DR Congo: UN peacekeepers report volatility
Publisher: India Blooms News Service
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

Geneva, Dec 5 (IBNS) Amid reports of volatility in the area, the United Nations refugee agency said it is concerned about the security of displaced people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after an attack on a camp outside of the provincial city of Goma over the weekend.

While there were no deaths or serious injuries, people's homes and the pharmacy of the Mugunga III camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were looted, one person was badly beaten, and there were six unconfirmed rape cases, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Witnesses say a small group of men from outside the camp were seen monitoring food distribution earlier in the day. A few hours later, the camp was surrounded by a large number of armed men," a UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.

"They told a woman to take them to the camp leader, and then beat her. The armed men then searched tents, stealing money, mobile phones, and food that had been handed out earlier by WFP (World Food Programme)," he added. "Looting was also reported among the population living immediately adjacent to the camp."

According to UN figures, 130,000 people have been newly displaced by the recent instability in and around Goma, the capital of the eastern province of North Kivu, since the recent occupation and subsequent withdrawal – this past weekend – of the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group, composed of soldiers who mutinied in April from the DRC national army, known by the French acronym FARDC.

In addition, there are an estimated 841,000 people who were already displaced before this latest wave of insecurity.

In an update, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) reported on Tuesday that the overall situation in the North and South Kivu provinces remains volatile, with some security vacuums are being filled by other armed groups, including various so-called Mayi-Mayi groups.

As part of its efforts to support the national army, MONUSCO deployed attack helicopters in aid of the FARDCs efforts to halt the M23 advance. The peacekeeping mission has 6,700 and 4,000 troops in the provinces of North and South Kivu, respectively, including, in some places, behind the M23 lines. North Kivu alone is four times the size of Belgium.

In Goma, the mission has some 1,500 blue helmets.

During the M23 occupation, these peacekeepers controlled the citys airport and conducted regular patrols, in line with their mandate to provide protection for civilians.

With regard to the M23 withdrawal, MONUSCO noted that the situation in Goma remains relatively calm following the restoration of control by the national authorities, with DRC police and army units continuing to be redeployed into the city and local administrative structures becoming operational.

At the Geneva news briefing, Mr. Edwards said the rape incidents at Mugunga III camp are being investigated, along with reports that a dozen IDPs were forced to carry looted materials out of the camp before being freed.

"The incident highlights the need for security at sites for internally displaced people to be prioritized, along with improved humanitarian access so that such populations can be better cared for," he said.

He added that the few police in the camp, which currently holds some 30,000 people, were unable to intervene, and MONUSCO peacekeepers also faced capacity constraints, and "were not in a position to maintain a permanent presence at the site. UNHCR staff who visited the camp yesterday said people in the camp were still anxious and upset."

As well as security difficulties at the Mugunga III camp and elsewhere in the Kivus, Mr. Edwards said the refugee agency is also contending with shortages of shelters and non-food items as some 12,000 highly vulnerable families are in urgent need of blankets, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, jerry cans, soap, and sanitary napkins. Some 47,000 families are also in need of shelter.

Separately, in a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, a UN spokesperson noted that, in Ugandas capital, Kampala, DRC Government officials have announced the planned start of discussions with the M23 in the coming days, under the auspices of Uganda in its role as chair of the regional grouping known as the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

The M23 withdrawal from Goma is in line with an ICGLR communique' issued on 25 November, which, in addition to the establishment of a so-called neutral zone of 20 kilometres around Goma, also urged the rebel group to stop the violence and threats to depose the DRC Government.

The communique' was issued after a meeting of the regional grouping, attended by several African heads of State, in Kampala.
 

Southern African leaders to hold Congo crisis talks Friday
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

South African President Jacob Zuma will attend a summit in Dar es Salaam this weekend that will focus on the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity Wednesday.

"The issue of the DRC will dominate the agenda" of the meeting, which will include representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, a source in South Africa's international relations department said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo was rocked in recent weeks by a rebel insurgency that seized the strategically vital eastern city of Goma, raising fears among southern African capitals of a broader regional conflict.

