Congo: 'The world forgets we are survivors'
Publisher: Al Jazeera
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo – That the Democratic Republic of Congo is still a fractured society, struggling with poverty, insecurity and state fragility, having emerged out of civil war almost a decade ago, is no secret.

But international media often fail to move past narratives of death and destruction in reporting or explaining the DRC. With the country in the spotlight as its citizens vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on Monday, allegations of fraud, logistical delays, and clashes between rival parties have come to the fore.

Little, however, has been said about how the media continues to cover the country, the role of civil society and the challenges it faces, and why the DRC – the lowest-ranked country in the UN Human Development Index – remains in the state it is.

Ahead of Monday's vote, Al Jazeera's Azad Essa spoke to Thomas D'Aquin Muiti, chairperson of the North Kivu chapter of Civil Society, a DRC-based NGO, about media representation, civil society and the state of democracy in the Congo.

When the international media reports on the Democratic Republic of Congo, it usually revolves around three things: Kabila, mass rapes and armed groups. What are we missing as journalists in telling the story of this country?

Muiti: Firstly, the international media needs to realise that apart from Kabila, gender violence and armed groups, Congolese people are living.

There are Congolese who are surviving and should be treated as belonging to the large world community. Secondly, Congo does not exist without its relations and links with the surrounding countries. And thirdly, beyond the Kabilas [Joseph Kabila, the current president, and his murdered father and predecessor, Laurent Kabila], the mass rapes and armed groups, there are social actors who are trying to rebuild Congolese society.

I am not saying that we should deny the problems, [instead] it is about acknowledging that we are also survivors and right now, we are going to act, and vote for Kabila or against him.

Is the international community to blame for this one-dimensional view of the DRC, when it is such a massively complicated story?

Muiti: I don't think we should blame the world. From what I understand, the first steps towards improving this place should be taken by Congolese themselves.

"[Kabila] has neither promoted nor prevented civil society from existing. It is something that is beyond his mind because he cannot imagine that a civil society can exist and he would not allow for something to become a counterweight to his power"

If nothing is being done, then it means that we aren't willing to do so. It would be a mistake to forget the effort the world has made in the DRC. I always say that there is a problem of leadership and representativeness ... and of the Congolese people not taking enough pride in ourselves.

We are still too caught up with tribal issues, regional issues, ethnic issues – and this is why we remain so parochial, even restricted, by a blinkered view of the world. This is one of the major problems and the day we become open to the world, the world will be open to us and things will change for the better.

To offer an example, our wealthy elite would rather invest in Belgium, France or South Africa, rather than in this country and this is a major problem hindering our development. We cannot say that all Congolese are poor. We have rich countrymen, but they do not bring their contribution back to the country. Instead of being investors in this country they focus on the outside. And this country remains as it is.

And when you say that the media focuses on Kabila, gender violence and armed groups – consider that two out of these three things are related to insecurity – which creates a vicious cycle that would naturally scare off potential investors in building this country.

After enduring colonisation, a series of dictatorships and then two horrific wars, the DRC remains a fractured society. Is this country ready for "civil society" or does it require a strong-arm leader to unify the country first?

Muiti: An independent democracy needs the following: institutions, strong policies to stabilise these institutions, and in this particular context, we need the republican army, a police force that is civilised and a good intelligence service.

These would allow the leadership to be well set, else you would create a power base that is very fragile.

When we bring up the point made in your first question regarding Kabila, sexual violence and armed groups again we realise that a country that is poorly built with a weak administration will lead to the rise of parallel power structures, allowing things like armed groups to take charge of different areas.

This is now happening, and there are police officers leaving the force to join armed militia groups. Without institutions, administrative power remains fragile.

Has Kabila's government allowed for the creation of a vibrant civil society?

Muiti: He has neither promoted nor prevented civil society from existing. It is something that is beyond his mind because he cannot imagine that a civil society can exist and he would not allow for something to become a counterweight to his power.

