Category Archives: Region Specific Guidance

Current Situation in Mali – 16 January 2013

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Over the past several days, France has continued its advance against Islamist militants in Mali, with airstrikes occurring throughout the central and northern regions of the country.  However officials in France have indicated that there are at least two concentrations of armed Islamist rebels that continue to be a concern.  The first is the village of Konna, which is located 550km from Bamako.  Konna is symbolically important as it was the first place which fell to Islamist militants last week.  The second is the town of Diabaly where Islamists moved in after the French air campaign against them began in other locations.  Mali Fighting On Wednesday, French and Malian sources confirmed that French troops have been fighting rebels in Diabaly in what is the first major ground operation to have occurred since the French intervened last Friday.  Diabaly, which is located 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital city of Bamako, was captured from Malian forces by fighters on Monday.    They were led by Algerian Abou Zeid, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  Since then, French war planes have been attacking the rebel positions.  Back in Paris, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that “today, the ground forces are being deployed.  Until now, we had made sure there were a few ground forces in Bamako to keep our people safe…now French ground forces are heading up north.” Furthermore, he indicated that the western zone where Diabaly lies is home to “the toughest, most fanatical and best-organized groups.”  As such, it is highly likely that the fighting will occur for several days.  On the ground sources have also reported that a convoy of 50 armoured vehicles left Bamako overnight while residents in Niono, which is 70km south of Diabaly, have indicated that the French arrived overnight.

Currently, France has some 800 troops on the ground in Mali and Defence sources have confirmed that the numbers are expected to increase to 2,500.  Since the start of the intervention, France has also been pushing for the deployment of a West African regional force.  A company of 190 Nigerians will be the first to arrive on Wednesday.  Followed by West African troops, in which Nigeria will lead the force, with 900 troops out of 3,300.  Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Senegal and Togo have also pledged to take part in the intervention.  Other countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany have also been aiding France.  The UK has provided transport planes and on Wednesday, Germany confirmed that it is providing Transall transport planes as logistical support.

Meanwhile regional security has already been affected by the military intervention in Mali as was witnessed on Wednesday when al-Qaeda-linked fighters attacked a gas plant in neighbouring Algeria in which several foreigners were taken hostage.  Algeria - mapThis type of kidnap incident is in line with previous MS Risk warnings since November 2012.  State media has indicated that two people have been killed while seven have been left wounded.  Reports have indicated that a Briton was amongst the two foreigners killed in the attack however the Foreign Office in London has indicated that currently it cannot confirm these reports.  Reports have also surfaced that the militants are allegedly holding 41 foreigners, including US, French, British and japanese citizens, however these reports have yet to be confirmed.  The attack occurred on a British oil giant BP field in Amenas, in the Sahara desert.  The gas plant is located 1,300km (810 miles) southeast of Algiers, close to the border with Libya.  An Algerian deputy has indicated that five staff members, one French national and four Japanese, have been taken hostage.  The Irish foreign ministry has indicated that a man from Northern Ireland and a Norwegian are also among the hostages.  Currently, al-Qaeda-linked militants have claimed responsibility for the attack and the kidnappings, indicating that they “are members of al-Qaeda” and that they came from northern Mali.  This attack in Algeria seems to be the first reprisal by the Islamists who have vowed to strike back.  It also comes shortly after Algerian agreed to support the Mali offensive and opened it airspace to French fighter jets.  It has also occurred two days after the country closed its border with Mali.

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Military Intervention in Mali

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France’s early intervention into Mali has shaken up the intervention plans.  Although the original timetable for the AFISMA intervention for 3,300 West African troops with western logistical, financial and intelligence backing, was not set to be deployed until September, last week’s pleas for help by the Malian government, after Islamist fighters threatened to take over key towns in the government-controlled region, sparked an urgent need to solve the crisis now.  In the wake of Mali being declared a state ofMap - Mali emergency, France on Friday launched a military intervention to rid the country of the Islamist terrorists who had begun to descend down to the government-controlled southern region.  In a speech given in Paris, French President François Hollande confirmed that French troops “have brought support…to Malian units to fight against terrorist elements.”  Mr. Holland further indicated that the intervention had complied with international laws and that it had been agreed upon with Malian interim President Dioncounda Traore.