The M23 rebels have since pulled out of Goma, sparking a flurry of diplomatic efforts to prevent the crisis from flaring up again.

Negotiations between the warring parties are expected to begin in the next few days in Uganda.

It was not clear if representatives of the Congolese government, which is a member of SADC, or rebel forces in the east of the country will attend the Dar es Salaam talks.

"The official announcement will come from the presidency," the diplomat said, adding that the meeting is slated to include Tanzania, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi.

"The meeting will include the Southern African Development Community (SADC) troika on politics and defence that is currently chaired by Tanzania, with South Africa and Angola as the other members, and the troika supporting the SADC president," the source said.

"This body includes Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi," the source said.

"The meeting on December 7 and 8 will also hear a report from Tanzania on the SADC mediation on Madagascar and a report from South Africa on our mediation in Zimbabwe."
 

Foot : l'équipe d'Erythrée demande asile
Publisher: Europe 1
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: Français

Les joueurs de l'équipe nationale érythréenne de football, qui avaient fait défection à Kampala alors qu'ils participaient à un tournoi organisé par le Conseil des Fédérations de football d'Afrique de l'Est et centrale (Cecafa), ont demandé l'asile politique en Ouganda.

"Les 18 joueurs nous ont dit que leur pays n'est pas sûr pour eux à leur retour et ils demandent l'asile politique", a déclaré le ministre délégué chargé des réfugiés.

Il n'est pas rare de voir des sportifs érythréens profiter de déplacements à l'étranger pour fuir leur pays.

En 2007, six footballeurs avaient demandé l'asile en Angola, et en 2009 12 autres en avaient fait de même au Kenya.
 

Football: Eritrean football team seeks asylum in Uganda
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

The "missing" Eritrean national football team has applied for asylum in Uganda rather then return home, officials said on Wednesday.

"The 18 members have told us their country is not safe for them once they return and they want political asylum," Uganda's junior minister for refugees Musa Ecweru told AFP.

"They are in the hands of the Ugandan government and United Nations and we have given them protection," he added.

Ugandan police were alerted on Monday when the team members disappeared after losing to Rwanda 2-0 in a regional tournament, according to the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA).

"We have instructed police to call off the search for them because these people are not a threat to Uganda, they say they want protection," Ecweru said.

If the players pass an eligibility test, they will be given refugee status, he added.

Thousands leave the Red Sea nation every month, according to the UN, fleeing conscription and a hardline government that jails critics in harsh desert labour camps, and is ranked worst in the world for press freedom.

In 2007, six national players sought asylum in Angola after a game there, while in 2009, 12 Eritrean national football players sought asylum after a game in Kenya.

Last year, 13 members of Eritrea's Red Sea football club sought asylum in Tanzania.

Eritrean officials did not respond to requests for comment.
 

Explosion in Somali area of Nairobi, Kenya police say
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

There has been an explosion in a mainly Somali neighbourhood in Kenya's capital Nairobi, police say.

Up to nine people were injured in the blast in the Eastleigh neighbourhood, reported to have been caused by a roadside bomb.

Last month, a grenade blast in Eastleigh left seven people dead.

Kenya accuses neighbouring Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militant group of trying to destabilise the country.

Reuters news agency reports that its correspondent at the explosion site saw pools of blood on the ground, as the wounded were swiftly moved away.

"The explosion was caused by a roadside bomb which had been placed in a hole in the ground," Nairobi police chief Moses Nyakwama told the AFP news agency.

"No arrests have been made yet, and investigations are already under way," he added.

Al-Shabab has not yet commented on the blast.

Last month, Kenya accused the group of launching a grenade attack on a bus in Eastleigh, killing seven people.

The attack triggered riots in the area, as angry youths burnt and looted Somali-owned shops.

Kenya's government has blamed al-Shabab for a spate of explosions and kidnappings on its territory.

Kenyan troops are part of an 18,000-strong African Union (AU) force fighting al-Shabab in Somalia.
 

African Union appeals for UN funding for Mali force
Publisher: Reuters News
Author: By Michelle Nichols
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 (Reuters) – The African Union appealed on Wednesday for U.N. funding for a military operation to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon cautiously recommended the Security Council approve the force without U.N. financing.

Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some allied with al Qaeda, have hijacked the revolt.

The AU observer to the United Nations, Antonio Tete, told the 15-member Security Council that the deployment and operations of an African force of 3,300 troops would need "a U.N. support package funded through assessed contributions to ensure sustained and predictable support to the mission."

"Experience in the Darfur region of Sudan, with AMIS, and, currently, in Somalia, with AMISOM, has clearly shown the limitations of, and constraints linked to, support provided on a voluntary basis," Tete said.

AMIS was the African Union's force in Sudan before it became a joint U.N.-AU force, which was renamed UNAMID. In Somalia, an AU peacekeeping force is known as AMISOM.

Diplomats said the African Union and France – the most vocal Western backer of a plan for African troops to retake northern Mali – were angry that Ban had not offered U.N. funding. Seven French nationals are being held hostage in the desert region.

The fall of Mali's north to the Islamists, including AQIM, al Qaeda's North African wing, has carved out a safe haven for militants and international organized crime, U.N. officials say, stirring fears of attacks in West Africa and in Europe.

"The terrorists have stepped up their activities and are seeking reinforcements to carry out a jihad from Mali," Mali's minister for Malians abroad and African integration, Traore Rokiatou Guikine, told the Security Council. "Mali is on the way to becoming a breeding ground for terrorism."

Highlighting that threat, the U.N. Security Council's al Qaeda sanctions committee added the Movement for Unification and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, to its al Qaeda blacklist on Wednesday, the committee announced on its website.

It said that MUJAO, which is active in northern Mali, was linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. MUJAO is known to be holding a number of foreigners hostage.

French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said he was expecting a report from the United Nations on what support it could provide for a Mali mission. "There is no reason why we shouldn't have logistical support provided by the U.N.," Araud said, adding any assistance would have to be endorsed by the council.

LIMITED U.N. ABILITY

In a report to the Security Council, Ban suggested funding for the initial combat operation could be through "voluntary or bilateral contributions," which diplomats said meant the European Union would be asked to pay.

U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the council on Wednesday that the African Union and Malian forces would need "a significant amount of support by international partners including general and specialized equipment, logistics and funding."

"The United Nations has limited ability to deliver a support package in the near term to a combat force," he said. "Once their objectives have been achieved, the council could consider the option of the United Nations providing a logistics package for stabilization operations undertaken by the force."

"Consideration could also be given to the deployment of a peacekeeping operation following the completion of combat operations," Feltman said.

He said Ban shared the "profound sense of urgency" to deal with the Mali crisis but there were still questions about how the African Union and Malian forces would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed.

Feltman added that Ban's caution over the operation was not intended to delay action but ensure a successful intervention.

U.N. diplomats said France was drafting a resolution to approve the intervention force for Security Council adoption later this month.

But in light of Ban's cautious report, diplomats said negotiations were likely to center on whether the entire operation should be mandated in one resolution or whether approval should be split into two phases.

"We need one resolution, I don't think we need two resolutions," Araud said.

Mali's government and the two rebel groups that took control of the northern half of the country in April met for the first time on Tuesday and agreed to negotiate an end to the crisis, a minister from mediator Burkina Faso said.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in Paris on Wednesday that military intervention in northern Mali was virtually certain, but added that operations were unlikely before September or October of next year.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Peter Cooney)
 

Pentagon helping organize multinational operation in Mali
Publisher: The Washington Post
Author: Craig Whitlock
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

U.S. military planners have begun to help organize a multinational proxy force to intervene next year in Mali, the famine-stricken, coup-wracked African country that has become a magnet for Islamist extremists, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The international force would be led on the ground by several thousand Malian and West African troops but would receive extensive support from the Pentagon and the State Department, which would help train, equip and transport the troops, Obama administration officials said.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon's planning efforts are contingent on the U.N. Security Council's endorsement of the African-led force. U.N. officials and diplomats from other countries have said that U.N. approval is likely and that the military operation could begin next year.

