ICC Awaits Sudan’s Decision on Bashir

NAIROBI – Political analysts and rights groups have welcomed reports that Sudan may hand former president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.  Bashir is wanted by the court for alleged crimes in the Darfur region.

Various Sudanese officials suggested this week that Sudan is ready to turn former president Omar al-Bashir over to the court. However, the final decision rests with Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, which consists of military and civilian leaders.

Hassan Khannenje, head of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies, says sending Bashir to the ICC would help move the country forward.

“It’s going to play a role and enhance some confidence, especially when it comes to the victims and the rebels,” Khannenje said. “Part of the agreements with the rebel groups was to hold those people who committed the crimes to account and I think it’s going to go a long way in building confidence perhaps in reducing future tensions and potential conflict in the years to come.”

The ICC indicted Bashir in 2009 on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity on people living in the Darfur region.  Bashir denies the charges.

The crimes were allegedly committed as Khartoum attempted to crush an insurgency in Darfur that began in 2003. Bashir ruled Sudan for 30 years until the army ousted him in 2019 after months of mass protests. He was convicted of corruption and still faces other charges related to his seizure of power through a military coup in 1989. The former ruler is currently in a Kharotum prison.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, who visited the Sudanese capital this week, said Thursday the government needs to cooperate with the court.

“Regarding an individual former president Omar al-Bashir, I have not discussed dates. I had discussions with the various parts of the government which they are aware of, they know their responsibilities and announcements will be made when decisions are taken that become public,” Khan said. “In terms of the Rome statute I mentioned, I was informed that a meeting of the joint council is scheduled for next week, We will see what that brings. Ultimately the decision to cooperate and how to cooperate is one to be decided by Sudan not by me.”

Sarah Jackson is the deputy regional director of Amnesty International East Africa. She says surrendering Bashir to the court would go a long way toward providing justice to the victims in Darfur.

“We are waiting to see if survivors and victims of the atrocities in Darfur will get the opportunity to see justice done,” Jackson said. “This will be a very important moment for victims, for survivors and for their families in Darfur.”

The transitional government in Khartoum reached a peace deal with the rebels in the Darfur region last October, but the region continues to witness violence.

In December, the U.S. government took Sudan off the list of state-sponsored terrorist nations and pledged to economically support the transitional government.


Source: Voice of America

Five Children Killed by Grenade Blast in NE Nigeria

Five children were killed when a disused grenade they were playing with exploded outside the northeast Nigerian town of Ngala, near the border with Cameroon, militiamen told AFP Friday.

“The five children picked up the explosive while herding in a field outside the town and it exploded in their hands as they were playing with it,” anti-jihadist militiaman Umar Kachalla said.

“Two of them died on the spot while the other three died in hospital in Mada, inside Cameroon,” he said.

Another militiaman, Umar Ari, gave a similar account of the incident, which happened on Thursday.

In August 2014, the Boko Haram jihadist group seized Ngala along with the nearby trading hub of Gamboru.

The two towns were recaptured in September 2015 by Nigerian troops with the help of Chadian forces following a months-long offensive.

Ari said unexploded mines and grenades from the conflict still litter the surrounding countryside and many children had been killed or injured.

In December 2019, nine people were killed and 26 injured when an explosive device went off on a crowded bridge linking Gamboru and Fotokol.

Residents blamed the explosion on a grenade disguised as toy that, they said, had been given to some children as a gift by a Boko Haram insurgent.


Source: Voice of America

Efforts Underway to Contain Marburg Disease in Guinea

GENEVA – Concerted efforts are underway by local health authorities and World Health Organization experts to prevent the spread of the deadly Marburg disease within Guinea and across borders.

Health workers are in a good position to contain Marburg disease before it gets out of control and infects and kills many people.  The World Health Organization says no further cases of Marburg have been identified since the index case was confirmed August 9 in Guinea’s southern Gueckedou prefecture.

The WHO reports the infected patient has died and 150 people who came in contact with him have been identified.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib tells VOA that 10 WHO experts are on the ground supporting the government’s efforts to step up the emergency response.  She says teams are tracing all those who encountered the patient.

She says the incubation period for Marburg is two to 21 days, the same as that for Ebola.

“Although Marburg and Ebola are both members of the same family, they are caused by different viruses.  The two diseases are clinically similar,” said Chaib. “It is only by lab testing that we can differentiate them.  But they have the same clinical feature.  The same symptoms.”

Both Marburg and Ebola are highly infectious diseases that cause hemorrhagic fever.  They have a fatality rate that can vary from 24 to 90 percent.  Ebola now has a vaccine, but Marburg has no cure and no vaccine.

The first case of the disease was identified in 1967 in a man from Marburg, Germany.  He had contracted the disease while working in Uganda.

Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda.

The current outbreak in Guinea is the first in West Africa.  The virus was detected less than two months after Guinea declared an end to an Ebola outbreak that erupted earlier this year.

Chaib says it is important to quickly stop the virus in its tracks.  So, she says, cross-border surveillance is being enhanced with neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia to quickly detect any cases of Marburg.

“For now, 200 people were screened for the disease in the three countries, in the three borders.  And no one shows symptoms for the disease,” she said.

According to the WHO, Marburg often starts abruptly with a high fever and severe headache, then progresses to severe bleeding from multiple areas.