On Friday, French military forces deployed a massive offensive that was aimed at retaking the country.  Residents in the town of Mopti confirmed that French troops were helping malian forces prepare for a counter-offensive against Islamists who were stationed in the town of Konna.  Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that a pilot was fatally injured when Islamist rebels shot down his helicopter near the central town of Mopti.  By Saturday, France had stepped up its military intervention.  It continued with airstrikes and it sent hundreds of troops into the capital city of Bamako.  While on Sunday, France continued to expand its attacks by targeting the town of Gao, which is located in the eastern region of the country.

Since Friday, France has sent around 550 troops to the central town of Mopti and to the capital city of Bamako.  They are set to be joined by troops from the neighbouring African states of Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, some of which are expected to arrive in Mali within the coming days.  On Sunday, Algeria also authorized French warplanes to use its airspace for bombing raids in Mali.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that Algeria’s cooperation was indicative of the extent of the international support for the intervention in Mali.

As such, MS Risk directs all concerned to review previous security advice.  This includes:

  • Thinning out non-essential staff and dependents
  • Restricting expat and local national internal travel, especially on high speed routes to and from Mopti
  • Seeking advice from legitimate security forces.
  • Ensuring journey management systems are in place and work
  • Reviewing crisis management contingencies and carrying out rehearsals of these plans
  • Registration of expatriates with relevant diplomatic missions and seeking advice on what support will be forthcoming (if any) if conditions deteriorate
  • Liaison with insurers to know any exclusions or limits to existing cover.

MS Risk remains to be in a position to assist clients where needed with any and all of these actions.  Companies in neighbouring countries will need to consider similar actions.  Burkina Faso, Benin and Senegal among others have all agreed to commit troops quickly to assist the Malian forces.  French troops deployed over the weekend to Bamako are officially in place to protect French citizens but could easily be deployed forward for direct combat.  French airstrikes from bases in Chad have continued all weekend.  France has raised its level of security alert status globally for citizens and assets.  Other contributing nations may see nuisance attacks designed to disrupt movement of forces into Mali or to sway public opinion.  This will in turn raise the kidnap threat.  Expats in nearby countries should take steps to review their attendance at well-known expatriate locales such as pubs, restaurants and markets to avoid being caught up in any terrorist incident.

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Central African Republic

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Travel Summary:

map_01Armed rebels have taken control of a number of towns throughout the northern and central regions of the Central African Republic (CAR). As such, due to the instability that has developed in the CAR over the past several weeks, MS RISK advises against all travel to the provinces that have directly been affected by the conflict.

The security situation in the CAR has drastically deteriorated during December 2012 and the current situation in the country is continuing to rapidly change and evolve. Armed groups have been active in the west, east and north of the country and many areas outside of the capital city are lawless. Foreigners, including aid workers, have been killed and many have been the target of kidnappings and violent crimes on a number of occasions. The security situation is particularly dangerous in the orders areas and in the north-western and eastern regions of the country. The United Nations peacekeeping mission (MINURCAT), which was previously deployed in the north-easter region of the CAR, has withdrawn its military component.

map_02MS RISK also advises against all travel to the capital city of Bangui due to the tense and unstable security situations. Fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups have previously occurred in the capital. The security situation in Bangui remains to be unpredictable and it may rapidly deteriorate. Armed rebels who have captured 2towns in other parts of the country may in the near future seek to advance on Bangui. Reports have indicated that the rebels have taken the town of Sibut, and that they may now be just 75km north of Bangui. The CAR military has set up several checkpoints throughout the capital city and a curfew is currently in place between 19:00 and 05:00.

MS RISK also advises against all travel to the following provinces: Kemo, Ombella-M’Poko, Vakaga, Bamingui- Bangoran, Ouham, Ouaka, Ouham Péndé, Nana-Gribizi, Haute-Kotto, Mbomou and Haut Mbomou. We also adivse all but essential travel to Basse-Kotto, Lobaye, Mambéré-Kadéï, Nana-Mambéré, and Sangha-Mbaéré provinces due to continuing instability and reports of banditry.

Domestic News:

The Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered decades of political upheaval and military crises that have had serious consequences on all of the sectors within the country. The most recent rebel offensive to hit the country began in December 2012 and has continued into the new year, with no end in sight. The crisis began when the Séléka coalition of rebel fighters accused the President of reneging on a peace deal and demanded that he step down. This resulted in the rebels launching an offensive in the northern strategic city of Ndele which caused many residents to flee. Since then, the rebels have seized a number of towns, regional capitals and mining areas in the northern region of the country and have threatened to march towards the capital.