The disclosure that U.S. military planners have started to prepare for the intervention was made by officials from the State Department and Pentagon at a Senate hearing Wednesday. It was the clearest sign yet that the administration has decided to take a more aggressive stance against al-Qaeda's growing affiliate in North Africa and to try to restore order in Mali, a Saharan country on the verge of collapse.

A military operation in Mali, however, will inevitably be messy and unpredictable. The chronic instability in the country, one of the world's poorest and riven by tribal divisions and corruption, has rapidly worsened since Islamist extremists took control of northern Mali – a chunk of territory the size of Texas – this year.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, called northern Mali "the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world."

Other U.S. officials said al-Qaeda's North African affiliate, which for years attracted limited global attention, poses an increasing threat. The group has become well-stocked with weapons smuggled out of Libya after the NATO-led war there last year. It finances its operations by smuggling rackets and by kidnapping foreigners for ransom.

At the same time, U.S. officials acknowledged that the group has not demonstrated an ability to launch terrorist attacks outside the region. Some independent analysts have questioned whether the administration's strategy could backfire by embroiling the United States in an intractable local conflict.

Amanda J. Dory, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Africa, said the U.S. military has been able to gather intelligence to help shape the international force to fight Islamist extremists in northern Mali.

"There's plenty of other forms of information and intelligence that are circulating that give us enough insight for planning purposes," she said in an interview Wednesday after testifying before the subcommittee. "You never have as much information as you want, but it's been sufficient for planning purposes."

Dory emphasized that no U.S. ground troops would enter Mali, but she would not rule out the possibility of the Pentagon contributing U.S. warplanes to transport African troops or provide them with aerial cover.

"We definitely don't know how that would work out," she said.

U.S. law restricts the United States from providing direct military assistance to Mali because its democratically elected president was ousted in a coup in March. The coup was led by disaffected military officers who said the president, Amadou Toumani Toure, had not dealt effectively with the Islamist rebellion in the north.

The Pentagon had to withdraw Special Forces troops and other trainers and cut off military aid. The coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, had received training in the United States as part of a program to professionalize Mali's tiny and ill-equipped army.

Administration officials said they want the remnants of Mali's army to lead the international force. But because of U.S. law, the Pentagon must funnel equipment and other aid through West African nations, the European Union and other countries.

"That's a pretty significant impediment, and we've got to figure our way through that," Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of U.S. forces in Africa, said Monday during a lecture at George Washington University.

The rupture in military relations with Mali also has hampered U.S. efforts to obtain intelligence about al-Qaeda fighters who have found a haven in northern Mali.

The U.S. military had operated surveillance flights over Mali for years, flying small unmarked turboprop planes equipped with high-tech sensors to monitor the movements of Islamist extremists. Aircraft for the classified program, code-named Creek Sand, are based in next-door Burkina Faso.

After the coup, however, the U.S. ambassador to Mali, Mary Beth Leonard, ordered a halt to the surveillance flights, fearing that if one of the planes crashed its crew could be taken hostage by extremists, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the sensitive program. As ambassador, Leonard has the authority to approve or reject the presence of U.S. personnel and programs in the country.

The Creek Sand aircraft are operated by U.S. contractors who do not wear military uniforms and can effectively work undercover. The surveillance flights have continued in other countries. Some of the planes relocated to Niger to monitor the flow of Islamist fighters and smugglers across the Sahara from Libya to Mali, the senior administration official said.

The Pentagon is still able to operate high-altitude surveillance flights over Mali using P-3 spy planes and unarmed Global Hawk drones. But those aircraft are based in Europe and must travel much longer distances to reach northern Mali. They also require overflight permission from other countries in the region, such as Algeria, which is granted only on a case-by-case basis, U.S. officials said.
 

Somalia's al-Shabab targets Puntland military
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

A bomb blast and a shoot-out between Islamists and troops from the semi-autonomous Puntland region have left 31 people dead or wounded, officials say.

Fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group attacked a military base and planted a roadside bomb, the officials said.

Al-Shabab fighters have reportedly moved to Puntland in recent months.

Their move comes as African Union-backed government forces gain ground in their stronghold of southern Somalia.

In October, al-Shabab, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda, lost control of the key port city of Kismayo to AU troops, the Somali army and a pro-government militia.

Puntland Information Minister Mohamed Aydid told the BBC Somali Service that a truck carrying soldiers was targeted by a roadside bomb near Bossaso, the main commercial hub in the semi-autonomous region.

Ten soldiers were either killed or wounded in the attack, he said.

'Weapons seized'

Heavily-armed al-Shabab fighters also launched an assault on a military base in the area, but were repelled by troops, Mr Aydid added.

"They fled to their hide-outs in the Galagalo mountains," he said.

In a statement, the Puntland government said two of its soldiers were killed in this attack.

Its intelligence suggested that at least seven al-Shabab fighters were killed and more than 12 wounded as Puntland government troops fought back, the statement said.

"Puntland forces are pursuing al-Shabab tracks into the mountains," the statement added.

Al-Shabab confirmed the attacks, saying it had killed 29 troops.

Puntland officials said they had also seized a number of weapons consignments destined for al-Shabab.

The weapons had been sent across the sea from Yemen, the officials said.

BBC Somalia analyst Mary Harper reports that dozens of al-Shabab fighters have in recent months moved north to the Galagalo mountain range, as the Somali army and 18,000-strong AU force capture territory in southern Somalia.

There have however been some major al-Shabab ambushes in southern Somalia in the past few days.

On Tuesday, the group attacked an army base near the town of Jowhar, one of its last urban strongholds, and on Monday it ambushed a convoy in which three government ministers were travelling near the port of Merca.

These incidents prove that although al-Shabab has lost key areas in the past year, including Kismayo and several districts of the capital Mogadishu, it is by no means a spent force, our correspondent says.
 

UNHCR assesses influx of DRC refugees in northern Zambia
Publisher: Xinhua News Agency
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

LUSAKA, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) – The UN refugee agency has dispatched officials to northern Zambia's Nchelenge district to investigate the continued cause of an influx of Democratic Republic of Congo refugees, a senior official said Wednesday.

DRC refugees fleeing renewed fighting between the DRC government soldiers and the M23 rebels have been entering Nchelenge district of Zambia and according to Zambian government figures, there are over 580 refugees who have entered the country.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Zambia Joyce Mends-Cole said the officials have been dispatched to establish of the Congolese nationals have entered Zambia for safety reasons or whether they will be in Zambia for a short period of time.

"If that is the case, the UNHCR will have no option but to re- open the Kala Refugee Camp, which was closed in 2010 and settle them from there," she said when she met Zambia's Minister of Foreign Affairs at his office.

The UNHCR, she said, has also activated its emergency response mechanism to assist the refugees while preparations are currently underway to move the refugees to a refugee camp.

Meanwhile the Zambian government has expressed concern with the conflict in eastern DRC and is hoping to work with the UNHCR to help provide food, shelter and other logistics to the refugees.
 

UNHCR assesses influx of DRC refugees in northern Zambia
Publisher: Xinhua News Agency
Story date: 05/12/2012
Language: English

LUSAKA, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) – The UN refugee agency has dispatched officials to northern Zambia's Nchelenge district to investigate the continued cause of an influx of Democratic Republic of Congo refugees, a senior official said Wednesday.

DRC refugees fleeing renewed fighting between the DRC government soldiers and the M23 rebels have been entering Nchelenge district of Zambia and according to Zambian government figures, there are over 580 refugees who have entered the country.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Zambia Joyce Mends-Cole said the officials have been dispatched to establish of the Congolese nationals have entered Zambia for safety reasons or whether they will be in Zambia for a short period of time.

"If that is the case, the UNHCR will have no option but to re- open the Kala Refugee Camp, which was closed in 2010 and settle them from there," she said when she met Zambia's Minister of Foreign Affairs at his office.

The UNHCR, she said, has also activated its emergency response mechanism to assist the refugees while preparations are currently underway to move the refugees to a refugee camp.

Meanwhile the Zambian government has expressed concern with the conflict in eastern DRC and is hoping to work with the UNHCR to help provide food, shelter and other logistics to the refugees.
 

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