Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 11/12/2012
Rebel forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have captured the key northern town of Ndele following a surprise attack, an army source has told the BBC.
The rebels said they had also seized two smaller towns, Sam Ouandja and Ouadda, but this could not be confirmed.
Ndele is on a major route linking the CAR to Sudan, Cameroon and Chad.
The CAR has had a series of rebellions and coups since independence in 1975.
It is rich in mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, but its population is extremely poor.
The latest conflict involves a faction of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), which accuses President Francois Bozize's government of reneging on a peace accord signed in 2007.
The accord led to rebel forces being integrated into the army.
But some of the rebels have since deserted and taken up arms again.
An army source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the rebels captured Ndele after a surprise attack.
The town was poorly defended, as a detachment of troops was leaving Ndele and had not yet been relieved by other soldiers, the source said.
The violence has forced many residents to the town, which has a population of between 15,000 and 20,000, AFP news agency reports.
The army in Ndele was backed by a former rebel movement, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which signed an accord with the government in 2011, AFP reports.
"The CPJP put up resistance, but they were routed by our men and forced to flee," a rebel spokesman known as Col Narkoyo told AFP.
He said the northern towns of Ouadda and Sam Ouandja were also under rebel control.
"Our forces took prisoners among FACA [army] elements at Sam Ouandja," Col Narokoyo is quoted as saying.
The BBC French Service's Ibrahima Diane says the UFDR faction has carried out several attacks in recent months, but this was its biggest offensive.
The fall of Ndele is a blow to the government, he says.
Publisher: APA, Agence de Presse Africaine
Story date: 11/12/2012
APA Douala (Cameroun) De milliers de réfugiés tchadiens ayant fui leur pays pour cause des conflits sociopolitiques, ont sous la supervision du Haut commissariat pour les réfugiés (HCR), décidé de regagner leur pays après avoir passé plusieurs années au Cameroun.
Pour cette première phase, ce sont environ dix mille ressortissants tchadiens qui auront quitté le Cameroun, l'opération devant se poursuivre jusqu'au 31 décembre prochain.
D'après le HCR, les principaux points de départ sont les villes de Douala et de Yaoundé où l'on compte un grand nombre de Tchadiens, mais également, la localité de Langui, dans la région de l'Extrême-nord qui constitue l'un des plus grands camps de réfugiés avec environ deux mille personnes.
Le consul général du Tchad à Garoua, Hamid Oumar Nassour, a au nom ''du président de la République du Tchad Idriss Déby Itno, remercié le président camerounais Paul Biya et son gouvernement pour tous ceux qu'ils ont fait pour l'encadrement de nos ressortissants''.
Une hospitalité des Camerounais salués également par le porte-parole des réfugiés tchadiens Gérard Titimbaye, pour qui, ''l'intégration était totale'', au point de ''faire difficilement la différence entre les Camerounais et les Tchadiens''.
Dans le but de faciliter le retour des réfugiés dans leur pays, le Programme alimentaire mondial (PAM), a remis les vivres devant permettre aux réfugiés de tenir pendant deux mois, ''une sollicitude'' de nature à assouplir le retour des réfugiés qui devront réapprendre à s'intégrer dans leur communauté d'origine après plusieurs années passées hors du pays pour cause de troubles sociaux.
Publisher: Los Angeles Times
Author: By Robyn Dixon
Story date: 11/12/2012
To residents of eastern Congo, the M23 fighters who have taken control of their region are bandits, not rebels. A peace deal with the government is unlikely, and hope for justice is remote.
RUTSHURU, Democratic Republic of Congo — The rebels materialized out of the moist, heavy air, startling the woman as she tended her crops in the lush volcanic hills near the Rwandan border.
They wanted a bag of salt. No salt, and they'd kill her.
"You just do what they say," said Solange, a widow struggling to support a family in the midst of war.
To people like her who live in eastern Congo's North Kivu province, the M23 fighters who have taken control of their region are bandits, not rebels. After they seized Solange's village of Rutshuru in July and plundered all her beans, she fled south to the provincial capital, Goma.
It would prove to be no refuge. The rebels and the violence followed her.
The awesome serenity of the cloud-swathed emerald hills, twittering with bird life, home to mountain gorillas, is almost deep enough to erase, for a moment, successive waves of gruesome violence.
The region, an important source of minerals used in laptops and cellphones, was swept up in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Since then, it has become the scene of one of the great tragedies of the last century: Wars fueled by a toxic blend of resource riches, ethnic hatred and interfering neighbors have killed 5 million people.
In recent years, the area settled into a fragile peace. But militias still drain the country's wealth. There now are fears that eastern Congo could spiral into another long and bloody conflict.
United Nations experts say Rwanda armed and commanded M23, which rebelled against the Congolese army in April, and directly supported the rebels' attack on Goma.
Rwanda has been accused of backing militias and fueling conflict in the region for years, but it denies interfering. It has a security interest because Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide fled into eastern Congo, where they continue to mount attacks. And with few mineral resources of its own, Rwanda has a strong economic interest in the region.
Among M23's reputed leaders is Bosco Ntaganda, a commander nicknamed the Terminator who was indicted in July by the International Criminal Court on suspicion of atrocities including murder, rape, sexual slavery and pillaging.
The M23 political leaders wear shiny silk suits, with labels like "High Class" left ostentatiously on the sleeve. They made Rutshuru their base, imposed compulsory weekend cleanup brigades for the entire population, planted grass around the administrative building and put up signs condemning corruption. They made the town look like a miniature copy of Rwanda, a country so tidy that all plastic bags are banned and seized at the border.
They also looted villages and killed an undetermined number of people.
Solange is 35 and belongs to the Nande tribe, the main ethnic group in North Kivu. Her husband was a government soldier who earned $55 a month before his death three years ago from malaria. They had no children.
On the farm, she grew cassava and beans to sell in the local market and always had plenty to eat. "Life was good," she said. After her husband's death, she had to support not only her family, including her parents and a younger sister with children, but her late husband's family too. In all, there were 15 mouths to feed.
M23 disrupted all that.
After fleeing to Goma, she stayed at a friend's house. She registered with an aid agency, hoping to get food assistance, but never received any.
