Tag Archives: Niger

UN Security Council backs West African states to fight Sahel insurgencies

Reuters

By Michelle Nichols | UNITED NATIONS

UNITED NATIONS The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday unanimously backed a West African force to combat militant groups as well as arms, drug and human trafficking in the Sahel region after diplomats said France softened the resolution’s language to secure the support of the United States.

The vast, arid region has in recent years become a breeding ground for jihadist groups – some linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State – that European countries, particularly France, fear could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

Last year, the nations of the Sahel – Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – proposed establishing specially-trained units of around 100 soldiers each, which would be deployed in areas where jihadist groups are known to operate.

“We cannot let the Sahel become a new refuge for terrorist organizations of the whole world. In the Sahel, all of our security is at stake, not just the security of the … five states,” said French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre.

The United States, however, did not believe a resolution was warranted and did not want the world body to help fund the force, diplomats said. The United States is one of council’s five veto powers, along with France, Britain, Russia and China.

The first draft resolution authorized the force to “use all necessary means” to carry out its operations, but following council negotiations, the language was revised to “welcome the deployment.”

The resolution also encourages countries to provide support. The European Union has already committed $56 million to the Sahel force.

The United States is trying to cut the cost of U.N. peacekeeping and is reviewing each of the 16 missions as they come up for Security Council renewal. Washington is the largest contributor, paying 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion (6.24 billion pounds) peacekeeping budget.

Special units proposed by the five Sahel nations would complement the efforts of regular armed forces, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and France’s “Operation Barkhane,” which has deployed around 4,000 troops across the region.

France first intervened in early 2013 to drive out militants who had seized northern Mali a year earlier. But militants continue to attack in Mali and its neighbours.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by G Crosse)

EU commits 50 million euros to West African security

Reuters

DAKAR The European Union committed 50 million euros (43.60 million pounds) on Monday to help the countries of West Africa’s Sahel region set up a multinational force to combat Islamist militant groups.

The vast, arid zone has in recent years become a breeding ground for jihadist groups – some linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State – that European nations, particularly France, fear could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

In a statement released during the visit to Mali of its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the European Union said its support would help the so-called G5 Sahel countries of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania establish a regional task force.

“The stability and development of the Sahel region are crucial not only for Africa but also for Europe,” Mogherini said in the statement. “We are neighbours and what happens on one of our continents has an impact on the other.”

Last year, the Sahel nations proposed establishing special units, each composed of around 100 well-trained soldiers, which would be deployed in areas where jihadist groups are known to operate.

They would complement the efforts of regular armed forces, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and France’s Operation Barkhane, which has around 4,000 troops deployed across the five Sahel countries.

France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali a year earlier. However, militants continue to attack security forces and civilian in Mali and its neighbours.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Mali on his first trip outside of Europe last month after his election, has reaffirmed Paris’s commitment to the region and called on Germany and other European nations to ramp up military and development aid.

(Reporting By Emma Farge; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Niger – gunmen kill six members of security forces

Reuters

NIAMEY Gunmen killed six security agents in southwestern Niger, a security source and local resident said, in an area near the Malian border where jihadists have been increasingly active.

The attackers opened fire on a security post in the town of Abala, about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of the capital Niamey, at around 7 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Wednesday, killing four national guard troops and two gendarmes, a security source told Reuters.

“Just when everyone was preparing to break the Ramadan fast, we heard shots in the town. The exchange of fire lasted almost two hours,” a school teacher in Abala told Anafi, a local radio station.

Militants and criminal gangs have long operated around the vast, desert border between Mali and Niger, even after a French-led military intervention pushed insurgent groups back from northern Mali in 2013.

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Earlier this year, Niger declared a state of emergency along a portion of the border where Wednesday’s shooting took place.

Abala is home to a camp for refugees who have fled violence in Mali. Repeated attacks in the Tillabery region near the border have led authorities to impose a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

Several French soldiers from a regional counter-terrorism operation were wounded on Thursday morning in a mortar attack on a United Nations’ peacekeeping camp in northern Mali.

Further south, Niger also faces threats from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram. Niger security forces killed 57 Boko Haram militants in April who had attacked a village in the southeastern Diffa region.

(Reporting By Boureima Balima; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Robin Pomeroy)

West Africa – 44 migrants die of thirst crossing Sahara

BBCEurope migrant crisis

Car in desertImage copyright AFP
Image caption Many migrants make the treacherous journey in the hope of a better life in Europe

Survivors say 44 people have died of thirst after their truck broke down in the Sahara Desert in northern Niger, the Red Cross has told the BBC.

The six survivors, all women, walked to a remote village and are being looked after in Dirkou, Niger, Red Cross official Lawal Taher said.

They say several children among the dead.

The Ghanaians and Nigerians were trying to get to Libya, reports Nigerien news site Sahelien.

So far no-one has visited the site to identify the bodies, Mr Taher added

The route from Niger to Libya is one of the main ways migrants reach North Africa before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe.

Map

Crossing the Sahara is one of the most perilous parts of the journey as migrants are crammed into pickup trucks often with only enough room for a few litres of water, reports Reuters news agency.

