Authorities in Mali said July 31 that a once-powerful jihadist leader has been arrested by French military forces in the northern desert town of Gao. Yoro Ould Daha was a commander of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which controlled Gao for nearly a year before the French intervention of 2013. Ould Daha was the MUJAO commander who announced the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali. He also took responsibility for the abduction of five humanitarian workers who were later released. (AP, July 31)
The United States has deployed 80 troops to Chad to assist in efforts to find the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, who are believed to have been absconded across the border. "The force, made up largely of Air Force personnel, will conduct surveillance flights and operate drone aircraft but will not participate in ground searches," the Washington Post informs us. While the deployment was announced by President Obama in a "War Powers Notification" letter sent to House and Senate leadership, the troops are actually there to maintain the drones—not to actually tramp through the forests in search for the missing girls. The drones are ostensibly unarmed and only for surveillance purposes. (Mashable, May 21)
Almost 20,000 people of Chadian origin have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in recent weeks, and many more are expected to join the exodus, which is straining humanitarian capacity in Chad, a country many of those fleeing have never lived in. "Those of us who were born here are Central Africans, but we are treated like foreigners. We have never seen Chad but have to go there for our own protection," said Awa Rabilou, one of thousands of people camped for the last two weeks outside the Chadian embassy in Bangui, waiting for a place on a truck headed for Chad. "Our houses were burnt. We left with only the clothes we were wearing. They even threw grenades at us. It was people who joined the anti-balaka who did this. If we stay in our neighborhood, they will kill us," added Rabilou.
The authorities in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, have set up tighter border controls in the Far North region to guard against infiltration by jihadist Boko Haram fighters from neighboring Nigeria as civilians flee insurgent attacks and a Nigerian military offensive, seeking safety across the border in Cameroon. A rapid response military unit has also been deployed and beefed up in the northern regions and some tourist hotels now have armed guards. "We have revised our security strategy. We have registered all expatriates and established police posts in areas where they work. There are security control posts along the border to reduce illegal entry," said Bob-Iga Emmanuel, the head of police division at the governor's office in the Far North region.
Sudan made minor headlines by expelling 20 staff members of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with UNHCR accusing the government of "compromising the ability of the refugee agency to effectively undertake its work in Darfur." (Radio Dabanga, Aug. 6) The spat comes amid a re-inflammation of the Darfur conflict. The UN Security Council passed a resolution last week calling for an end to heightening violence in Darfur, and greater action by "peacekeepers" to protect civilians. The council extended the mandate of the joint UN-African Union force in Darfur until next August. (AP, July 30) Days later, Misseriya tribal leader Ahmed Khiri boatsed to AFP that his forces had killed 100 members of the rival Salamat tribe in a battle near Garsila, with 28 lost on his own side. (AFP, July 30) Estimates of the number of newly displaced in Darfur so far this year is estimated at over 240,000. (Radio Dabanga via AllAfrica, Aug. 2)
Senegalese police on June 30 detained former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre. Habre has been under house arrest in Senegal since 2005. Senegal and the African Union signed an agreement in December to set up the Extraordinary African Chambers to try Habre for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture during his time in power between 1982 and 1990, in which rights groups report that some 40,000 people were killed. Habre's lawyer said that Habre was taken from his home in Dakar to an unknown location in preparation for his trial.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: "The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity." Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.
It was one year ago that Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seized control of the vast desert north of Mali, and declared an independent state in the remote territory which had long been a sort of internal colony. But within weeks, control of Azawad was usurped by jihadist factions, who drove the MNLA from the territory. After months of harsh sharia rule in northern Mali, France intervened late last year, helped government forces drive back the jihadists, and established tenuous control over the north. Sporadic fighting continues, and the MNLA have joined the offensive against the Islamists, while stressing their independence from the French and government forces. The MNLA now have control of the town of Kidal, in an uneasy alliance with French-backed Chadian troops. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visting the capital Bamako last week, said the MNLA will have to accept being disarmed and "confined." An AP report of April 7 noted celebrations by Tuaregs on the anniversary of the MNLA's takeover, but also implied that the rebel group has abandoned its separatist aspirations. Moussa ag-Assaride, the MNLA's communications chief, was cited as saying he knew that many in northern Mali are not aware that the group officially is no longer seeking independence. "But that doesn't stop the population from showing their joy," he said.