Daily Archives: February 5, 2019

Central African Republic, Rebel Groups Initial Peace Deal

CAIRO Central African Republic’s government on Tuesday initialed a peace deal with 14 armed groups following unprecedented talks aimed at ending more than five years of conflict.

The agreement represents rare hope for one of the world’s poorest nations, where religious and communal fighting erupted in 2013. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a conflict that has sent two people to the International Criminal Court.

“The difficult time starts now, and that is implementing the Khartoum Agreement. … This agreement is crucial for peace,” said Herbert Gontran Djono Ahaba, speaking on behalf of the rebels. The talks that began Jan. 24 in Sudan’s capital were the first-ever direct dialogue among the warring parties.

Representatives of the rebels shook hands with President Faustin Archange Touadera and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after they initialed the deal.

“Now is the time for us to turn a new page, the page of Central African Republic which has reconciled with itself, in order to preserve its dignity,” Touadera said, adding: “We do not have the right to disappoint.”

Details of the agreement have not been announced. The head of Central African Republic’s government delegation said they will announce them after the formal signing back home in the capital, Bangui. A date has not been set.

“I’m very happy to see this day,” African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said. The AU facilitated the talks, supported by the United Nations. “Concessions should be made, and we should all accept each other, and this page should be closed, the page of violence and destruction.”

The fighting has carried the high risk of genocide, the U.N. has warned. The conflict began when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in Bangui. Largely Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back. Scores of mosques were burned. Religious leaders were killed. Many Muslims fled the country after mobs decapitated and dismembered some in the streets.

Papal visit

The vicious fighting in a country known more for coups than religious violence was so alarming that Pope Francis made a bold visit in 2015, removing his shoes and bowing his head at the Central Mosque in the last remaining Muslim neighborhood of the capital.

“Together we say ‘no’ to hatred,” the pope said.

The violence has never disappeared, intensifying and spreading last year after a period of relative peace as armed groups battled over lands rich in gold, diamonds and uranium.

Civilians, children targeted

In a grim report last year marking five years of conflict, the U.N. children’s agency said fighters often target civilians rather than each other, attacking health facilities and schools, mosques and churches and camps for displaced people. At least half of the more than 640,000 people displaced are children, it said, and thousands are thought to have joined armed groups, often under pressure.

A majority of Central African Republic’s 2.9 million people urgently need humanitarian support, the Norwegian Refugee Council said last month as the peace talks began.

Last month, the chief of Central African Republic’s soccer federation appeared at the ICC for the first time since he was arrested last year in France on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona is accused of leading the anti-Balaka for at least a year early in the fighting.

In November, a Central African Republic militia leader and lawmaker, Alfred Yekatom, made his first ICC appearance, accused of crimes including murder, torture and using child soldiers. He allegedly commanded some 3,000 fighters in a predominantly Christian militia in and around the capital early in the fighting. He was arrested last year after firing gunshots in parliament.

So far, no Seleka fighters have been publicly targeted by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend an arms embargo on Central African Republic for a year but raised the possibility that it could be lifted earlier, as the government has long urged.

Source: Voice of America

ICC: Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo Freed Under Conditions in Belgium

THE HAGUE Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo has been released on bail to Belgium following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity, the court said Tuesday.

Belgium said on Saturday that it had agreed in principle to host Gbagbo pending a possible prosecution appeal against his acquittal by the ICC, but that final arrangements were being made.

The 73-year-old former strongman and his aide Charles Ble Goude have been staying in an undisclosed location since Friday when the Hague tribunal freed them from detention.

“Mr. Gbagbo is now released under conditions in Belgium,” an ICC spokeswoman said, without giving further details.

ICC judges acquitted Gbagbo and Ble Goude on Jan. 15 on charges stemming from a wave of violence after disputed elections in the west African nation in 2010.

Around 3,000 people were killed in the violence. Gbagbo spent seven years behind bars and had been on trial since 2016.

The delay in Gbagbo’s release was because prosecutors said that he should be kept in detention pending a possible appeal against his acquittal, arguing that he would not return to the court if there was a retrial.

The release conditions include that Belgium will guarantee that Gbagbo would go back to the ICC if required.

He must also surrender his travel documents, report to authorities weekly, avoid contacting witnesses in Ivory Coast, and refrain from making public statements about the case, court documents said Friday.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Saturday that there had been “a request from the court to host Mr. Gbagbo simply because he has family in Belgium: his second wife, a child in Brussels.”

“We have concluded that it is alright for him to stay in Belgium while on conditional release,” he said, adding, “There will be surveillance.”

Source: Voice of America

Displacement Escalates in Northeast Nigeria as Violence Intensifies

GENEVA The International Organization for Migration is appealing for $66 million to respond to an escalating displacement crisis, in northeastern Nigeria, which has left tens of thousands of people bereft of shelter and other basic life-saving needs.

Since November, more than 59,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Nigeria. Most of them, mainly women and children, have run from attacks by Boko Haram militants and other armed non-state actors in Borno State, the epicenter of the displacement crisis.

Recent violence behind latest movement

Fighting has displaced 1.8 million people since 2015. The U.N. migration agency’s chief of mission in Nigeria, Frantz Celestin, said violence in the last two months of 2018 has triggered the largest movement of people in the shortest period of time over the past two years.

He said the escalating attacks and success in seizing towns suggest an increased sophistication in tactics by the armed groups.

This is why I think a lot of people move once they take the town, Celestin said. Or even, in a lot of cases, in the case of Monguno, just a rumor of an attack can displace people … because if there is a rumor that one of the non-state armed groups is about to attack, people would want to get ahead of it before they enter the town.

