend people.

Kenyi was commander of the Equatoria Defense Force, a military wing of political group associated with Theophilus Ochan Loti, who broke away from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) at the height of the past civil war between 1983 and 2005.

Kenyi later became a member of the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), a group of armed forces operating in southern Sudan, aligned with the government of Sudan against the SPLM/A. The SSDF was a composition of tribal militiamen based in their areas, which were used by Khartoum to resist SPLM/A incursions during the 1980s, alongside fighters who remained loyal to Machar after 1991 split.

The group signed the Khartoum Agreement in 1997, which committed the government of Sudan to self-determination for southern Sudan, but for which the referendum promised was never conducted, prompting Machar to return to the SPLM/A in January 2002. Most of his forces, together with a group of government allied militias which joined the SSDF in mid-2001 continued to maintain their commitment to the Khartoum agreement until peace signed in 2005.

Kenyi as the military leader of the Equatorial Defence Force, one of the components of the SSDF, became the 11-man military high command of the SSDF. During the last round of the Inter-govermental Authority on Development (IGAD) negotiations held in Kenya in May 2003 on the security arrangements, Kenyi was a member of the government of Sudan negotiating team.


Kenya – Ruto says security forces killed 100 Al Shabab after Mandera atrack

The Kenyan military has killed more than 100 al-Shabab militants linked to a deadly attack on a bus, Kenya’s deputy president says.

William Ruto said the armed forces had carried out two operations in Somalia, destroying equipment and a camp from which the bus attack was planned.

In Saturday’s attack, gunmen pulled non-Muslims passengers from a bus in northern Kenya, killing 28 of them.

A local governor said a total security overhaul was needed.

Al-Shabab has carried out a series of attacks in Kenya since 2011, the year that Kenya sent troops into Somalia to help battle the Islamist group.

Mr Ruto gave details of the military operation after attending a Sunday service at a church in Nyahururu.

The driver of the bus tried to accelerate away from the militants, but the vehicle got stuck in wet mud
“I can assure you that those behind the attack did not even take their supper,” he was quoted as saying by the Standard newspaper.

“They were killed by our officers who we sent out immediately after the attack. They did not find time to celebrate their heinous crime.”

He said security officials were in “full control” and urged other leaders to co-operate with the government rather than criticise it.

In Saturday’s attack in Mandera county, close to the Somali border, witnesses described how passengers were asked to recite passages from the Koran and those who failed were made to lie on the ground before being shot in the head.

Afterwards, at least one local official said that pleas for extra security in the area had gone unanswered.

On Sunday, Mandera Governor Ali Roba called on the government to “reshuffle” its entire security team in the region, saying that officers did not follow up on cases and that a state of insecurity was considered normal.

“Many suspects who are apprehended are released from cells under unknown circumstances, even when there is evidence of their involvement in crime,” Mr Roba told Kenya’s Daily Nation.

Somalia-based al-Shabab said it had carried out Saturday’s attack in retaliation for a government crackdown on mosques in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa that were allegedly used by extremists. Security forces seized weapons during the raids.

Mr Ruto said such police operations would not stop.

“We will not allow our praying places to be used as armoury,” he said. “This operation is going to happen no matter what.”

He also called on Muslim religious leaders to help ensure that mosques were not taken over by extremists.




Nigeria – Boko Haram kill 48 fishermen near Chad border

‘Boko Haram’ kills 48 Nigerian fishermen near Chad

Islamist militants from Nigeria’s Boko Haram have reportedly killed 48 people in an attack on fish sellers near the border with Chad.

A fish traders’ group said some victims had their throats slit whilst others were tied up and drowned in Lake Chad.

The attack took place on Thursday, but the news took several days to come to light because Boko Haram has destroyed mobile phone masts in the area.

It was the second major attack in two days by Boko Haram.

In Thursday’s attack, the traders were on their way to Chad to buy fish when militants blocked their path near the village of Doron Baga, some 180km (112 miles) north of Maiduguri in Borno state.

Abubakar Gamandi, the head of the fish sellers’ association, said the militants had used no guns.

“The attackers killed their victims silently without the use of the gun to avoid attracting attention from the multi-national troops,” he told AFP news agency.

Troops from Nigeria, Chad and Niger have been deployed to the area and have a base at Doron Baga, but the military task force has had little impact, says the BBC’s Will Ross in Lagos.

On Wednesday, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the village of Azaya Kura, also in Borno state, killing at least 45 people.

In this attack too, victims’ hands were tied behind their backs and their throats were slit. The attack was apparently aimed at punishing the community after four insurgents were pointed out to soldiers and were shot dead.

Boko Haram has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.

It has stepped up attacks against civilian targets since the Nigerian military launched an offensive against the group last year.