"It's very difficult. Sometimes we don't have enough food," said Solange, who preferred not to use her last name out of concern for her safety.
Goma's idyllic lakeside setting could be a tourist haven in a parallel universe. But in this one, teenage boys and grimy men push heavy loads of water, wooden poles or potatoes. Women pound cassava leaves or fry tennis-ball-size lumps of dough in bubbling oil.
Solange didn't outrun M23 for long. The rebels seized Goma in November, looting, killing their enemies, raping women and then retreating after intense international pressure 11 days later, vowing to take the city back whenever they wanted. Peace talks between the Congolese government and rebels began Sunday, but a scheduled meeting Monday didn't take place because the rebels failed to attend.
A week after the rebels took Goma, there was a pro-M23 rally in the city, a ham-fisted propaganda stunt that fooled no one. The signs were mostly written by one person, and onlookers sneered that the participants were all maibobo — street boys. And it was a little embarrassing at the end of the march when participants like David Umbeni, a cleaner who smelled strongly of alcohol, loudly demanded their pay for taking part.
"They promised to give us two dollars, and now they're not giving it to us," he groused.
In Goma's empty marketplace, Regan Balume, a butcher, lovingly sliced pieces of beef stomach, heart and liver when a rare customer appeared. Like many here, he muttered a dark refrain that the rebels were not just bandits and looters, but also foreigners. Some fear there could be another genocide.
"I'm angry at these so-called liberators, who just came to lie to us," Balume said. "They should just go back to where they came from, Rwanda." Then, abruptly, agitation died, replaced with fear, and he fell silent, glancing sullenly at his feet. A plainclothes M23 official had materialized beside him.
That evening, Solange, who had nothing to eat and no money, did the only thing she could think of to get a few dollars for food: She went to a bar, hoping to meet a man who'd buy her a soda and give her some cash in exchange for sleeping with him.
But nothing happened at the bar, and she hurried home in the dark. "That's when the bandits caught me," she said, referring to M23 rebels.
She told the story later, in a doctor's office back in Rutshuru. Small and slight, she sat clutching a handbag to her body. She wore a black scarf on her head, the knot arranged above the hairline like a plump flower in bud.
There were five of them, she recalled. They also seized a passing boy and tied him up. The boy watched as they threw her onto the street and ripped at her clothes.
"One put a gun to my head," she said in a soft, clear voice. "They said to me if I cried, they'd kill me. They were saying, 'Let her die, let her die.' When one was finished, another would say, 'Have you finished? Let me do it too.' "
She fled after the attack, never knowing the fate of the boy.
Analysts fear that it will be hard to get a peace deal between the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, and M23, and that there will be many more victims like Solange.
If there is a peace agreement, it will probably contain the same weaknesses of previous bargains, stitched together quickly, co-opting the enemy into the military, doling out positions, access to resources and other benefits to placate them.
"It could escalate into all-out war, or it could go back to skirmishes," said Jason Stearns, author of the blog Congo Siasa. "It's going to be extremely difficult to find a compromise between M23 and the Congolese government. It's about trusting Kabila.
"Everything we have been describing is a recipe for a mess, and M23 thrives on chaos."
Beneath the surface, analysts say, the rot deepens. Kabila's weak government on the other side of the country is disconnected and isolated from eastern Congo, with no ability to provide decent services or impose security. Corrupt military and venal government officials plunder the minerals and smuggle them into Rwanda and Uganda.
People like Solange expect little from the government. She'd like justice. But she sees no reason to expect it.
Publisher: Le Point, France
Story date: 11/12/2012
Cette nouvelle crise politique risque de compliquer une intervention africaine dans le nord du pays, toujours aux mains des islamistes.
Le Premier ministre malien Cheick Modibo Diarra a été contraint mardi à la démission par d'anciens officiers putschistes hostiles à une intervention étrangère contre les islamistes qui occupent le nord du Mali, et le président par intérim a désigné son successeur. Selon un décret lu par la chaîne de télévision publique malienne ORTM, le président par intérim, Dioncounda Traoré, a nommé au poste de Premier ministre le médiateur de la République, Diango Cissoko. Âgé de 62 ans, Diango Cissoko était médiateur de la République depuis mai 2011. "La priorité, c'est la récupération du nord et l'organisation des élections. [...] Je veux faire un gouvernement d'union nationale", a affirmé mardi soir à l'AFP le nouveau Premier ministre.
Cheick Modibo Diarra a annoncé à l'aube sa démission et celle de son gouvernement après avoir été arrêté dans la nuit par une vingtaine de militaires, sur ordre du capitaine Amadou Haya Sanogo, chef de l'ex-junte qui avait renversé en mars le président Amadou Toumani Touré. Cheick Modibo Diarra a fait cette annonce au cours d'une brève allocution à la télévision malienne, sans fournir d'explications. Il se trouvait mardi en résidence surveillée chez lui à Bamako, selon un membre de sa famille. Les habitants de la capitale vaquaient normalement à leurs occupations.
Coup de force
Le départ forcé du Premier ministre survient au lendemain de la décision de l'Union européenne d'envoyer au Mali 400 militaires début 2013 pour former l'armée malienne en vue de rétablir le contrôle de Bamako sur le nord du pays, occupé depuis huit mois par des islamistes armés. Cet envoi sera la première concrétisation d'un engagement étranger sur le terrain, alors qu'est attendu avant Noël un feu vert de l'ONU sur le déploiement d'une force internationale.
Le capitaine Sanogo, chef des putschistes, a justifié son action mardi soir dans un entretien à la télévision publique malienne. "Rien ne marchait" avec Cheick Modibo Diarra comme Premier ministre, "au lieu d'être le chef d'équipe pour conduire, il était quand même le point de blocage", a affirmé le capitaine Sanogo à l'antenne de l'ORTM. Le capitaine Sanogo assure que l'ex-Premier ministre "va très bien", "qu'il est chez lui depuis hier soir". Il dément que M. Diarra ait été placé en résidence surveillée à son domicile comme l'a affirmé à l'AFP mardi matin un membre de la famille de Cheick Modibo Diarra. "Il n'est ni arrêté ni en résidence surveillée", a déclaré l'officier. Le capitaine Sanogo a par ailleurs démenti être "opposé" au déploiement d'une force internationale dans le nord du Mali. "Nous ne nous sommes jamais opposés à quoi que soit. [...] Nous en avons besoin tant que ça peut sauver des populations maliennes", a-t-il déclaré.