Although the rebels had halted their advance and agreed to take part in talks, which lead to fresh hopes of a peace agreement being reached, the political and security situations remained to be unclear. In turn, the fate of President Francois Bozizé continues to hang in the balance as the rebels have indicated that they may continue to insist that he be removed from power. Although the president has pledged that he will not run for a third time in the next presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place in 2016, there are increasing signs that rebel demands for him to step down may affect negotiations.

The United Nations Security Council has raised its concerns at the advance made by rebels in the Central African Republic, which as of this past week, has brought them extremely close to the nation’s capital city of Bangui. The UN Security Council has also renewed its call for a negotiated solution to the crisis. International diplomats are set to been in Gabon to participate in talks at are aimed at resolving the current crisis in the CAR. The discussions in the Gabonese capital of Libreville come one day after the United Nations called on the CAR government and rebels to end the violence and to instead return to a more peaceful dialogue.

Instability is nothing new in the CAR, which has faced political unrest since it gained independence from France in 1960. The country has witnessed a number of attempted coups and it has suffered scores of civilian casualties as a result of internal and international rebel incursions. Insurgencies in Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the Congo have all affected the country.

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MS RISK Guidance to Organisations in Mali

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Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed from power by military forces loyal to Captain Amadou Sanogoon on the night of 10 December 2012, a short time before he was due to leave for a scheduled trip to France.

He has since appeared on State television and resigned his position.

With western diplomatic missions all warning against unnecessary travel to Mali, those companies with fixed interests in the country need to take measured precautions if they have not done so already. This is especially an issue for organisations with any interest in the so-called Azawad region – that portion of the country which is under insurgent control. Preparations should include the following:

  • Thinning out non-essential staff and dependents
  • Restricting expat and local national internal travel
  • Seeking advice from the security forces
  • Ensuring journey management systems are in place and work
  • Reviewing crisis management contingencies and carrying out exercises of these plans
  • Registration of expatriates with relevant diplomatic missions and seeking advice on what support will be forthcoming (if any) if conditions deteriorate
  • Liaison with insurers to know any exclusions or limits to existing cover

While the situation in Bamako plays out in relation to central government control, the most extreme risks will continue to be in the Azawad region east of Mopti. There is expected to be military clashes there between the various insurgent groupings against the ECOWAS-bolstered Mali army force in line with the UN Security Council authorization to use force. Despite the obvious threats in the Azawad, organisations in Mali should be braced for nuisance attacks and isolated terrorist attacks in the capital of Bamako. When al-Shabaab was weakened in Somalia, these types of attacks were experienced in Uganda and Kenya. Although the two conflicts are not connected, it is logical to predict that similar tactics may evolve and be witnessed in Mali and inside contributing nations. This threat was recently evidenced by the kidnapping of a French citizen in Diema, in the west of the country.

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Attempted Maritime Hijacking near Oman

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Reports have confirmed that the Danish MV Torm Kristina, which was sailing to Muscat Oman in order to perform a logistical port visit, was approached by two suspected pirate skiffs. The crew members on board were able to assemble themselves in the citadel and a mayday message was sent out. The message had been passed to the Commander of the NATO Counter-piracy Task Force, Rear Admiral Antonio Natal in which he then tasked the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt to proceed to the MV. At the time, the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt was in Muscat for a port visit, some 90 miles away from the MV. By the time the NATO warship had arrived at the scene, three hours later, the pirates had left the area. It is believed that they had seen the warship from afar and had realized that they had no realistic possibility of taking the MV and its crew members hostage. Reports have also indicated that Omani and Pakistani warships, as well as a UK helicopter had arrived on the scene earlier, which may have been a contributing factor in the pirates abandoning the vessel. A boarding team from the Iver Huitfeldt boarded the MV in order to ensure that no pirates were on board. Once the vessel had been deemed safe, the crew members were freed from the citadel. The head of the Iver Huitfeldt confirmed that there were signs that the vessel had come under attack by pirates as some of the barbed wire on the rail had been cut. Furthermore, the crew on board the Torm Kristina had seen signs that pirates were on board. Vice Admiral Christian Canova, Deputy Commander at Allied Maritime Command stated that “despite the winter monsoon which generates bad sea states, this incident demonstrates the pirates are still active and able to operate far away from Somalia but we are watching them and when Best Management Practices such as citadels are in effect on merchant vessels, we are able to react quickly and deter pirate actions. Once again, NATO warships have proved their ability to react quickly and to use their speed and capabilities to deter and disrupt piracy and to free innocent merchant sailors. This incident shows that we cannot be complacent.”

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