Yet Civil Society is a privileged partner in this country. We do exist. And the government has given us permission to function as a civilian organisation. This characterises the potential partnership between civil society and government. When the government has failed, it is civil society which can build schools and health centres.

Was Civil Society consulted when Kabila proposed an amendment earlier this year which would remove from the constitution a clause that a candidate needs to win a minimum of 51 per cent to avoid a runoff to the elections?

Muiti: Civil Society was not consulted and if it had been forwarded for a referendum, it would not have been allowed. In North Kivu, a petition was sent to Kinshasa, with 100,000 signatories, saying that we did not agree with the proposal. But the new law came into effect regardless since we were not part of the process.

We later did a proper analysis of the political climate and realised that Kabila had in effect put himself at a disadvantage. If the opposition unified, and produced one candidate as a challenger to Kabila, it would have meant that he could have been toppled quite easily.

But the opposition was unable to unify. Does this mean that the opposition has potentially missed an opportunity to topple Kabila?

Muiti: I can't say that they have lost an opportunity, but yes, Kabila is now the favourite to win these elections. And again, this comes back to my original point that we have a problem with our leadership.

If opposition parties had formed a united front, they would have certainly won this election. They failed to recognise the opportunity presented to them. But it is worth mentioning that our politics are complicated, and Kabila might have even created some of these candidates running in these elections.

Finally, for someone looking into the DRC as the country holds these elections, how would you rate the level of democratic culture in your country?

Muiti: We have to consider that we have taken a step, and all journeys need a first step.

In our case, this first step was freedom of speech and this has developed and has since moved into selecting our representatives. Even though holding elections does not automatically translate into "a democracy" as such, it is however one of the markers that demonstrate we are moving towards 'a democracy'. But there is still a fair way to go before we get "there".

But I must add that there are many people who have been left out, especially women. If we talk about democracy and consider the representation and participation of women, then a "democracy" is still very far from reality. If we still talk about ourselves on the basis of ethnicity and tribes, rather than as Congolese citizens, and do not apply the law and allow impunity to exist, then we cannot consider ourselves a "democracy".

I believe that we have just made the first step on a journey of a thousand steps that we still have to cross.
 

RDC/élections: au moins dix tués dans une attaque à Lubumbashi (officiel)
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: Français

LUBUMBASHI (RDCongo), 28 nov 2011 (AFP) – Au moins dix personnes ont été
tuées lundi dans la ville de Lubumbashi, dans le sud-est de la RD Congo, lors
d'une attaque d'un bureau de vote par des hommes armés, selon des sources
officielles.

Sept assaillants, deux policiers et une civile venu voter ont trouvé la
mort dans cet incident dans le centre de la capitale de la province du
Katanga, a indiqué un porte-parole militaire, le capitaine Katchong Mbav.

Un précédent bilan faisait état de quatre assaillants tués lors de cette
attaque dans un bureau du quartier Njanja.

Selon le capitaine Mbav, les deux policiers "ont été abattus à bout
portant, et une électrice a reçu une balle perdue mortelle".

Sept autres assaillants ont été arrêtés et au moins un policier a été
blessé, a ajouté l'officier.

Le gouverneur de la province du Katanga, Moïse Katumbi, a assuré de son
côté que huit assaillants avaient été tués et 11 arrêtés.

Le centre de Lubumbashi a résonné des rafales d'armes automatiques lors de
l'attaque de ce bureau de vote et d'un autre par des hommes soupçonnés d'être
des indépendantistes katangais.

Les fusillades ont provoqué la panique dans le quartier Njanja, où les
passants ont couru pour se mettre à l'abri, selon des correspondants de l'AFP.

Le représentant de la Commission électorale nationale indépendante (Céni) à
Njanja, a raconté que des civils armés, le front ceint d'un bandeau rouge,
avaient fait irruption dans le local et demandé aux officiels et électeurs de
sortir.

"Nous venons vous libérer", ont-ils lancé, et ils ont abattu deux policiers
en faction qui voulaient s'interposer, avant que des forces se sécurité
n'interviennent.

