DRC: accused war criminal becomes defense chief
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi appointed former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba as defense minister and deputy prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle on March 24. Bemba, who served as vice president from 2003 to 2006, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2016 of crimes against humanity over atrocities allegedly committed by rebels under his command when they intervened in the conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic in 2002. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but the court overturned his sentence on appeal in 2018. However, five defendants were convicted on charges related to obstruction of justice in the Bemba case. (AfricaNews, France24)
Oil contracts at issue in Somaliland conflict?
Fighting continues in Somalia's northern breakaway state of Somaliland, where three eastern administrative regions—Sool, Sanaag, and Aynaba—have taken up arms in a bid to rejoin the internationally recognized Mogadishu government. Somaliland accuses the neighboring autonomous region of Puntland and the government of Ethiopia (which is officially attempting to broker a dialogue in the conflict) of intervening on the side of the re-integrationist rebels, who are headquartered in the town of Las Anod, Sool region. Somaliland has been effectively independent since 1991, and has seen a more stable and secular social order than the regions controlled by the Mogadishu government.
Clashes over contested Somaliland regions
More than 200 people have died in three weeks of fighting around a disputed town in Somalia's northern breakaway region of Somaliland. Médecins Sans Frontières said March 1 a hospital it supports in Las Anod was hit for the fourth time in "indiscriminate" shelling that has depopulated the town. The medical charity described the situation as "desperate"; more than 95,000 refugees have reportedly fled into neighboring Ethiopia after three weeks of clashes. Local militias around Las Anod are fighting to pull three administrative regions–Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn–away from Somaliland, with the aim of rejoining Somalia. Meanwhile, Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia that is also in a territorial dispute with neighboring Somaliland, has sent in troops to support the militias. Somaliland has claimed that the jihadist group al-Shabab is also fighting in Las Anod–an allegation denied by Puntland. Somali leaders in Mogadishu have called on Somaliland to allow the three administrative regions to decide their own futures. The international community has called on all sides to abide by an earlier announced ceasefire.
French forces out of Burkina Faso, into Ivory Coast
France has officially ended its operations in Burkina Faso on Feb. 20, a month after the ruling junta there terminated a military accord that allowed the former colonial power to fight jihadists. French forces remain in the greater region, however. The move came as French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu visited Côte d'Ivoire, pledging to boost military support as jihadist attacks hit coastal West African states. (TNH)
Podcast: West Africa's forgotten wars
In Episode 161 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an overview of the under-reported conflicts in West Africa, where government forces and allied paramilitary groups battle multiple jihadist insurgencies affiliated either with ISIS or al-Qaeda on a franchise model. Horrific massacres have been committed by both sides, but the Western media have only recently started to take note because of the geopolitical angle that has emerged: both Mali and Burkina Faso have cut long-standing security ties with France, the former colonial power, and brought in mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group. In both countries, the pastoralist Fulani people have been stigmatized as "terrorists" and targeted for extra-judicial execution and even massacre—a potentially pre-genocidal situation. But government air-strikes on Fulani communities in Nigeria have received no coverage in the Western media, because of the lack of any geopolitical rivalry there; Nigeria remains firmly in the Anglo-American camp. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Somalia: US raids on ISIS stronghold
A US special forces raid in Somalia ordered by President Joe Biden killed a key regional ISIS leader, Bilal al-Sudani, the Pentagon said in a statement Jan. 26. Sudani apparently died in a gun-battle after US troops descended on a cave complex in a mountainous area of northern Somalia. No civilians were injured or killed in the operation, officials said. The statement did not specify the location of the raid, but the announcement followed reports in Somali media describing a US drone strike on a stronghold of the self-declared Islamic State-Somalia (ISS) in the Iskushuban area of the Cal Miskaad mountains, in the northern autonomous region of Puntland. (Defense Post, Military.com, LWJ)
Massacres mount in eastern DRC
Militants from the ISIS-aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed at least 15 people, more than haf of them women, in attacks on the villages of Manyala and Ofay in Ituri province of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities reported Jan. 30. On Jan. 23, presumed ADF fighters massacred at least 20 people at a bar where local residents were drinking beer in Makugwe village, in the Beni region of neighboring North Kivu province. On Jan. 16, presumed ADF fighters killed some 20 Christian worshippers in a bomb attack on a church in Kasindi village, North Kivu. (MTT, VOA, Defense Post, BBC News)
Ethiopia: violence ebbs in Tigray, flares in Oromia
The war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has cooled down since the signing of a peace deal in November. But a separate conflict is intensifying further south, in Oromia, where civilians are suffering as anti-government rebels step up attacks. Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) guerillas were previously confined to the fringes of western and southern Oromia, Ethiopia's largest region. But analysts say the Tigray war created a security vacuum that has helped the OLA expand its long-running insurgency. The security situation is now "fast deteriorating," the UN's aid coordination agency, OCHA, warned in a report last month. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted and essential services are not functioning in some conflict-affected areas.
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