Le nouveau coup de force des putschistes survient alors que le Mali et la Communauté économique des États d'Afrique de l'Ouest (Cedeao) ont demandé au Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU d'autoriser rapidement le déploiement d'une force internationale de 3 300 hommes dans le pays. Lundi, l'UE a mis sur les rails sa mission de 400 militaires, dont 250 formateurs qui devront dès le premier trimestre 2013 réorganiser une armée malienne en piteux état depuis sa débâcle face aux groupes armés.
Des autorités civiles de transition fragiles
Alors que Cheick Modibo Diarra s'était prononcé à plusieurs reprises en faveur d'une intervention étrangère rapide, le capitaine Sanogo, devenu chef d'un comité de réforme de l'armée, l'avait acceptée du bout des lèvres, disant préférer compter sur l'armée malienne pour reconquérir le Nord.
La démission de Cheick Modibo Diarra sous la pression des putschistes a suscité la réprobation en Afrique et en Occident. La Cedeao "condamne tout agissement, en particulier celui de militaires, contre toute personnalité de la transition" au Mali, a déclaré à Abidjan le président de la commission de cette organisation, Désiré Kadré Ouédraogo. Elle a appelé à ce que la sécurité de Cheick Modibo Diarra soit assurée. "Nous tenons ceux qui entraveraient ses mouvements pour responsables de sa sécurité", a déclaré à l'AFP Désiré Kadré Ouédraogo.
Le secrétaire général de l'ONU Ban Ki-moon s'est, lui, déclaré "troublé" par le coup de force et a "appelé une nouvelle fois à la fin de l'ingérence des militaires dans la politique". Le Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU s'est dit "prêt à envisager des mesures appropriées, dont des sanctions ciblées contre ceux qui empêchent la restauration de l'ordre constitutionnel et agissent pour miner la stabilité du Mali".
Sur la même ligne, le département d'État américain a "condamné cet acte commis par la junte militaire", qu'il a exhortée à "cesser ses ingérences perpétuelles dans les affaires politiques et gouvernementales maliennes". L'UE a appelé l'armée "à cesser d'interférer dans la vie politique", et la France a demandé la formation rapide d'un "nouveau gouvernement représentatif". Ce nouvel épisode de la crise au Mali prouve la fragilité des autorités civiles de transition. La France et les Africains souhaitent une adoption rapide à l'ONU de la résolution sur le déploiement de la force internationale, mais Washington doute des capacités du Mali et de ses voisins à mener à bien l'opération.
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 11/12/2012
Malian interim President Diouncounda Traore has appointed a new PM, less than 24 hours after his predecessor was forced to resign by the military.
Django Sissoko, an official in the presidency, has been named to succeed Cheick Modibo Diarra, who has been under arrest since his resignation.
The appointment was announced on state television.
The role of the military in the forced resignation of Mr Diarra has been condemned by the UN and many countries.
But Capt Amadou Sanogo, who led a coup in March, said Mr Diarra had not been forced to quit and the military had only facilitated his resignation.
Mali has been in disarray for much of the year. Islamist and Tuareg separatists seized control of the north of the country and discontented soldiers staged a coup after the civilian administration was unable to regain control of all of the country.
Mr Traore had promised to appoint a civilian successor to Mr Diarra within 24 hours, but it is uncertain whether the naming of Mr Sissoko will be enough to satisfy international calls for a return to democracy.
The United Nations had threatened to impose sanctions over Monday's arrest and the Security Council said it was ready to take "appropriate measures" against those who undermined Mali's stability.
"The members of the Security Council express their readiness to consider appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against those who prevent the restoration of the constitutional order and take actions that undermine stability in Mali," the council said in a statement.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "troubled" by the latest developments, which underscored the importance of national and international efforts to address the political crisis in Mali.
The United States called the return of the military into Malian politics as a "setback" to democracy and the regional body, Ecowas, condemned the action.
Mr Diarra was made prime minister of an interim government in April after the military officially handed power back to civilians.
But tensions have been mounting in recent weeks between the soldiers who led the coup and the civilian prime minister they were forced to appoint.
The 60-year-old astrophysicist has backed plans to send a West African intervention force into the northern half of Mali which was seized after the coup by Islamists and Tuareg separatists.
However, many within Mali's military are opposed to foreign intervention, saying they need only financial and logistical support.
Earlier, the West African regional group Ecowas agreed to send 3.300 troops to reclaim rebel-held territory. The deployment has been backed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
And on Monday, the European Union backed plans for a 250-member training mission for about four battalions of the Malian army to fight the militants.
Publisher: Horizons, Algerie
Story date: 11/12/2012
Français et Américains ont une approche divergente sur la façon de régler le conflit dans le nord du Mali, une région qui constitue, à en croire les Nations unies, « l'une des contrées potentiellement les plus explosives au monde ». D'après l'Onu, près de 350.000 Maliens ont dû fuir leurs foyers, dont 40% environ se sont réfugiés dans les pays voisins, exacerbant une crise humanitaire dans le pourtour sahélo-saharien, un arc de cercle d'une dizaine de pays déshérités et dévastés par la sécheresse, allant de l'Atlantique à la mer Rouge. « L'insécurité devient préoccupante, avec des informations généralisées sur de graves violations des droits de l'Homme comme les violences sexuelles, le recrutement d'enfants, la lapidation et la mutilation de suspects », a déclaré le Haut-Commissaire des Nations unies aux réfugiés, Antonio Guterres. « Le nord du Mali (...) est l'une des contrées potentiellement les plus explosives de la planète », a-t-il lancé devant le Conseil de sécurité.