The disease is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces, and materials.

Chaib says investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the virus in Guinea.  She says the man who got sick and died is known to have been in a forested area where he most likely became infected.


Source: Voice of America

North Africa Fires Spread to Libya and Tunisia

CAIRO – As unusually hot weather persists over parts of Northern Africa, new forest fires reportedly have broken out in Tunisia and Libya during the past 24 hours, in addition to many that are still burning in Algeria.

The presidents of Algeria and Tunisia are accusing arsonists of setting many of the fires, while Algerian media said 22 alleged arsonists have been caught.

Amateur video showed a forest fire raging out of control near the Libyan city of Bayada in the Jebel Akhdar region, east of the country, overnight. Libya’s 218 TV network reported that fire crews in the region were trying to put out the blaze.

A number of fires also broke out in Tunisia Thursday near the border with Algeria.

Algerian TV reported that 40 of the nearly 100 fires that were burning in 17 provinces of the country had been extinguished by Friday morning. Some Algerian media reports put the death toll from the fires at more than 70 people killed.

Algerian President Abdel Medjid Tebboune said in a televised address that many of the fires were deliberately set. He said conscientious citizens had caught and arrested nearly two dozen alleged arsonists.

The majority of these fires, Tebboune said, have what he called a “criminal hand” behind them, and ordinary citizens have caught 22 men suspected of setting the fires, including 11 in Tizi Ouzo, 2 in Gigell, 1 in Ain Defla, 3 in Medea and 4 in Annaba. Hopefully, he insists, proof of their guilt will surface.

Tunisian President Kais Saied, whose country is battling a series of forest fires near its border with Algeria, told Tunisian state TV the country’s security forces are helping to battle the fires, and he insists many of them were set on purpose:

Kais said that some wicked people have cut drinking water in some areas and told residents to go to the president to get their water. They cut water on the people, and this is a crime, he said. Some of the fires are caused by high temperatures during the summer, but there also are fires that have been deliberately set, and these people will get burned themselves.

Analyst Amin Said tells VOA that time and investigations will tell if the accusations of arson turn out to be true.

“Now we get official statements from the Algerian president and the head of the forest authority in Tunisia and others talking about arson, and some defendants in Algeria were arrested and that raises a lot of questions: who is behind it, how did he do it and who is really supporting them?” Amin said. “So, we have to wait and see what the Algerian investigation would reveal and those arrested, what are their motives and who pushed them to do [what they did].”

Libya analyst Aya Burweila, visiting lecturer at the Hellenic National Defense College, tells VOA that “the recent wave of fires in North Africa, from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya, appears to have been caused by a combination of high temperatures, asymmetric threats carried out by arsonists, as well as deforestation and poor law enforcement in areas where burning and cutting down trees is prohibited.”


Source: Voice of America

Zambians Await Vote Results After Massive Turnout

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Zambia’s electoral commission called on candidates to be patient Friday as election workers tallied general election results in 10 provinces.

Observers reported a massive turnout Thursday at polling stations across the country, including the capital, Lusaka.

Zambia election officials promised they would announce the results within 72 hours after the last citizen voted.

Electoral commission spokesperson Patricia Luhanga said the commission was pleased with the large turnout.

“The numbers we’ve seen are quite unprecedented,” she said. “And for us as a commission, this gives us a sense of pride.  Because we look at the total number of registered voters that is slightly above 7 million and we look at the queues that we have experienced on poll day. We have nothing but a sense of pride.”

Zambians voted to choose a new president, parliament and local representatives in an election that analysts said was a test for one of Africa’s pillars of democracy.

President Edgar Lungu, 64, faced his fiercest competition from a familiar challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, 59, one of 15 opposition candidates.

Analysts predicted a tight race to determine the country’s political future, and a second round could result if no candidate receives more than 50% of the ballots cast.

Officials said they would give regular updates to keep the country informed about the tabulation.

But social media tools such as WhatsApp, a crucial form of communication in the provinces, have been curbed. The government has not commented on outages on the internet.

‘Unblock the internet’

Opposition presidential candidate Hichilema accused the ruling party on Twitter of orchestrating the social media disruptions. He said he wanted telecom regulators to “unblock the internet so citizens can follow the electoral process and continue with their lives unhindered.”

Clashes between supporters of the governing Patriotic Front (PF) and partisans of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) alliance left two people dead in one constituency in Lusaka earlier this month.

But officials of the African Union Poll Observer Mission said representatives of political parties at the polling stations they visited had no problems and were pleased with how the elections were administered.

Former Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma, who led the AU observers, told VOA he was pleased with how Zambians behaved during voting.

Koroma commended the patience and decorum of the large crowds at the polling stations he visited. He also praised the professionalism of the electoral commission staff at the polling stations as well as the police there to maintain the peace.

“Personally, I have been impressed with what I have seen so far,” Koroma told VOA. “Even at 6 a.m., you have long queues lined up. It shows a lot of enthusiasm and excitement on the part of the Zambians to exercise their civil responsibility. It’s very impressive.”

Before election day, Koroma met with many candidates, including Lungu, Hichilema and others.

“We have cautioned them, even those that have concerns, that … we will address the concerns,” he said. “It is all part of building the democratic process, [and] we will continue to engage.”


Source: Voice of America