Authorities told Reuters that is it almost impossible to know how many have died in the vast and unpoliced Sahara.

Last June, the bodies of 34 migrants, including 20 children, were found in the Sahara Desert near Niger’s border with Algeria.

It appeared they had died of thirst after being abandoned by their smuggler, a government minister said at the time.

Niger president tells G-7 to put out Libyan cauldron and give more aid

Reuters

By John Irish | TAORMINA, Italy

TAORMINA, Italy Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou called on the leaders of the Group of Seven nations to take urgent measures to end the Libyan crisis and derided them for not keeping to aid promises to fight poverty in West Africa’s poorest regions.

Niger, which adjoins Libya to the south and has fought Islamists at home, is increasingly concerned about the situation in the North Africa country where rival governments oppose each other leaving a power vacuum that has enabled Islamist groups to establish a foothold in the country.

“The fight against terrorism in the Sahel countries and the Lake Chad demands that urgent measures be taken to put out the Libyan cauldron,” Issoufou, one of several Africa leaders attending a G7 summit in Sicily, said in a speech

The former French colony remains one of the poorest countries on earth. More than 60 percent of its 17 million people survive on less than $1 a day and as a result it is also one of the main transit points for African migrants seeking to reach Europe through Libya.

“Be it Niger, a transit nation, or the countries of origin, it is only through development that we will prevent illegal migration,” Issoufou said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has more than 4,000 troops spanning across West Africa as part of a counter-terrorism operation, said on Friday that more needed to be done to support the development of countries like Niger as well as providing military assistance.

Issoufou on Saturday also took a swipe at the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, Britain and the United States, saying they had simply not lived up to their promises.

“In terms of development aid, rare are the donor countries that meet the level of 0.7 percent of GDP promised 50 years ago and the G8 promised in 2005 25 billion euros in extra development. That target promise was never met,” Issoufou said.

Italy had hoped to make Africa the major focus of the annual G7 gathering, holding the discussions on the island of Sicily that has taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants over the past four years as they flee war and poverty back home.

However, the two-day meeting got overshadowed by a suicide bombing in northern England on Monday that killed 22 people, and also got bogged down by lengthy discussions on the merit of free trade and the 2015 Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Toby

Nigeria – UN warns millions displaced by Boko Haram risk statelessness

Premium Times

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, Regional Representative for West Africa, Liz Ahua, says massive displacement in Nigeria’s North-East zone poses great dangers of statelessness for victims.

Mrs. Ahua said this on Sunday in Banjul at the opening ceremony of a three-day ministerial meeting on the Adoption of the Regional Plan of Action to Eradicate Statelessness in West Africa.

She said that if urgent actions were not taken, some of the 2.4 million Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, or refugees residing in neighbouring countries could lose their nationality and become stateless.

She explained that displacement, whether caused by conflicts or natural disasters, was a root cause of statelessness which further increases the risk, if not urgently and properly tackled.

She said that it could also become an obstacle to achieving durable solutions for displaced persons and prevent them from rebuilding their lives in dignity as well as impede return and relocation.

“The crises in the Lake Chad Basin region is a prime example where over 2.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict, including over 1.8 million IDPs in Nigeria

“Over 200,000 Nigerians are living as refugees in neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon without adequate documentation.

“Before the crises, civil registration, including birth registration, were already low in the region and most of those displaced lack identity documents.

“This has created many challenges, including discerning between refugees and IDPs in local communities, impacting their access to protection and rights.

“In the longer term, this may hamper the achievement of durable solution for the displaced.’’

According to her, the link between issues of statelessness, sustaining peace and security in the region cannot be separated as statelessness can lead to insecurity and instability.

She explained that stateless persons, when they felt deserted, could easily be used as tools of destruction by insurgents and criminals in carrying our attacks and perpetuating other crimes.

Mrs. Ahua commended Nigeria and Niger for their commitment in pushing for the Adoption of the Abuja Declaration on the Protection of the Lake Chad Basin in June 2016.

She said that the commitment of both countries gave impetus to the Abidjan Declaration in its engagement to reduce the risk of statelessness among the displaced populations.

The UNHCR Regional Representative further said that laudable efforts were under way to address documentation and nationality issues in the affected areas.

(NAN)

The region in Niger quietly piloting a Boko Haram amnesty

African Arguments

Diffa region, Boko Haram amnesty

The bold experiment is proving attractive, but comes fraught with dangers.

In mid-December 2016, in rural Diffa region on Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, fourteen men gave themselves up to authorities. The group said that they were former fighters of Boko Haram and that they had abandoned their weapons in the bush.

News of this impromptu surrender from the Islamist militant group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements came as a surprise to most in the area. But not to regional authorities.

Since late last year, they had been quietly testing a tactic of asking families whose children have joined Boko Haram to spread word of an amnesty. If they surrendered, fighters were told, they would be pardoned and assisted in rejoining their communities.