Auparavant, la ville avait été le théâtre d'une attaque contre un convoi de
huit jeeps chargées de matériel électoral, sous escorte policière. L'attaque a
été revendiqué auprès de l'AFP par un indépendantiste du Katanga.

"Nous voulons un référendum d'autodétermination, et pas de ce vote qui ne
nous concerne pas au Katanga", a déclaré le "lieutenant" Chana Kazi, qui
appelait depuis l'Afrique du sud.

Les "gendarmes katangais" sont apparus au début des années soixante pour
soutenir le sécession du Katanga proclamée par l'homme politique Moïse Tshombe.
 

Somali refugees face humanitarian crisis
Publisher: The Standard, Kenya
Author: By David Ohito
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

The need to restore peace in Somalia has gained new urgency after the United Nations warned in a newly released report that millions of refugees are at risk in Somalia and Kenya.

On the heels of the UN report, news from Somalia indicates that Al Shabaab insurgents — largely blamed for the crisis — have banned up to 16 aid agencies, including the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (Unicef), putting at risk the lives of hundreds of infants and children under the age of five.

The number of people in need of life-saving assistance in Somalia alone is estimated at 3.3 million. UN organizations "banned" by the militants include UNHCR, Unicef, World Health Organisation (WHO), and UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU). The UN has warned that nearly 250,000 people face imminent starvation in southern Somalia, the main base for Al Shabaab, with several areas under famine or emergency conditions.

The UN report also reveals the scale of Kenya's burden as the biggest host of Somali refugees among member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (Igad).

As many as 521,000 refugees are being hosted in and around Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya, most of them Somalis who have fled war and drought in their country.

The result is a deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Somalia and Kenyan districts close to the shared border.

armed raids

As Kenya intensifies its diplomatic offensive to beef up support for its military intervention against Al Shabaab insurgents in Somalia, whom it blames for the humanitarian crisis, the UN report says as many as 950,000 lives are at stake.

It warns that Sh15 billion ($172 million) is urgently needed to save lives both within and outside Somalia. The call came a week after both the Kenya Defence forces and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops asked relief agencies to send aid to areas recently wrested from Al Shabaab by KDF and TFG soldiers.

Somalia's Islamist Al Shabaab rebels with links to Al Qaeda ordered 16 international aid agencies shut in areas they control after armed raids on several offices, and warned more would follow if they did not toe the line. "Any organisation found to be supporting or actively engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic State, or performing duties other than that which it formally proclaims, will be banned immediately without prior warning," the militant group that is fighting TFG troops and Kenya Defence Forces said in a statement.

Al Shabaab claimed the groups were working to "foster secularism, immorality and the degrading values of democracy in an Islamic country."

Witnesses and aid workers reported that Al Shabaab gunmen stormed offices of several aid agencies in apparent coordinated raids.

"Three vehicles with gunmen surrounded the offices, including the office of Unicef," said Adulahi Idle, a resident in the city of Baidoa. "I saw many militiamen go inside the places and force the people there to leave and the men took control."

It accused the agencies of "lacking complete political detachment and neutrality... intensifying the instability and insecurity gripping the nation as a whole."

A regional security source said the raids in south and central Somalia were well planned and coordinated, with gunmen seizing computers, telephones and other equipment from aid workers. No arrests were reported. "It was a surprise, but something that was clearly planned," said an aid agency official working in Somalia.

Other aid agencies affected include the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Concern, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and the Italian Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI).

Al Shabaab also shut down the Swedish African Welfare Alliance (Sawa), the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ), Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Solidarity and Saacid.

The extremist Shabaab imposes draconian rules on humanitarian workers and has blocked international staff working for aid agencies in its areas, but has allowed limited operations by Somali nationals.

The UN refugee agency report released on Monday says Kenya is bearing the brunt of hosting refugees fleeing Somalia, which has witnessed civil war among clans for at least two decades.