Rann attacked twice in two weeks

For example, he cited the case of Rann, a town that was attacked on Jan. 14 by militants who burned tents and homes. Celestin said they even targeted clinics, hubs and compounds run by the U.N. and international organizations, including the IOM. He said no one was spared. He noted Rann was struck again on Jan. 27.

In cases like this, the IDPs may want to get ahead of it because they are walking, Celestin said. If there is a rumor that somebody is about to attack, they may leave.

Appeal for $66 million

In addition to security, Celestin said access to land in northeast Nigeria is the biggest problem facing the region. He said the latest influx of displaced people is creating a huge shelter crisis in the already congested camps, home to nearly one-quarter of a million people.

Celestin said thousands of people currently are exposed to the elements with no access to water and sanitation. The $66-million appeal, he said, will be used to provide emergency shelter kits, good water and sanitation, mental and psycho-social support to people in distress, as well as other essential non-food relief.

Boko Haram, which wants to set up its own Islamic State based on Sharia, or Islamic law, reportedly has killed more than 20,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes since the insurgency began in 2009.

Source: Voice of America

Sudanese Security Forces Use Tear Gas to Disperse Protesters

KHARTOUM Sudanese security forces used tear gas on Tuesday to disperse hundreds of lawyers pushing for the release of activists detained during recent anti-government protests, witnesses said.

The demonstration outside the supreme court building in Khartoum was one of several staged by members of various professions, including teachers, doctors and pharmacists, following a call by the Sudanese Professionals Association to join the protests that began in December.

The demonstrations, often involving hundreds of people, have shaken the country of some 40 million people. They were sparked by rising food prices and cash shortages and have since turned against President Omar al-Bashir who has been in office for nearly 30 years.

Witnesses said more than 200 lawyers tried to deliver a petition to the head of the judiciary demanding the release of activists detained during the protests.

Security forces attacked the lawyers with tear gas, forcing them to disperse. There were no reports of casualties.

The incident happened a week after Sudan’s information ministry said the country’s security chief had ordered the release of detained demonstrators.

There were no reports of any mass release of detainees.

In central Khartoum, security forces used tear gas against hundreds of alumni students gathered at the main headquarters of Khartoum University, and at a separate gathering of school teachers who had staged a vigil outside the Education Ministry in Khartoum’s northern section.

There were no reports of casualties.

Witnesses also said that doctors at several government hospitals organized protest vigils, but there were no reports of any force being used against them.

Bashir has shown no sign of being prepared to concede any authority and has blamed the protests on foreign agents, challenging his rivals to seek power through the ballot box.

Prime Minister Moataz Moussa struck a conciliatory tone last week, however, when he said that demonstrators’ calls for better living conditions were “legitimate.”

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges, which he denies, of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region. He has been lobbying to have Sudan removed from a list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.

That listing has deterred the influx of investment and financial aid Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, economists say.

Source: Voice of America

Zambia Mine Marginalization Case Highlights Africa-Wide Issue

Zambia’s profitable copper mining industry is making its citizens poor, an explosive new report by a southern African research organization says. The report by Southern Africa Resource Watch examined conditions in the community around one mine in northwestern Zambia, where they say they found the vast wealth is not being spread to the surrounding community. And this situation, they say, is a tale told across mineral-rich communities in Africa.

Report author Edward Lange said the organization chose to investigate that mine because the Canadian owner, which is Zambia’s highest corporate taxpayer, has a good reputation.

But then, what we discovered, was that the wealth that Kansanshi Mine extracts does not match the poverty, the disorder, the poor social conditions which is prevailing in the shantytown of Solwezi, he said. It is a provincial capital of the northwestern province of Zambia, but it could be termed to be a shantytown. …They’ve polluted, they’ve displaced people in the community, facilities they’ve provided cannot quench the amount of pollution they’ve caused on the community.

VOA sought comment from First Quantum Minerals, but it did not reply. On its website, the company said it had found that the operations contribute almost 4 percent of the total economic value added to the countries in which we operate.

Measured purely by its underground wealth, copper- and gold-rich Zambia should be one of the world’s richest nations. In 2018 it exported more than $700 million worth of copper, which accounted for most of Africa’s copper exports.

But above ground is a different story. The average citizen brings in just $1,500 a year, according to the World Bank.

Lange spoke to VOA from the sidelines of Africa’s main mining conference, held this week in Cape Town. But Lange was not attending the Mining Indaba, the high-powered annual gathering of Africa’s industry chiefs and investors. He spoke from the Alternative Mining Indaba, a grass roots meeting of mining-affected communities, faith-based organizations and rights groups.

This is a sad African story of a big investment where the communities are not benefiting, he said. It’s a failure, you know, the failure to use the abundant mineral resources to transform the lives of the people is what is worrying us. And this is at the center of discussions across the continent.

But the nation’s mining minister, Richard Musukwa, painted a rosier picture. He spoke from the sidelines of the Mining Indaba.

The effect of the mining industry on Zambia and its communities has been overwhelmingly positive, he told VOA. It has brought jobs, growth, education and infrastructure development. Where there is wrongdoings, breaches of regulation or abuse of the Zambian people and unsafe mining methods, this government will actively and immediately intervene to ensure that the lives of our people are guaranteed.

So where does that wide disconnect come from? Lange blames the gap between the government’s strong words and its ability to enforce them, and added that mining companies often implement changes in the surrounding areas without consulting the community. He said one of the main messages from activists at this year’s mining gathering is that mining giants need to collaborate more with communities.

Source: Voice of America