En novembre, le SG de l'Onu, Ban Ki-moon, avait prudemment recommandé aux Quinze du Conseil de sécurité de donner leur aval à une intervention militaire de l'Union africaine visant à reconquérir le nord du Mali, à condition qu'un certain nombre de critères soient remplis portant sur la situation politique, les droits de l'Homme et la formation de l'armée malienne. La France a fait circuler un projet de résolution visant à donner le feu vert à une semblable mission, mais les Etats-Unis ont opposé une contre-proposition établissant une opération en deux volets, l'un politique et l'autre militaire. Washington souhaite que le Conseil de sécurité adopte d'abord une résolution sur l'entraînement de l'armée malienne et que soit enclenché un processus politique avant de délivrer un mandat pour une intervention militaire. Des diplomates ont précisé que les Américains doutent de la capacité de la Cédéao à fournir la formation appropriée aux troupes maliennes dans une zone de combat désertique. Sous couvert de l'anonymat, un diplomate de haut rang siégeant au Conseil de sécurité, a déclaré que les Etats-Unis « faisaient preuve de beaucoup de scepticisme sur l'approche voulue par les Français » et doutaient énormément qu'une mission militaire puisse être un succès. L'ancienne puissance coloniale souhaite que le Conseil de sécurité vote, en décembre, une résolution. A Bruxelles, les ministres des Affaires étrangères de l'Union européenne ont approuvé, lundi, l'envoi de 250 instructeurs pour aider l'armée malienne à lutter contre les insurgés islamistes qui contrôlent le nord du pays. Les instructeurs formeront quatre bataillons de l'armée malienne, soit 2.600 hommes, notamment dans le domaine de l'artillerie, mais ils ne participeront pas aux combats, avait indiqué un responsable de l'UE en novembre dernier.
Publisher: the Washington Post, USA
Author: By Sudarsan Raghavan,
Story date: 11/12/2012
SEGOU, Mali — On a sweltering afternoon, Islamist police officers dragged Fatima Al Hassan out of her house in the fabled city of Timbuktu. They beat her up, shoved her into a white pickup truck and drove her to their headquarters. She was locked up in a jail as she awaited her sentence: 100 lashes with an electrical cord.
"Why are you doing this?" she recalled asking.
Hassan was being punished for giving water to a male visitor.
The Islamist radicals who seized a vast arc of territory in northern Mali in the spring are intensifying their brutality against the population, according to victims, human rights groups, and U.N. and Malian officials. The attacks are being perpetrated as the United States, European countries and regional powers are readying an African force to retake northern Mali, after months of hesitation.
But such an action, if approved by the U.N. Security Council, is unlikely to begin until next summer or fall, U.S. and other Western officials say, and political turmoil in the south is adding to the uncertainty. That has raised fears that the extremists could consolidate their grip over the Texas-size territory and further terrorize civilians, particularly women and children.
"The people are losing all hope," said Sadou Diallo, a former mayor of the northern city of Gao. "For the past eight months, they have lived without any government, without any actions taken against the Islamists. Now the Islamists feel they can do anything to the people."
Refugees fleeing the north are now bringing stories that are darker than those recounted in interviews from this summer. Although their experiences cannot be independently verified — because the Islamists have threatened to kill or kidnap Westerners who visit — U.N. officials and human rights activists say that they have heard similar reports of horrific abuses and that some may amount to war crimes.
The refugees say the Islamists are raping and forcibly marrying women, and recruiting children for armed conflict. Social interaction deemed an affront to their interpretation of Islam is zealously punished through Islamic courts and a police force that has become more systematic and inflexible, human rights activists and local officials say.
Two weeks ago, the Islamists publicly whipped three couples 100 times each in Timbuktu for not being married, human rights activists said.
The Islamist police had spotted Hassan giving water to a male visitor at her house last month. Hassan's brother knew an Islamist commander and pleaded for mercy. After spending 18 hours in jail, she was set free with a warning. The next day, she fled here to Segou, a town in southern Mali that has taken in thousands of the displaced, mostly women and children.
It was fortunate, Hassan said, that she was handing the glass to her friend out on the veranda. "If they had found me with him near the bedroom, they would have shot us both on the spot," she said.
With organization, 'abuse'
Radical Islamists have transformed vast stretches of desert in the north into an enclave for al-Qaeda militants and other jihadists. They have imposed a hard-edged brand of sharia law, echoing Afghanistan's Taliban movement, in this West African country where moderate Islam has thrived for centuries.
People are deprived of basic freedoms, historic tombs have been destroyed, and any cultural practices deemed un-Islamic are banned. Children are denied education. The sick and elderly die because many doctors and nurses have fled, and most clinics and hospitals have been destroyed or looted.
In March, the militants joined forces with secular Tuareg separatists, fueled by weapons from the arsenal of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, to seize control of the north in the wake of a military coup that crippled the government. The extremists then pushed out the Tuareg rebels and solidified their control.
In August, they began establishing courts, jails and police forces in major towns, according to human rights activists. The police scour neighborhoods for anyone who disobeys their decrees.
"It's much more organized now," said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher on Mali for Human Rights Watch, referring to the network of courts and police. "The Islamists have taken away the joie de vivre of the people."
On Oct. 9, Mariam Conate, 15, was walking to her uncle's house in Timbuktu. She had forgotten to fully cover her face. Two Islamist police officers confronted her, and "one held me, the other beat me with the barrel of his gun," Conate recalled. "They took me to their headquarters and threw me into a room. They locked the door and left."
Outside, her jailors discussed her future. One wanted to cut off her ears as punishment. The other wanted to send her to a prison where six of her friends had been raped, she said. She was also worried that she would be forced to marry a militant, a fate her cousin had recently suffered.
"As I listened, I was trembling and crying," Conate said.
U.N. and Malian officials said they have learned of many cases of rape and forced weddings by Islamist gunmen in the north. Two weeks ago, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told U.N. members that sexual violence is prevalent in the region.
Publicly, though, the Islamists have claimed moral righteousness, banning sex before marriage. In August, they stoned a couple to death after accusing them of adultery. Now the Islamists are systematically asking men and women who walk together whether they are married. In the town of Kidal, the Islamists are making lists of unmarried pregnant women in order to punish them and their partners, said U.N. and Malian human rights officials and local community leaders.
