The Polisario Front has declared the 1991 Western Sahara ceasefire defunct after Morocco launched a military operation within the UN-patrolled buffer strip through the disputed territory Nov. 13. At issue is a road linking the territory to Mauritania, which passes through the buffer zone just before the border. Polisario considers the road illegal, claiming it was built in violation of the 1991 truce. What are variously called protesters or Polisario-linked militia have been blocking the road at the locality of Guerguera, within the buffer zone. Morocco's Royal Armed Forces say they are seeking to secure the flow of goods and people along the road; Polisario contends the road is being used to smuggle drugs and contraband. Polisario's armed wing, the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army, claims to have launched attacks on Moroccan forces. It is unclear if the renewed conflict has yet claimed any lives. (Sahara Press Service, WSRW, Maghreb Daily News, MEO, NYT, NYT, UN News, Al Jazeera)
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.
In an egregious and all too revealing faux pas, Amy Goodman appears to have put a mouthpiece of the German far right on Democracy Now as a "former UN expert" to discuss Venezuela. This is one Alfred de Zayas, who is given Goodman's typical sycophantic treatment—all softballs, no adversarial questions. We are treated to the accurate enough if not at all challenging or surprising line about how the US is attempting a coup with the complicity of the corporate media. Far more interesting than what he says is de Zayas himself. His Twitter page identifies him as a "Former @UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a #Democratic & Equitable #International Order," and this is confirmed by his bio page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. Further digging reveals that he is on the board of the Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, a Berlin-based foundation established last year as the intellectual and policy arm of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right party that has tapped anti-immigrant sentiment to win an alarming 94 seats in Germany's Bundestag.
The Mauritanian Radio and Television Broadcast Authority on Oct. 17 ordered Mauritania's five privately owned news stations to shut down for "failing to fulfill their financial agreements." The move is the latest sign of a crackdown on the independent press following a controversial referendum called by President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz in August. The vote, boycotted by the opposition, approved abolition of the country's Senate after it ruled against expanding presidential powers. At least one station was removed from air. After the letters were sent , agents of the tax authority went to the office of al-Mourabitoun TV—a channel generally supportive of the opposition Islamist parties. Employees were ordered to leave, and the doors to the building were locked. The agents told staff that the channel owed 2 million ouguiyas (US$5,600), in tax, according to local media reports. (Committee to Protect Journalists)
Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Oct. 30 announced that the last remaining British inmate, Shaker Aamer, has been released and returned to the UK after extensive review (PDF) by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Though he is a citizen of the UK through marriage, Aamer identifies himself as a Saudi national. In 2001, Aamer was allegedly performing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured by bounty hunters and transferred to a US military base as an al-Qaeda suspect. Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and remained there for 13 years despite being approved for release in 2007 and 2009. Aamer was never charged and claims he was consistently subject to abusive treatment. He often accused the prison of unfair conditions and recently went on hunger strike to press his grievances. Now that Aamer has returned to the UK, he must undergo physical and mental health assessment. Though it is unknown if he will be monitored for security reasons, Aamer has stated he has no ill intentions.
An independent UN human rights expert on Aug. 21 commended Mauritania for adopting a new law that establishes harsher sentences for slavery crimes, urging full implementation. The law adopted last week by the Mauritanian National Assembly doubles prison terms for slavery convictions, declared slavery a crime against humanity, and created tribunals to handle slavery prosecution cases. UN Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola said that the law is an important step on a road map toward eradicating slavery but insisted that "slavery and slavery-like practices can be eradicated only if the existing laws, policies and programs are implemented fully and effectively. This statement comes just one day after a court in Mauritania upheld a two-year prison sentence for Biram Dah Abeid, an anti-slavery activist convicted of inciting trouble and belonging to an unrecognized organization.