Before then, the main regional response to the brutal Islamist militant group had been military. This has had some successes in weakening the combatants, and the last major Boko Haram attack in Niger in which civilians were killed was in September 2016. But in Nigeria, where the group originated, and beyond, gruesome assaults, abductions, and bombings of schools and markets continued.

To those in Diffa, these attacks have been shocking. But more distressing to many has been the rate of voluntary conscription amongst Niger’s youth. Imams and village chiefs return to one question: “What about this savagery is attractive to our young?” Families and leaders tussle with this issue, but many simply refuse to countenance that those who join Boko Haram from Niger are truly radicalised.

It was with this belief in mind – as well as an awareness of the limits of a ground war – that the experimental amnesty plan was hatched last year. The exact details of the “secret messaging” campaign are unclear, but local leaders express pride in their initiative, which they say is ongoing, and follow it closely.

As the prefect of Maïné-Soroa told me, “Governor [of Diffa Region] Dan Dano calls every night to ask how many Boko have surrendered.”

As of late-March, the number stood at nearly 150 across Diffa.

Planning ahead

In terms of numbers, the amnesty scheme has so far proven to be effective. The logic behind it is also clear. Uganda’s use of a similar strategy to entice defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the early-2000s is widely believed to have weakened rebel ranks. And Diffa’s experiment comes at a time when Boko Haram is already facing factional splintering and other difficulties.

[Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?]

As a locally-designed and -executed initiative, it is also impressive and promising. Often when disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) schemes are implemented, they are imported internationally with little local ownership. But this is not the case with Diffa, and other regions facing the same problem are watching the bold experiment closely.

However, while local leaders are buoyed by progress so far, not everyone is convinced.

Some believe that the policy is a distraction from tackling the longer-term push factors – such as poverty and a weak state – that lead youth to join Boko Haram in the first place. Meanwhile others worry that funds from other more widely beneficial development projects will be re-directed to rehabilitating former combatants.

As Niger’s Minister of Justice Marou Amadou says of ex-Boko Haram fighters, “it costs us money to house them, to feed them”.

For his part, Governor Dano says he is not yet seeking funds to help manage the growing caseload. His intent is to pilot the idea and, if it proves tenable, to seek support where it is needed. But this more reactive approach also brings with it certain risks.

At present, anticipated needs only cover the Goudoumaria reintegration centre where vocational training and de-radicalisation programmes are to take place over a two-year period. As in combatant DDR programmes elsewhere, external partners will be involved.

However, if defector numbers spike with no clear plan or resources already in place, the programme could stall. Frustrations could escalate and deserters may revolt or even re-mobilise. This has happened in many other DDR programmes where logistics and planning were slow or inadequate.

Local suspicion

Another serious challenge to the amnesty comes from the fact that, at a grassroots level, many local communities in Niger are not yet on board with the idea. They view the deserters with suspicion and hostility.

Unlike in Uganda, there is currently no legal framework for Diffa’s amnesty initiative, meaning there is no official process by which ex-combatants can gain legal status as pardoned deserters. Moreover, some worry that those surrendering are being planted by Boko Haram.

Dano concedes that processing the defectors will take time, but insists there are measures in place to determine threat levels.

“We cross-reference their stories, their claim to a certain village and family, by visiting those places and confirming details. We try to learn more about them, when they left and if witnesses saw them attacking villages here,” he says. He also suggests that those who are genuinely radicalised will simply ignore the offer of an amnesty.

In order to drive support for the initiative, Dano along with local prefects and leaders have been appearing before the public. But from all reports, these are purely declaratory rather than responsive exercises.

This could pose a serious problem. If local leadership fails to convince the population, it could undermine the whole endeavour. After all, it is ultimately victims – more so than ex-combatants or state officials – whose buy-in is essential for an amnesty to be effective. For reconciliation and reinsertion of former fighters to be possible, communities must be prepared to accept them back into their lives.

Yet there are currently no participatory approaches being adopted to more closely involve communities, and many simply see the amnesty as impunity. Furthermore, popular sentiment may harden as word spreads that deserters could be rewarded with vocational training and livelihoods assistance while innocent, traumatised communities get nothing.

“We think we are diminishing the ranks of BH with this amnesty effort, but now what are we doing with the defectors?” asks Minister Amadou. “We aren’t prosecuting them – none of this is good for us.”

The price of peace?

The challenges and risks of Diffa’s pilot amnesty are thus clear to see. Trying to pardon and rehabilitate former fighters under volatile and uncertain circumstances comes fraught with dangers, especially if the initiatives are not carefully and thoroughly financed and planned.

Meanwhile, if local communities remain resistant to the idea, the policy could result in deepening resentment, hostility and suspicion.

However, as Boko Haram continues to terrorise Niger and the Lake Chad region, local authorities insist that the risks of continuing with a predominantly military approach are similarly grave.

“We cannot become Nigeria”, says Dano.

Fighting Boko Haram may involve policies that are controversial to begin with, say local leaders, but they are ultimately necessary.

Asked how he justifies pardoning former Boko Haram militants and spending scarce funds on their rehabilitation to those in Diffa, the Maïné-Soroa prefect sighs. “I tell them such is the price we have to pay for peace”.