"They are going around asking every pregnant woman who made her pregnant," said Alkaya Toure, an official with Cri de Coeur, a Malian human rights group. "They also rely on spies inside the populations in Gao, Timbuktu and elsewhere."
But as a reward for loyalty, the Islamists have found a religious loophole. They have encouraged their fighters to marry women and girls, some as young as 10, and often at gunpoint. After sex, they initiate a quick divorce. In an extreme case that has shocked the country, a girl in Timbuktu was forced last month to "marry" six fighters in one night, according to a report in one of Mali's biggest newspapers.
"They are abusing religion to force women and girls to have intercourse," said Ibrahima Berte, an official at Mali's National Commission for Human Rights. "This kind of forced marriage is really just sexual abuse."
In a telephone interview, a senior Islamist commander conceded that his fighters were marrying young girls.
"Our religion says that if a girl is 12, she must get married to avoid losing her virginity in a wrong way," said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the three radical groups ruling the north. The other two are al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the network's North and West Africa affiliate; and Ansar Dine, or "defenders of the faith."
Conate was eventually set free after a cousin who knew one of the Islamists intervened. On Oct. 12, she fled to Segou, where she stays with an aunt in a small, crowded house.
Boys, too, are being abused. With a possible war looming, some as young as 10 have been taken to training camps, where they learn to use weapons and plant homemade bombs, U.N. officials and human rights activists say. And as the economy worsens in rebel areas, some parents have "sold" their children as it becomes harder to buy food and to curry favor with the Islamists.
"They give $10 to impoverished parents to recruit their children in the name of defending Islam," said Gaoussou Traore, the secretary general of Comade, a Malian children's rights group. "The Islamists tell parents that their children will go to paradise, that they will benefit in the next world."
Pro-government self-defense militias in the south, made up of civilians seeking to liberate the north, have also recruited children, activists say.
"The situation of children in Mali is normally very bad," Traore said. "With the arrival of the Islamists, it's become a lot worse."
'They came to destroy us'
In a few parts of the north, the Islamists have been more lenient with the locals because they are from the same tribes. But Timbuktu is controlled by hard-liners from all three groups, particularly AQIM, which is largely made up of foreigners. There, the sharia codes have been fiercely enforced.
By some estimates, more than half the population of 60,000 has fled; a majority of the refugees in Segou and the capital, Bamako, are from Timbuktu, said Western refugee officials and community leaders.
But the price of escape has been steep. Maman Dedeou, a 22-year-old laborer, has no job in Bamako, where he lives with relatives who are also refugees. Like them, all he possesses are bitter memories.
"I just eat and sleep," he said, raising his injured right arm, wrapped in a thick white bandage, as an explanation.
The extremists have not stopped at destroying ancient mausoleums and shrines in Timbuktu, which was an important center for Islamic learning 500 years ago. They have also targeted shop owners such as Moktar Ben Sidi, 50, who sold traditional masks and other items to Western tourists. One day, a group of Islamist fighters broke down his door and smashed everything, he said.
"They said such artifacts were forbidden under Islam," Sidi said. "They didn't come to help us. They came to destroy us."
Inside his barbershop, Ali Maiga, 33, had a mural of hairstyles favored by American and French rappers on the wall. The Islamists sprayed white paint over it, he recalled, and warned him that he risks being whipped if he shaves off anyone's beard.
Juddu Bojuama, 26, was thrown in jail, accused by the Islamist police of drinking a beer. He denials went unheard. "They beat me 100 times with a tree branch," he said, pointing at his back and legs.
Dedeou, the laborer, suffered even more. He recalled having no lawyer when he stood before an Islamic judge on charges of stealing a mattress. Afterward, he said, police tied his arms and legs and took away his cellphone. They took him to a clearing near the Niger River, where a man gave him two injections that put him to sleep.
Dedeou woke up in a hospital. His right hand had been amputated.
An Islamist fighter, standing guard at his bedside, uttered a judgment that Dedeou said he could never forget:
"This is the punishment God has decided for you."
Publisher: The New York Times, USA
Author: By ADAM NOSSITER
Story date: 11/12/2012
BAMAKO, Mali — Soldiers carried out a late-night arrest of Mali's prime minister at his home here, forcing his resignation early Tuesday and casting new doubt on plans to chase out radical Islamists who control much of this troubled West African nation.
Hours after being taken to the main army camp outside the capital for a dressing-down by military officers, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, a former NASA astrophysicist, appeared grim-faced on national television to announce that he was resigning, along with all of his ministers.
Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, named Django Sissoko as prime minister. Mr. Sissoko, who had been Mali's ombudsman, will be tasked with forming a new government, according to a presidential decree read on state television.
A spokesman for the soldiers who seized power in Mali this year — and later nominally relinquished it to Mr. Diarra — accused him of "playing a personal agenda" while the country faced a crisis in the north, which fell to the Islamists after a military coup d'état in March. "There was a paralysis in the executive," said the spokesman, Bakary Mariko.
But diplomats, human rights activists and analysts said the military's arrest of Mr. Diarra on Monday merely confirmed that the army junta continued to hold power, despite the window-dressing of the civilian government, whose presence it resented. That reality, they said, complicates planned military aid meant to help the army reconquer northern Mali, an area that now alarms Western governments as a large-scale stronghold for Qaeda-linked jihadists.
"You don't need to be an Einstein to know that this will slow everything down," a Western diplomat here said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The planned assistance to Mali "just has to be on ice," he said. Power has shifted entirely to the junta, the diplomat said.
The prime minister's forced resignation was greeted in Paris and Berlin with expressions of dismay Tuesday, and new uncertainty surrounds a planned United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing force to retake the north.
France has been pushing for early intervention there, although the United States has expressed skepticism about plans by the regional grouping of West African states to retake the region and wariness about providing aid to the shaky civilian government — reservations likely to be reinforced by the latest developments.
In Washington, the State Department sharply criticized Mr. Diarra's forced resignation. "We condemn this act by the military junta, and insist that it halt its continued interference in Malian political affairs and government," Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Tuesday.
With scorn for Mr. Diarra, the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, said in an interview on state television Tuesday night, "Cheick Modibo Diarra has not given a thing, one single piece of equipment, to the Malian Army."