Urgent need

"Due to the high number of refugees fleeing the war torn country to seek asylum in Kenya, high security risks have arisen with aid workers being kidnapped and attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants," says the report. The Government in Nairobi has been forced to mobilise nearly 100 additional police officers deployed in the refugee camps over the past month to strengthen security.

Al Shabaab militants have increased their cross border incursions recently, abducting relief workers and foreign doctors in camps around the Dadaab refugee complex.

The UNHCR says it is now providing police officers with additional vehicles, shelter and telecommunications equipment to deal with threat.

An estimated 3.7 million Somalis are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Increasingly, Somalis are leaving their homes and walking thousands of kilometres in search of food, most of them ending up in IDP settlements within Somalia and refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, in extremely malnourished conditions.

Bad weather and disease have plagued relief efforts, making more people vulnerable and children malnourished as they are cut-off from essential food and medical supplies.

"Heavy rains complicate the situation of thousands of displaced Somalis in East and the Horn of Africa," says the newly published UNHCR report.

In August, 30,376 refugees crossed into Kenya but the numbers began slowing down when KDF's "Operation Linda Nchi" was launched to guard the porous shared border, with a paltry 918 people registering as refugees in Dadaab.

There are currently 950,000 registered Somali refugees in neighbouring countries, with Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti hosting more than 90 per cent of them.

"This year alone, some 289,000 Somalis have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia. Within Somalia, nearly 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in south-central areas," says the UNHCR Somalia report.

Outbreak of diseases

The UN Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit has lifted its "famine" designation for three Somali regions —Bakool, Bay and Lower Shabelle — downgrading them to "emergency" phase. The improvement follows a break in the region's deadly drought and progress in the UN's ability to deliver food to the country's poorest people.

The improved situation in famine data is, however, described as 'precarious.' Premature withdrawal of food and other aid could result in a relapse in the health of the affected population.

In recent months, the UN has increased assistance to over 2.4 million people. While access to food has increased, mortality remains high because of the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and measles.

The ongoing conflict continues to restrict humanitarian access in general and hamper delivery of life-saving assistance.
 

Sudan to expel ambassador after Kenya's Bashir warrant
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

Sudan has ordered the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador after a Kenyan judge issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's foreign ministry has said.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan has ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours.

It has also ordered the Sudanese ambassador in Kenya to return to Khartoum.

Mr Bashir was the first head of state to be indicted by the ICC, which accused him of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

He denies the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

Chinese support

The High Court in Nairobi on Monday issued the arrest warrant for President Bashir after Kenya allowed him to visit the country in August in defiance of an ICC warrant for his arrest.

In his ruling, Judge Nicolas Ombija said Mr Bashir's arrest "should be effected by the attorney general and the minister for internal security should he ever set foot in Kenya".

The case was brought by a non-governmental organisation, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

Kenya is a signatory to the treaty which established the ICC in 2002. But like most African countries, it has refused to enforce the ICC warrant for Mr Bashir's arrest.

The African Union has lobbied for the arrest warrant to be deferred, accusing the ICC of only investigating alleged war crimes in Africa and arguing that arresting Sudan's president would hamper the search for peace in Darfur.

Malawi and Chad are among other African countries that Mr Bashir has visited in defiance of the arrest warrant.

The BBC's James Copnall in Khartoum says President Bashir's international reputation reached its lowest point after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him. But he has received support from several Arab and African countries, and from China.

Some 2.7m people have fled their homes since the conflict began in Darfur in 2003, and the UN says about 300,000 have died – many from disease.

Sudan's government says the conflict has killed about 12,000 people and the number of dead has been exaggerated for political reasons.
 

Al Shabaab bans some aid groups in Somalia, loot
Publisher: Reuters News Agency
Author: By Mohamed Ahmed and Katy Migiro
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

MOGADISHU/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Al Shabaab rebels stormed and looted offices of aid organisations in famine-hit Somalia on Monday, the United Nations said, and the rebels announced a ban on 16 relief agencies from areas they control.

Rebels occupied agency offices and took supplies in southern and central areas at a time when a quarter of a million Somalis face starvation and Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian forces are fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired group.

Al Shabaab, which controls large areas of the anarchic country, said it had "decided to permanently revoke the permissions of the following organisations to operate inside Somalia", naming 16.

These included agencies like the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.N. children's agency UNICEF and the Norwegian and Danish Refugee Councils. The International Committee for the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres escaped the ban.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, through his spokesman, condemned in the strongest terms possible the seizure of property and equipment belonging to aid groups and U.N. agencies.

The U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said she was extremely concerned by the looting, urging the rebel group to reverse the announcement and withdraw from seized compounds of aid groups.

"Any disruption to ongoing humanitarian efforts threatens to undermine the fragile progress made this year, and could bring back famine conditions in several areas," Amos said in a statement.

The rebels, who are hostile to Western intervention, banned food aid last year in the areas they controlled and kicked many groups out, saying aid created dependency. They lifted the ban in July when the food crisis hit critical levels, only to re-impose it later.

Some organisations were found to be "persistently galvanising the local population against the full establishment of the Islamic Sharia system", the group said in a statement.

Al Shabaab, which wants to impose its harsh interpretation of sharia, the Islamic moral and legal code, also accused the banned groups of financing and aiding "subversive groups seeking to destroy the basic tenets of the Islamic penal system".

Pieter Desloovere, WHO Somalia's communications officer, said the agency's offices in the Somali towns of Baidoa and Wajid had been attacked on Monday.

UNICEF's Jaya Murthy told Reuters the agency's offices had been occupied by al Shabaab in Baidoa on Monday.

"All of our staff that were in the office at the same time were asked to leave. All of our staff are safe. Our Baidoa office is currently still being occupied. No other UNICEF office is currently being occupied and all staff in Somalia are safe," Murthy told Reuters in Geneva.

Aid sources said al Shabaab rebels had occupied UNICEF, WHO and non-governmental organisation offices in Baidoa and six other the rebel-controlled towns.

LOOTING VACCINES

A number of the aid agencies are funded by western nations which support Kenya's incursion into Somalia against al Shabaab.

Some aid efforts were suspended after Kenya sent troops into southern Somalia more than six weeks ago to crush the militants. Military action has also prevented displaced people returning home to plant crops during the rainy season.

A Baidoa resident described how the militants had seized the UNICEF and WHO offices there.

"Al Shabaab have just started to loot UNICEF and WHO compounds in the town – they stormed and seized the compounds two hours ago. Now I can see them carrying the agencies' equipment out," Ali Abdullahi told Reuters.

Another resident in Wajid said he saw al Shabaab fighters forcing security guards out of UNICEF's compound. "Immediately, they started looting vaccinations and even the freezers in which they are stored in," Fadumo Ibrahim told Reuters.

MAKESHIFT BOMB

Two Somali soldiers were killed by a makeshift bomb in the capital as they were trying to destroy it, a police officer told Reuters.

"Two of our soldiers died and another was injured while trying to collect an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) item planted on the street," Diini Yusuf said.

Kenya's pursuit of al Shabaab across the border has provoked attacks on its soil. Attacks in Garissa town in North Eastern Province near the border killed 4 people and wounded 27 others last week.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Kenyan security forces of beating people and detaining them illegally in the wake of attacks in the province.

"Arbitrary arrests of large numbers of people ­­­- such as when there is no evidence to believe they are suspects in a crime – is a serious violation of the human rights of the detainees and unlawful detention should be treated as a crime in itself," HRW said in a statement.
 

Somali group bans aid organisations
Publisher: Al Jazeera
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

The Somali armed group al-Shabab has banned 16 aid organisations – including a half-dozen UN agencies – from central and southern Somalia, a decision likely to harm Somalis already suffering from drought and famine.

In a statement on Monday, the group said that a "meticulous yearlong review and investigation" had been carried out by what it called the Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies.

The office documented in a report "the illicit activities and misconducts of some of the organisations".

Accusations levied against the aid agencies included the misappropriation of funds, collection of data, and work with "international bodies" to promote secularism, immorality and the "degrading values of democracy in an Islamic country".

Among those banned were UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, German Agency For Technical Co-operation (GTZ), Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity, Saacid and Concern.

In line with al-Shabab's statement, witnesses reported on Monday that armed men entered aid offices and seized equipment in the towns of Beldweyne and Baidoa.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, condemned the action – calling it a "brazen act" that "prevents these organisations from providing lifesaving assistance".

He demanded that al-Shabab "vacate the premises and return seized property to the affected agencies and NGOs".

Risk of starvation

Al-Shabab's ban on aid groups falls in line with its skeptical view of the outside world, but will worsen the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have come to depend on aid.

The Horn of Africa region is experiencing its worst famine since 1991-92.

A year without rain has wiped out crops and animal herds in southern Somalia, killing tens of thousands of people the last six months and forcing tens of thousands more to flee as refugees.

Because of its policies limiting the work of aid groups in its territory – especially the work of the World Food Program – areas under its control were declared famine zones by the UN in July.

Some of those famine declarations have since been downgraded, but the UN says 250,000 people still face immediate risk of starvation.

Al-Shabab, which has been blamed for a recent string of tourist kidnappings, has been under increasing military pressure the last year.

African Union forces in Mogadishu have mostly pushed the group out of the capital. Last month, Kenyan forces moved in, opening a second conflict on the group's southern flank.

Earlier this month witnesses say Ethiopian troops moved in from the west, opening a third front.
 

Somali militants ban 16 aid groups and UN agencies in south Somalia ‘after year-long review’
Publisher: AP, The Associated Press
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Somali militant group al-Shabab on Monday banned 16 aid groups — including a half dozen U.N. agencies — from central and southern Somalia, a decision likely to harm Somalis already suffering from drought and famine.

The banning of the aid groups falls in line with the group's skeptical view of the outside world, but will worsen the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have come to depend on aid in the Horn of Africa country's worst famine since 1991-92.

A year without rain wiped out crops and animal herds in southern Somalia, killing tens of thousands of people the last six months and forcing tens of thousands more to flee as refugees.

The al-Qaida-linked militant group's decision seemed to be rooted in the belief that aid groups are serving as spies for outside countries or as vehicles to undermine support for al-Shabab's harsh and strict interpretation of Islam.

Witnesses in the towns of Beldweyne and Baidoa said armed, masked men entered aid offices Monday and seized equipment. The United Nations was preparing a statement in response to al-Shabab's closures but didn't have an immediate comment.

Al-Shabab said in long statement in English that a "meticulous yearlong review and investigation" had been carried out by what it said was a committee called the Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies. The committee documented in a report "the illicit activities and misconducts of some of the organizations."

Al-Shabab accused the 16 aid groups of disseminating information on the activities of Muslims and militant fighters, financing, aiding and abetting "subversive" groups seeking to destroy the basic tenants of the Islamic penal system, and of "persistently galvanizing the local population" against the full establishment of Shariah law, a harsh and punitive interpretation of Islam.

Al-Shabab carries out amputations, stonings and beheadings as punishment. The group also frequently recruits child fighters.

Because of its policies limiting the work of aid groups in its territory — especially the work of the World Food Program — areas under its control were declared famine zones by the U.N. in July. Some of those famine declarations have since been downgraded, but the U.N. says 250,000 still face the immediate risk of starvation.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday condemned al-Shabab for seizing property and equipment belonging to several non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies earlier in the day.

"This brazen act prevents these organizations from providing lifesaving assistance," Ban said in a statement released by his office. He demanded that al-Shabab "vacate the premises and return seized property to the affected agencies and NGOs."

Among the agencies al-Shabab banned on Monday were UNICEF, the World Health Organization, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, German Agency For Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity, Saacid and Concern.

The al-Shabab statement accused the groups of misappropriating funds, collecting data, and working with "international bodies" to promote secularism, immorality and the "degrading values of democracy in an Islamic country."

Al-Shabab boasts several hundred foreign militants among its ranks, including veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and U.S. citizens. The foreign fighters are known to take hardline stances inside the group.

The group has been under increasing military pressure the last year. African Union forces in Mogadishu have mostly pushed the group out of the capital. Last month, Kenyan forces moved in, opening a second conflict on the group's southern flank. And earlier this month witnesses say Ethiopian troops moved in from the west, opening a third front.

____

Associated Press writer Anita Snow contributed to this report from the United Nations.
 

Somalia's al-Shabab militants close UN aid offices
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

Al-Shabab fighters have closed down several aid agencies working in famine-hit Somalia, including some from the UN, accusing them of political bias.

Militants stormed aid offices in the towns of Baidoa and Beledweyne, which like many southern areas are controlled by al-Shabab, witnesses say.

Al-Shabab has long restricted the work of international aid groups but on Monday banned 16 groups outright.

Years of conflict mean Somalia is worst hit by the East African drought.

The lack of rain is said to be the worst in 60 years.

The list of groups banned outright included the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, and other UN bodies, the British charity Concern and groups from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Sweden.

Unicef spokesman Jaya Murthy told the BBC a group of men, suspected to belong to al-Shabab, occupied their offices in Baidoa and ordered staff to leave.

"They just said they [Unicef staff] should go home immediately and our office is now their office," Mr Murthy told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

The al-Shabab statement accused the groups of exaggerating the scale of the problems in Somalia for political reasons and to raise money.

'Risk of death'

It also alleges that the agencies are working with church groups trying to convert vulnerable Muslim children and opposing al-Shabab's attempts to impose Sharia law.

"Three armoured vehicles with gunmen surrounded the offices, including the office of [UN children's agency] Unicef," Baidoa resident Adulahi Idle told the AFP news agency.

"I saw many militiamen go inside the places and force the people there to leave and the men took control."

A senior al-Shabab official told the BBC that those groups which had been closed down had not carrying out many activities, and that the measures would not increase the suffering of ordinary people.

He also pointed out that three groups – the International Committee of the Red Cross, medical aid charity MSF and Italy's Copi – would still be allowed to operate.

Mr Murthy said Unicef was involved only in humanitarian work and al-Shabab's decision would threaten the lives of children.

"About 160,000 severely malnourished children are at imminent risk of death if assistance does not continue," he said.

The UN says the areas worst effected by famine are in the southern and central areas, which are under the control of the al-Qaeda linked group.

The UN-backed government only runs a few areas, including the capital, Mogadishu, which al-Shabab forces withdrew from in August.

Earlier this month, the UN said that famine conditions no longer existed in three of the areas previously worst affected – Bay, Bakool, and Lower Shabelle.

However, a quarter of a million people still face imminent starvation in the country, the UN says.

UN humanitarian affairs co-ordinator Mark Bowden told the BBC: "Somalia still remains the world's most critical situation."

Three other areas, including the squalid camps in the capital, Mogadishu, remain in a state of famine.

However, a senior aid worker familiar with the situation in Somalia who did not wish to be named told the BBC that the situation was still getting worse.

He said the UN could not admit this because it had to show the aid money was being well spent and having an impact.

Other aid workers have also warned that the situation could be worsened through conflict.

Kenya has sent troops into southern parts of Somalia, accusing al-Shabab of abducting Westerners from border areas – charges denied by the militants.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled rural areas – many over the borders to Ethiopia and Kenya – in search of food.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government for more than 20 years and has been wracked by fighting between various militias.
 

Slow resettlement stalls S.Sudanese dreams
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

AFP – South Sudan's independence attracted thousands back home from the north, but hopes for a new and better life have eluded many still struggling to survive in transit camps.

Under brick- or plastic-walled shelters in the central town of Rumbek, some 60 families are waiting to be resettled three months since returning from the Sudanese capital; some of their belongings still in suitcases and huge sacks.

The centre run by the UN refugee agency was established to offer temporary shelter for returning South Sudanese, but delays in receiving land has prolonged their stay, while the rising influx is worsening living conditions.

"Life is so hard, I have even had to sell my belongings to buy food," said Debora Agum David, who returned to the south after a 22-year-stay in the northern capital Khartoum, to where she had fled from bloody civil war.

Finding a job in the world's newest country has been difficult for Agum, a mother of seven who worked as a nurse in the north.

The local hospital here in Rumbek – the impoverished capital of Lakes state – turned her down and now she is contemplating starting a business.

Since October 2010, more than 340,000 South Sudanese have returned home, with more than 17,000 estimated to have returned to the central Lakes state in a single year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

"We are thinking of expanding, we need more space" at the transit centre, said Xhemil Shahu, UNHCR head of office in Rumbek.

According to authorities, many of those returning from the north had decided to come home due to worries over job security and their legal status.

Upon South Sudan's July 9 independence, Khartoum gave southerners living there nine months to either leave or regularise their status.

Renewed tension and fighting between Sudan and its southern neighbour has prompted aid organisations to ramp up efforts to resettle returning citizens.

At least 11 people were killed in a bombing attack on a refugee camp in South Sudan on November 10. Khartoum has denied it carried out the attack, which drew international condemnation.

North and South Sudan fought a two-decade civil war up to 2005 which left two million dead. Following their split this year, the two states have been unable to agree on a border and the sharing of revenues and debts.

Long-neglected by Khartoum, South Sudan offers few opportunities for its citizens.

Despite its huge oil reserves, the new country lacks public services and infrastructure, and the austerity is brutal for many southerners.

"They came from urban areas expecting the good services they used to get," said Philip Kot Job, the director of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, a state organisation.

More than half of South Sudan's eight million people live in poverty, according to World Bank figures.

"The north never invested in the south," said Chol Tong Mayay, the governor of Lakes State.

Authorities in Rumbek, however, have said they will give returning citizens a two-year land rent waiver to help them re-establish at home.

But just outside Rumbek, a town of dirt roads and few permanent buildings, Ajak Majok prefers to live with some 180 people on a piece of land temporarily given to them by the local authority rather than relocate further from amenities.

"It's closer to the main road, if someone is sick, you can rush to the hospital," Majok said.

Aside from difficulties restarting life back home, some have also faced resentment – especially those who served in the Sudanese police force and army.

Having suffered more than two decades of a brutal civil war, some South Sudanese remain wary of their returning countrymen.

"My priority is to settle, to contribute positively to the development of the country," said of them, Akuocpir Achol.
 

UNHCR: Thousands fleeing Sudan
Publisher: UPI, United Press International
Story date: 28/11/2011
Language: English

GENEVA, Switzerland, Nov. 28 (UPI) – More than 75,000 people from Sudan have fled political violence in the country to Ethiopia and South Sudan since August, the United Nations said.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates at least 60 people are fleeing South Kordofan state in Sudan to South Sudan every day. This is despite the fact that Khartoum was blamed for an airstrike on a refugee camp in the border region.

The UNHCR said it was calling on refugees to move further south away from the border area.

"We have prepared a site for them further south in Unity State but the refugees are reluctant to move as they are worried about family members still in South Kordofan and prefer to stay closer to their homes," the agency said.

More refuges were seen streaming across the border from Blue Nile state in Sudan. Around 1,200 refugees are fleeing every day, the agency said.

Since August, the UNHCR said it estimated around 36,000 refugees from Sudan have fled to Ethiopia.

South Sudan gained independence in July as part of a comprehensive peace agreement reached with Sudan in 2005. Border disputes, ethnic violence and disagreements over oil revenue threaten to derail the peace agreement, however.
 

Refugees Daily
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution