Security forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have been accused in a rising toll of extrajudicial killings committed in the context of their battle against jihadist groups in the Sahelian region. In Mali, soldiers allegedly conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN Mission in Mali reported—a significant increase over the last quarter of 2019.
The French-backed military campaign against Islamist militants in Niger is claiming victories against the insurgency that has mounted in the country since 2015. Niger's Defense Ministry said in a statement Feb. 20 that over the past month, "120 terrorists have been neutralized," a presumed euphemism for killed. The statement said there had been no losses among Nigerien or French troops, and that vehicles and bomb-making equipment had been seized. The operation has centered on the Tillabéri region near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, where a state of emergency has been in place for two years.
At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations Jan. 13, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region's growing militarization. Sahel analysts also questioned the lack of engagement with non-military solutions and the political conflicts underlying the violence. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel.
At least 25 Malian soldiers are dead and more than 60 others missing after two assaults on bases in central Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso. On Sept. 30, jihadist forces simultaneously targeted the Malian army base in Mondoro and the G5 Sahel force camp at Boulikessi. The G5 Sahel group includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, and receives logistical support from the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Malian officials say the insurgents used "heavy weapons" in the assaults, and that at least 15 militants were killed. Local reports indicate the militants were able to briefly hold the bases and capture large amounts of weapons and equipment. Mali has now launched a joint operation with Burkina Faso and French forces in the region to hunt down the militants.
At least 38 people were killed and many more wounded in attacks on two ethnic Dogon villages in the Mopti region of central Mali on June 17—seemingly the latest in escalating reprisals pitting the Dogon and Fulani peoples against each other. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Mali has this year seen a spate of inter-ethnic violence between the Dogon and Fulani communities. The attacks targeted the villages of Gangafani and Yoro near the border with Burkina Faso. (Defense Post) The following day, presumed jihadist fighters killed 17 civilians in a night-time raid on a village in the north of Burkina Faso. Authorities say a "massive" military operation is underway to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack on the village of Belehede. Although there was again no claim of responsibility, both the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara are active in the area. (AFP)
Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers Taiwan to be part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
Jihadists attacked the Splendid Hotel in the central Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, setting cars ablaze and firing randomly, leaving 28 dead on Jan. 15. All but five of those killed were foreigners. The siege ended with a joint operation by Burkinabe and French commandos, in which at least four assailants were killed—including both Arabs and Black Africans. French special forces are stationed outside Ouagadougou as part of ongoing counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel. In an online statement entitled "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the attack was carried out by "mujahideen brothers" of its West African franchise, al-Mourabitoun. The statement boasted of "many dead Crusaders," although the victims appear to have been entirely civilians. (BBC News, DW, RFI, AP, NYT)