Several soldiers and police officers guarded Mr. Diarra's expansive villa at the edge of town here Tuesday. A request to see Mr. Diarra was turned down by soldiers, who said he was inside "resting."
The prime minister's fall from grace, via a military that had helped install him nine months ago, was as sudden as it was steep. He was appointed last spring as a caretaker prime minister until new elections, halted by the coup, could be organized.
Early Tuesday, after Mr. Diarra was hauled to the camp at Kati, outside the capital, Captain Sanogo, who led the coup in March, told him there was proof "against him that he was calling for subversion," said Mr. Mariko, the military spokesman. "He had recorded cassettes that were going to be broadcast on ORTM," the state broadcaster, Mr. Mariko said. "These cassettes called on the people of Mali to go into the street to oppose the army."
But a more likely explanation was a growing and public clash about the best way of chasing the Islamists from the north.
Mr. Diarra, derided as an amateur politician by the well-entrenched political class here, has nonetheless been steadily raising his profile at the expense of Captain Sanogo. He has made the rounds of foreign capitals to push his view that reconquering the north required immediate international military assistance. Captain Sanogo has rebuffed suggestions that the Malian Army is incapable of handling the job on its own. Indeed, for weeks, the captain resisted the idea that troops from other African nations should even go near the capital.
Despite this, the Malian Army, defeated by Islamists and nomadic rebels last winter and spring, has been deemed seriously deficient by United Nations and Western military officials.
Captain Sanogo, trained in the United States, has depicted himself as a national savior, even comparing himself to Gen. Charles de Gaulle in an op-ed article in Le Monde several months ago. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has implicated him in serious violations involving rival soldiers who tried to roll back the coup in April.
The conflict between the two men was evident in the declarations of the military's spokesman Tuesday. "Since he has been in power, he has been working simply to position his own family," Mr. Mariko said.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
* American Commander Details Al Qaeda's Strength in Mali
Publisher: The Daily Beast
Story date: 11/12/2012
Retro white-metal-and-wood hospital beds—arranged in a cluster in the dappled shade of a broad tree—serve as the main emergency ward at Kismayo General Hospital. Emergency is the only kind of care the small team of hospital staff can provide with so few resources. For the past three years they've operated under the rule of Somalia's al Qaeda–linked militants, Al-Shabab. "Explosion wounds and C-sections—that's all we can cope with right now," says the hospital director. His charges, 23 of whom arrived on the same day in October, when an IED exploded in town, suffer broken bones and injuries caused by shrapnel. Many also nurse gunshot wounds from stray bullets that government-aligned forces fired in the chaos after the attack.
Despite the apparent challenges, the hospital director presents the circumstances optimistically: By "using sparingly," the hospital has managed to have enough emergency kits to treat the patients who come to the facility—the only hospital not under Al-Shabab control in the region. They do have anesthesia. The hospital recently signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to receive some surgical equipment and medicine—the first international support since Doctors Without Borders was forced to withdraw from the area in 2008 after three of its staff were killed in an IED attack. And two days after The Daily Beast interview, the hospital staff was slated to be paid for the first time by the city's new post-Shabab administration.
The progress may sound nominal. But it's emblematic of both the changes and the challenges afoot in newly liberated Kismayo—and an illustration of the level of isolation the people of this port city have endured.
With the territory they controlled shrinking—due in large part to operations carried out by the Western-backed African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM)—Al-Shabab consolidated its efforts around Kismayo, Somalia's second-most strategic city after Mogadishu. Thanks in large part to Kismayo's port, the militants generated an estimated $25 million in revenue in 2011 from taxes imposed on Somali charcoal shipments, primarily to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to a report published by a U.N. monitoring group in July. Since the production of charcoal in the Kismayo area started around 1997, it has become by far the dominant industry, now accounting for 80 percent of business in the region, local investors estimate. "People in this community were doing the charcoal business since before the existence of Al-Shabab. So the issue isn't Al-Shabab, the issue is that the businesspeople invested [almost solely] in charcoal because there was a lack of government. There was no control at all, no administration," says Sheikh Hassan, speaking on behalf of a group of businessmen gathered for a meeting in a warehouse smelling of fish and petrol at the Kismayo port. "They were going for the cheapest business they could invest in so they can get their livelihood."
"Kismayo is the big test of the post-transitional government, because it's far and away the most important of the newly liberated areas."
What to do with the remaining stock of charcoal—which is barred from export by a U.N. embargo intended to stem Al-Shabab's revenue stream and prevent deforestation of southern Somalia—is just one of the contentious issues that Kismayo's new administration and Somalia's new central government in Mogadishu need to jointly hash out. The charcoal owners say that the stock, much of which currently sits on a vast plot in town in mounds stacked two stories high, is worth $30 million to $40 million—though no one really knows the true value.
"For the moment, there's no reason for there to be a fight" over charcoal, says a Nairobi-based international Somalia expert, noting that there will have to be a negotiated solution that draws in the charcoal owners and "their supporters with guns." But he adds that Kismayo's charcoal stock could spark political conflict. "If the [central] government remains adamant and tries to impose itself without a negotiated settlement, then in the context of the broader Jubba Valley issue, it's just one more irritant to divide the two sides."
Those divisions run deep, centering on the question of whether the southern region in which Kismayo sits will be able to establish itself as a semiautonomous state in the post-transition Somalia.
"The Constitution of Somalia spells out federalism as a key component of the administration of the country," says Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, the commander of the most powerful militia in the region, who currently serves as the head of Kismayo's governing body. "The central government must recognize that fact." What that means in practice, according to Madobe's interpretation, is that the three provinces of southern Somalia, bordering Kenya and Ethiopia, would combine to form the state of Jubbaland, with the power to govern with some level of autonomy from the central government in Mogadishu. There's no doubt that Madobe, who has traded in his military attire for horn-rimmed spectacles, a collared shirt, and an embroidered Muslim prayer cap, is angling for the top post as governor.
With self-declared independent Somaliland as one model—it announced its breakaway in 1991, even though no other country officially recognizes it—the Mogadishu government fears that granting autonomy to other regions would set a dangerous precedent and dilute its power, right at the time when it is emerging from an eight-year transition and eager to create a cohesive country. The last central government in Somalia collapsed in 1991.
