Sahel

Strike shuts Mauritania mega-mine

Canada-based Kinross Gold is said to be rethinking plans for expansion of its massive open-pit mine at Tasiast, Mauritania, after a strike shut the facility for 10 days this month. Amid the shut-down, rating experts at the Bank of Montreal downgraded Kinross and removed the expansion of the Tasiast mine from production forecasts for the company. Some 1,500 workers, representing 98% of the labor force at the mine, walked off the job Aug. 8, demanding better health coverage and respect for Mauritania's labor code. The conflict seems to have begun when managers demanded the mine remain in operation during the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr. The strike, called by Mauritania's main trade union confederation, the CGTM, was resolved Aug. 19 under terms that were not made public. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with which the CGTM is affiliated, is demanding "urgent clarification" on the fate of one worker for subcontractor Canary Log, allegedly found dead under "obscure circumstances" near the mine site during the strike.

Darfur: ethnic war exploding again

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) 

UN takes over Mali mission —but France to stay

At a ceremony in Bamako July 1, UN troops formally took over the "peacekeeping" mission in Mali, with authority transferred from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). But most of the soldiers actually remained the same, with AFISMA troops merely donning the blue beret of UN peacekeeping forces. In April, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong MINUSMA to take over from the African-led force, with authorization "to use all necessary means" to carry out humanitarian and security-related missions and protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artifacts. The new mission begins as French forces continue their phased withdrawal. But France, Mali's former colonial master, is to keep up to 1,000 troops in the country. (Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, July 1)

Senegal police arrest former Chad dictator

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.

Mali: will peace hold with Tuareg rebels?

A Malian government mission arrived June 23 in Kidal, stronghold of the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), days after the signing of a ceasefire deal with the mediation of the West African bloc ECOWAS. The mission is charged with establishing conditions for the return of Malian defense and security forces on this part of the national territory in conformity with the peace agreement signed June 18 in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou between the Mali's government and Tuareg separatists including the MNLA and the High Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA). The peace deal allows for the presidential elections set for July 28 to move ahead in the northern region. (Xinhua, June 24; AFP, Nationalia, June 19)

Mali to resume talks with Tuareg rebels

Talks will resume soon between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), according to the foreign ministry of Burkina Faso, which has been brokering the dialogue. Earlier this month, a Malian military spokesperson said the country was in the final stages of preparation for an assault on Kidal, the northern town that is held by the MNLA. The last negotiations were back in December before the French-led military offensive to remove the fundamentalist militias who had battled with the MNLA for control of Mali's north. The MNLA supports plans for national elections for an interim president on June 28, but says it will not allow army troops into Kidal for the vote. Said MNLA envoy Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh: "We suggest that security during the vote be guaranteed by UN troops... because no Azawad citizen can elect the future president of Mali under the protection of Mali's terrorist army." (AFP, May 24; Al Jazeera, May 20)

Sudan war crimes suspect reported killed in Darfur

Deputy commander of the JEM-Bashar rebel faction and international war crimes suspect Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus has reportedly been killed in Northern Darfur. The group reported his death on April 22, which was later confirmed by his defense team. Jamus was charged in connection with an attack on African Union peacekeepers in September 2007 at Haskanita, which resulted in the death of 12 peacekeepers. He was charged with three war crimes: violence to life and attempted violence to life; intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units and vehicles involved in a peacekeeping mission; and pillaging. His hearing was scheduled to begin in May.

Burkina Faso: the next domino?

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson on April 12 called on the international community to protect Burkina Faso from terrorism, warning that attacks on the country's infrastructure or security would undermine social cohesion within the country, impair inward investment and further destabilize the region. Burkina Faso is particularly vulnerable due to its geographical proximity to the conflict in Mali, with which it shares a border. Emmerson described the country's role in regional peace negotiations:

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