Sahel

Mali: Tuareg rebels demand autonomous Azawad

Mali's government is boasting a deal with Tuareg leaders signed May 15 in the capital Bamako that grants autonomous powers to the northern homeland of Azawad. But the "Algiers Accord"—named for Algeria-brokered negotiations—was not signed by the main rebel factions. Two leaders of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) signed, but not the body as a whole. The pro-Bamako militia known as the Tuareg Self-Defense Group of Imghad and Allies (GATIA) also signed. But the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and allied High Council for the Unity of Azawad boycotted the ceremony. Also absent were the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA),  Coordination for the People of Azawad (CPA), and Coordination of Movements and Fronts of Patriotic Resistance (CM-SAF).

Sudan: mass rape by army in Darfur

Sudanese army forces raped more than 200 women and girls in an organized attack on the north Darfur town of Tabit in October, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Feb. 11. The report, "Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit," documents army attacks in which at least 221 women and girls were raped in Tabit over 36 hours beginning on Oct. 30. "The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town's women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit."

Sahara drug trade funds Boko Haram insurgency

The brutal Boko Haram rebels are gaining ground at a frightening pace in northwest Nigeria, even mounting a bloody attack this week on the region's major city, Maiduguri. Reports are mounting that the extremist movement is funding its insurgency by exploiting Nigeria's strategic place as a crossroads of the global narco-traffick. BBC News on Jan. 25 asked "How have Nigeria's militants become so strong?" It cited the findings of the International Crisis Group that Boko Haram "has forged ties with arms smugglers in the lawless parts of the vast Sahel region." Plenty of its arms (including tanks and armored vehicles) have been plundered from the Nigerian army itself. But plenty more are thought to have come from Libya, where arms depots were looted when Moammar Qaddafi's regime was overthrown in 2011. Trafficking networks have been moving that plundered war material across the Sahel and Sahara, integrating the traffick into routes already established for moving drugs and other contraband between West Africa, Europe and Asia.

Mali: Tuareg autonomy at issue in new fighting

At least 12 people were in clashes Feb. 6 between rival Tuareg groups at Tabankort, northwest of Kidal in northern Mali, local sources told Efe. (See map.) Reports said the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) suffered 10 deaths, while the pro-government Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group (GATIA), lost two fighters, according to the sources. For more than two weeks, the two groups have battled for control of land along the border with Algeria apparently with little interfrence from the Malian army or the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Bamako government and MINUSMA opened talks in Algeria last week with the MNLA and allied High Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA). (EFE, MaliActu.net, Feb. 6)

Chad to fight Boko Haram in Cameroon

An advance unit of hundreds of Chadian troops, backed up by a column of tanks, arrived at Cameroon's northern border town of Kousseri Jan. 17, greeted with cheers by local residents terrorized by Boko Haram. The intervention force, approved by Chad's parliament, is to number in the thousands. Days earlier, most of the residents of nearby Kolofata were forced to flee after an attack by Boko Haram. Cameroon troops killed 143 insurgents in a gun battle that lasted more than four hours, the army said. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau this month threatened Cameroon's President Paul Biya in an online video. Biya sent some 1,000 troops to the border to fight Boko Haram after the wife of deputy premier Amadou Ali was captured in July by suspected militants. A French-led initiative calls for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute 700 troops each to a multinational force against Boko Haram. (Press TV, Jan. 18; AFP, Jan. 17; BBC News, Bloomberg, Jan. 16)

Demand Mauritania release anti-slavery activists

Amnesty International called Jan. 15 for the release of three anti-slavery activists who were imprisoned in Mauritania. One of the imprisoned activists is prominent opposition politician Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who was the runner-up in last June's presidential elections. The former presidential candidate is also the president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and won a UN Human Rights Prize in 2013. The three activists were given two-year sentences after being convicted of membership of an unrecognized organization and of taking part in an unauthorized assembly. The court acquitted seven other activists. Protesters outside the courthouse demonstrating against the judgment were dispersed by police with batons and tear gas. The IRA members that were arrested were engaged in a peaceful campaign to raise awareness about land rights for people of slave descent. Slave descendants who work on the land do not have any rights and must give a portion of their crops to their traditional masters. Police broke up the peaceful IRA meeting due to the absence of documents authorizing the group to meet, despite the fact that the IRA had requested the documents. AI called the sentence "politically motivated."

Mauritania: death sentence for blasphemy

Blogger Cheikh Ould Mohamed of Mauritania was sentenced to death for apostasy on Dec. 25 after a court convicted him of "speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed" on websites. The defendant fainted when the ruling was read out in a court in the port town of Nouadhibou, judicial sources told AFP. He was revived and taken to prison. Mohamed says he is repentant, and his lawyer pleaded for leniency. Mauritania has the death penalty, although Amnesty International says it has not carried out any executions since 1987. Sharia law is recognized, but enforcement of strict punishments such as floggings have been rare since the 1980s. (AFP via Al Arabiya, Dec. 25) Supporters have launched a Free Mohamed Cheikh wesbite.

ICC halts Darfur probe; Bashir threatens rebels

International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced Dec. 12 that she has suspended investigations into alleged war crimes in Sudan's Darfur, citing the UN Security Council's inaction in the case. "I am left with no choice but to hibernate investigative activities in Darfur as I shift resources to other urgent cases," Bensouda told the Security Council, rebuking the UN body for failing to push for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Presenting her 20th report to the Council on Darfur, Bensouda stated that without action, the cases against Bashir and three other indicted suspects would remain deadlocked. "What is needed is a dramatic shift in this council's approach to arresting Darfur suspects," Bensouda told the Council, or there would be "little or nothing to report to you for the foreseeable future." She also emphasized that the conflict is not over, saying that "massive new displacements" have taken place this year in Darfur.

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