"What the new Constitution doesn't answer is how these new states are established, if they can be established unilaterally, and who decides who controls them. And that's the million-dollar question," says Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia specialist and political-science professor at Davidson College. "It's one thing to say, 'Yes, federalism is enshrined in the Constitution.' It's another to say, 'Oh, and by the way, I'm setting up my own state.'"
Madobe isn't the only one with strategic designs for the region. Kenya and Ethiopia also have strong interests in southern Somalia, having both sent their militaries over the border—the very first such sortie for Kenya—to join the effort to oust Al-Shabab. A committee made up of representatives from the central government in Mogadishu and the various Somali clans living in the region is currently in talks mediated by an East African regional body known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to decide how to govern areas after Al-Shabab's retreat and ensure that they don't fall into the hands of warlords. For Kenya and Ethiopia, establishing a friendly local administration in the border region is a matter of national security. The challenge is that there are a variety of definitions of what such an administration should look like, leaving Western governments, who are funding AMISOM and largely bolstering the Somali government, in a bind.
"There's a real dichotomy, because even though a lot of governments would like to see the Jubba Valley stabilized and want to support Kenya and Ethiopia in that endeavor, they also want to be seen as supporting the [Somali] central government. And now it's not possible to do both," says the Nairobi-based international Somalia expert.
This multisided power struggle is taking place against a backdrop of major political changes in Mogadishu as well. The end of the transitional government in August saw the bloated, notoriously ineffective Parliament dissolved and a new body created that was half its size in a process that was meant to bar candidates with ties to warlords. That new body then selected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to be the country's new president, a newcomer on the political scene with a set of credentials rare among Somalia's leadership. Mohamud spent the past two decades, while the country was embroiled in civil war, founding a university in Somalia and working for international research and aid groups, including UNICEF. But how that background prepared him to navigate the clan interests and warlordism characteristic of Somali politics is still an open question. While some Somali analysts and international observers say Mohamud has the reputation of being inclusive and willing to discuss, rather than impose, others say that he is trying to make decisions too quickly and needs to spend more time building alliances and buy-in.
"It's very common for governments in Mogadishu to come to power, and the international community rushes to support them and express appreciation for their authority, legitimacy," says the Nairobi-based international Somalia expert. "It feels like they have real authority when in reality they're still living inside an AMISOM created bubble, and they have very little reach outside Mogadishu. The more support they receive, the more money they receive, serves as a disincentive to reaching out and practicing inclusive politics. I think there's a risk of [Mohamud] falling into that trap."
Nowhere is that tension more acute at the moment than in Mogadishu's dealings with Kismayo.
"Kismayo is the big test of the post-transitional government, because it's far and away the most important of the newly liberated areas, and it's the first area to be 'liberated' since the transitional period ended. And so it begs a whole bunch of questions that didn't have to be answered before," Menkhaus says.
But President Mohamud may not have much of a choice when it comes to countering the aspirations of the current Kismayo administration.
"If the central government in Mogadishu does not agree with the federal region we are creating, then it means that the whole government will be lacking legal basis for existence, and the Constitution will be trashed," says Madobe, who adds that semiautonomous regions have a long history in Somalia. "Therefore, I don't understand why the central government now has resorted to denying the residents of this region their right, while the residents of other regions have enjoyed rights like this one." With the majority of the so-called government-aligned forces in the region under his control and strong ties with Kenya, whose Army sees him as its most effective partner in establishing security, Madobe should have no trouble getting his point across.
For now, just two months after Al-Shabab retreated from Kismayo under an assault led by the Kenyan Army operating under AMISOM, Kenyan soldiers work side by side with Madobe's Ras Kamboni Brigade and the Somali National Army to secure the town, under continued threat from Al-Shabab elements that remain in Kismayo and the surrounding desert. Nearly every night, artillery fire pierces the quiet at the main AMISOM base as troops fire at Al-Shabab scouts to keep them far enough at bay. Generators are powered down shortly after dark, because a single illuminated bulb could prove an obvious target.
Local elders say the city's residents are cautiously returning after fleeing either Al-Shabab's draconian rules or the assault by AMISOM and the government forces. But what they discover is a place with very little to offer to help them reestablish their lives. Finding enough food is a challenge after poor weather patterns and years of deprioritizing local agriculture. City services like sanitation haven't been set up. Health care is practically nonexistent except for the most dire of conditions. Some residents at a meeting hosted by the local administration asked to not be photographed, because they are fearful that Al-Shabab may still return or could employ their underground network to target people who spoke to international journalists. So while the fall of "Al-Shabab's last stronghold" marked a crucial milestone for Somalia broadly and for the foreign actors long invested in their defeat, Kismayo residents emphasize that they are beginning a new chapter in their struggles—hopefully one with greater promise for the future, but a trial all the same. As one local elder describes it, "Now people are refugees in their own town."
Publisher: THE DAILY STAR, BEIRUT, LEBANON
Author: Niamh Fleming-Farrell
Story date: 11/12/2012
Beirut MABAN, South Sudan: Refugees driven from their homes by "indiscriminate bombing" in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan by the Sudan Armed Forces continue to pour into the Batil refugee camp in Upper Nile, South Sudan, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday. A mere 40 kilometers from the border with Sudan's Blue Nile state, Batil, one of four camps in Maban County. has a population of almost 40,000 and will soon be full.
Doro, the largest camp in Maban County, has already stopped receiving refugees. The other camps in the area, Jamam and Jendrasa, are smaller but are also nearing capacity. However, humanitarian workers in the area say that when this happens further camps will be built to accommodate new arrivals.
So far the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has registered 112,379 refugees in Upper Nile. A further 68,000 have fled from South Kordofan to Yida camp in South Sudan. Still more are displaced inside Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
The war between the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army-North and Sudan in the border states has to date affected or displaced an estimated 900,000 people, Human Rights Watch says.
Working at a nutrition distribution project in Batil, Abdullah says he and his family left Blue Nile a year ago "due to the war."
"The government of North Sudan, they are bombing every location where the people are settling. That is why all the people in Blue Nile ran away from their houses," the 29-year-old explains.
All the people from Abdullah's hometown fled. "There are no civilians remaining, because of the bombing there."
Human Rights Watch's new report "Under Siege" is full of stories like Abdullah's. Take, for example, Tahani Nurin, now a resident of Doro refugee camp. The mother of seven, tired of daily bomb attacks around her home in Sukum, Blue Nile, was walking toward South Sudan with a group of 25 civilians when tragedy struck.
A barrel bomb a crude but brutal improvised device packed with nails and other jagged pieces of metal that become lethal projectiles upon impact discharged from a cargo plane killed her 17-year-old daughter Fatallah. It also took the lives of two others, one a 12-year-old child, the report says.
Nurin's testimony is among the almost 200 collected by Human Rights Watch between August 2011 and October 2012.
In its report, HRW condemns Sudan's indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations in the two states.
"We are releasing the report now because the situation is getting worse," Jehanne Henry, co-author of HRW's report and senior researcher in the group's Africa division tells The Daily Star on the eve of its release.
"At the end of the rainy season and beginning of the dry season [which started in late October] the bombing and fighting increases and associated human rights violations. We want to send a warning to all the actors involved in Sudan that they need to increase their pressure on the parties to the conflict to bring the violations to an end especially the indiscriminate bombing and the deliberate aid blockade," Henry adds.
Conflict broke out between the SPLA and the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan in June 2011 a month before South Sudan seceded from Khartoum when the state's incumbent governor, Ahmad Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, earned a narrow re-election. It spread to Blue Nile in September. Fighting continues between the SPLA-N, the successor of the SPLA in the border states, and Khartoum's forces.
HRW's report documents SAF use of unguided and improvised bombs, cluster bombs, shells, rockets and automated weapons against civilians, and states that the evidence suggests "a deliberate strategy of the Sudan government to treat all populations in rebel held areas as enemies and legitimate targets, without distinguishing between civilian and combatant."
Indeed, the organization reports, "in all areas Human Rights Watch visited in Sudan including IDP camps, residents had dug foxholes for shelter in the event of a bomb attack."
It may be a different region in a different decade, but much of the evidence contained in the report calls to mind tactics deployed by the Sudanese army during its civil war in the '80s and '90s and in Darfur in the 2000s.
"The report documents extremely serious violations over the past 18 months. The most worrying aspect is that they are continuing," Henry says.
On the basis of five separate fact-finding missions to Sudan and South Sudan in August 2011, April 2012, and October 2012, HRW's research identifies indiscriminate aerial bombardment as well as ground attacks, violence against women, arbitrary detentions, house burnings and lootings by Sudan's army and allied militia as factors driving civilians from the region.
The report also levels that the government of Sudan has imposed a "de facto blockade" on humanitarian assistance in areas under rebel control.
"Those who live in the rebel-controlled parts of the states are effectively cut off from food, aid and supplies because Sudan has closed roads and restricted movement, and prevented international aid groups from providing services in those areas," Henry says.
However, HRW acknowledges that it was unable to access areas in government-controlled areas a limitation that also precluded its ability to verify reports that SPLA-N too has conducted indiscriminate shelling.
Moreover, the rights organization describes the international response to the crisis as "muted," claiming that it was eclipsed by the resumption of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan in April 2012.
Although the African Union and United Nations agreed modalities for aid delivery with the parties to the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in August, the report says the agreement remains unimplemented.
"There does not appear to be a solution to this conflict on the horizon not until the two parties negotiate," Henry says. "As a human rights organization, our focus is on ending the violations. So we don't call for negotiations, rather, we call for the perpetrators to stop perpetrating human rights abuses."
Back at his place of work in the sprawling refugee camp of Batil where between 800-1,000 pregnant or nursing women and under-5 children present for supplementary feeding daily, Abdullah says that if there is peace he and his family will return to Blue Nile.
But, he says, "if there is no peace, we will stay here as refugees."
Story date: 11/12/2012
A rise in the number of refugees pouring into camps in Sudan's Maban County could lead to conflict as a result of pressure on local residents, humanitarian officials have warned.
About 110,000 refugees escaping fighting in Sudan's Kordofan and Blue Nile states have arrived in Maban so far.
Many in the crowded camps also face a major outbreak of water-borne diseases due to flooding and shortages of clean drinking water.
Twenty six people died from Hepatitis E in November while over 1,000 others were infected with the virus that's contracted and spread through contaminated food and water.
Some host communities see the refugees as a threat to the already scarce resources available.
Refugees like Sadia al-Gali say that collecting firewood nearby to prepare the family's meals for example is a challenge.
"Our safety here is better, but the community here are not welcoming. If we go to the forest they will fight us there and take away our axes because they don't want us to cut down any trees, we tell them that we need to cut fire wood for cooking but they say no don't cut, yet we are here as refugees,"she said.
In the meantime those living at the camp are trying to survive with the little they have, hoping things back home will get better soon so that they can return to their fields and businesses.
Some of the refugees are also engaging in income generating activities while at the camp, and are making pots and bricks for sale.
While on a recent tour of the Yusuf Batil camp in Maban county, the United Nation's
Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Toby Lanzer emphasized on the importance of refugees and the host communities working together to maintain refugee camps.
Lanzer also serves as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General in South Sudan.
"The relationship between the refugees and the host communities will have to be managed carefully because it is putting a lot of pressure on Maban County. There are 110,000 people here today it could be much, much more in the future unfortunately and that added to environmental pressures, it adds to the pressures on the medical services and the education services, which are being offered by the host authorities by the Government of South Sudan. So all this needs to be very carefully managed and our commitment in the United Nations is to do just that," said Lanzer.
A recent UNHCR report indicated that there are currently 112,379 refugees in Upper Nile, 112,020 of who are from Sudan. The report said humanitarian agencies had registered 86,174 arrivals in 2012.
The agency says it needs at least 20 million US dollars by the end of the year for its South Sudan operation after receiving only 40 percent of its appeal for 186 million US dollars.
The government says the number of refugees in South Sudan is expected to rise to about 350,000 in the coming year.
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution