On Monday, French Special Forces rescued a Dutch civilian who was kidnapped nearly four years ago in Mali by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants.
France’s defense ministry confirmed Monday that Sjaad Rijke, 54, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, was freed during “military action carried out by the French army’s Special Forces,” adding that “this combat action has also led to the capture of several individuals.” Rijke was freed in a pre-dawn raid. He was temporarily transferred to a base in Tessalit before arriving in the Malian capital Bamako on Tuesday. Sources close to the case have disclosed that the operation occurred near Tessalit, in Mali’s far north region near the border with Algeria. According to Lieutenant Colonel Michel Sabatier, a spokesman for Barkhane, which is France’s counter-insurgency operation in the region, French forces killed two militants and captured two others in the operation.
Gunmen had stormed into Rijke’s hotel in Timbuktu in 2011, capturing him along with a South African and a Swedish national, both of who are still being held. Rijke’s wife managed to escape the attack. In November 2014, AQIM released a video of Rijke, making a statement on the 1000th day of his captivity.
Romanian National Kidnapped in Burkina Faso
On Saturday afternoon, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Romanian security officer from a manganese mining project in northern Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali’s northern desert region.
According to security officials, the kidnapping took place at the Tambao project. Souleymane Mihin, Burkina Faso managing director for Pan African Minerals, confirmed the incident, stating “there was an attack on one of our patrols. They kidnapped the Romanian leading the patrol. The driver was wounded in the foot. A gendarme was seriously injured.” Late Saturday, the Romanian foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the kidnapping of a Romanian national and disclosing that a crisis cell has been set up in order to handle the case.
A Burkinabe security source has revealed that five gunmen were involved in the attack and that they, along with the hostage, were heading towards the nearby border with northern Mali. This has resulted in Burkinabe authorities indicating that they are planning to cross into Mali and Niger in search of the kidnappers. A Burkinabe minister disclosed Sunday “search operations are continuing. We are talking to our neighbours Mali and Niger to obtain rights to their territory in order to get our hands on the kidnappers. This is an area which borders the two countries, so the sweep will roll out in both directions.” Burkina Faso’s Regiment of Presidential Security, which is an elite secret service that specializes in anti-terrorism, has been deployed to Tambao in a bid to strengthen an army detachment, which arrived in the town on Saturday. Residents in Tambao have disclosed that security forces have begun “intensive searches” of vehicles in towns across the north, adding, “police are systematically searching vehicles.”
Mali’s Tuareg-led rebels have called for a meeting with mediators just one day after they rejected the United Nations-brokered preliminary peace agreement.
On Monday, the Tuareg-led rebels called for a meeting with Algerian mediators in a bid to “improve” a proposed peace agreement signed with the government in the capital city Bamako. After meeting for days in order to discuss the agreement, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which represents five rebel groups, had initially rejected the accord, stating that it was “fundamentally flawed.” They later released a “final statement,” which has called for further talks, stating that the document was a good basis for further discussions, however noting that it did not reflect the aspirations of their people and that it must now be improved in the interests of peace. The statement indicated that “according to the views expressed by the various communities of Azawad, it appears that the draft agreement did not take into account essential elements of the legitimate aspirations of the people of Azawad,” adding that the CMA” reiterates its firm commitment to pursue the aegis of international mediation.” The statement went on to say that “the CMA believes that the document produced by the mediation constitutes a good basis for work that needs to be improved in the best interests of peace… Therefore, it requests a meeting with the mediation and international partners in order discuss the progress of the process.”
The Algiers Agreement, which is the product of over eight months of negotiations, aims to bring a lasting peace to the northern desert region, which the rebels refer to as “Azawad.” The agreement was signed by the Malian government and several smaller groups however the Tuareg-led rebels had requested additional time in order to consider the offer.
Mali’s desert northern region has struggled for stability since the West African nation gained independence in 1960. Since 1962, the Tuareg movement has launched four uprisings in a bid to fight Mali’s army over the territory, which they claim is their homeland. Ministers and various rebel groups, composed of Arab organizations and the Tuaregs, are now seeking to resolve the decades-old conflict. A coup in Bamako in March 2012 enabled the Tuaregs to seize Mali’s vast northern region however the separatist uprising was later taken over by al-Qaeda-linked militants who took over the region. In early 2013, French troops forced the militants out of their strongholds and into the desert and mountains however recent attacks on bases and the targeting of convoys has raised fears that the militants are once again gaining strength.
While the UN has urged the rebels to sign the proposed deal protests have broken out in Kidal, which is the rebel stronghold in northern Mali, against the agreement.
Security sources disclosed Wednesday that an attack overnight in northern Mali by a pro-government armed group using suicide bombers, killed a dozen people. According to a military source, “GATIA fighters, accompanied by suicide bombers, attacked a rebel Tuareg and anti-government Arab position in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday near the town of Tabankort. There were a dozen deaths in total.” A security source from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, also confirmed the death toll, adding that two fighters blew themselves up while a third was killed before he was able to detonate his explosives. The overnight attack comes as renewed violence has once again affected the northern region of the country.
Over the past several days, tensions have been rising across the country as protesters have demanded that the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali withdraw. Tensions have risen in the wake of a UN military mission last week, which targeted rebels near Tabankort. Furthermore, the signing of an agreement over the weekend to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao, has resulted in demonstrations, with protesters calling for the UN mission to leave.
On Tuesday, three people were killed in northern Mali after a second day of demonstrations against the UN military missions. On the ground sources have described how a large crowd of angry youths threw stones and attempted to storm the MINUSMA headquarters in Gao in protest at the UN taking control of a troubled area north of the city. An official in the ministry for security and civil protection confirmed the deaths, adding that the situation in the area remained “very tense.” According to Arnaud Akodjenou, deputy representative of the MINUSMA force, “our officers were besieged by protesters this morning, but I can tell you that no one from MINUSMA fired on the demonstrators. Absolutely no order was given to use weapons,” adding “we are in very close contact with the Malian authorities.” A youth leader in Gao however has rejected this statement, instead blaming UN troops for the deaths of the demonstrators. According to Ousmane Dicko, of the Youth Collective activist group, “MINUSMA shot at us. MINUSMA killed civilians. We demand the departure of MINUSMA from Mali.”
Demonstrators in Gao are protesting an agreement to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao. The agreement, which was reached between MINUSMA and three rebel groups – the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and an anti-government wing of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) – places the zone under the exclusive control of UN troops and guarantees “the free movement of people and goods.” The area is controlled by pro-government militias who have in recent weeks clashed with armed rebels, leading to the deaths of both civilians and fighters. According to a local government source, the creation of the zone “will force loyalist armed groups to disarm or abandon their posts.” Sources have reported that loyalist armed movements, including the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group, as well as a pro-government wing of the MAA and various vigilante groups, “strongly encouraged” the demonstration.
The latest violence comes over a week after MINUSMA helicopters destroyed a rebel vehicle near Tabankort, north of Gao, in what MINUSMA officials have maintained was in “self-defence.” The attack on 20 January followed what MINUSMA described as “direct fire with heavy weapons” on its peacekeepers. Rebel groups however have indicated that the action, which killed seven militants and left twenty wounded, violated UN neutrality. The strikes sparked demonstrations hostile to MINUSMA in the northeastern rebel stronghold of Kidal.
In the days leading up to 14 December, there has been a total of 18,603 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) that have been reported in five affected countries: Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and the United States; and three previously affected countries: Nigeria, Senegal and Spain. There have been 6,915 reported deaths. Reported case incidence in Guinea is fluctuating and is on the decline in Liberia. In neighbouring Sierra Leone, there are signs that the increase in incidence is beginning to slow. The case fatality rate in the three intense-transmission countries remains at 70%.
In the week leading up to 14 December, a total of 76 new confirmed cases were reported. Since September, the national trend in case reporting across Guinea has been fluctuating, with between 75 and 148 confirmed cases reported each week. World Health Organization (WHO) officials have reported that currently, there is no clear upward or downward trend in national case incidence.
Transmission remains high in the capital city of Conakry, which reported 18 confirmed cases in the week leading up to 14 December. EVD transmission remains high in the neighbouring district of Coyah, with 14 confirmed new cases. South of capital city, in Forecariah, officials have reported a surge in new cases, with 13 new confirmed cases in the past week. The district had reported its first case 12 weeks ago and until now, had reported no more than 4 confirmed cases each week.
Transmission remains persistent in the eastern district of N’Zerekore, with 6 new confirmed cases reported in the week leading up to 14 December. The district of Dubreka reported 3 confirmed cases, while new cases continue to be reported in the outbreak’s epicentre of Gueckedou (2 confirmed cases); Kerouane (5 confirmed cases) and Lola and Kouroussa (2 confirmed cases in each district). In the past week, Macenta reported only three confirmed cases, a sharp decline from the 15 cases that were reported in each of the two previous weeks. WHO officials however have warned that it remains too early to draw conclusions whether this decline in reporting in this district will be sustained. After reporting last week its first case since June, Telimele reported 5 new confirmed cases. While the districts of Kindia and Faranah did not report any new confirmed cases, officials in these two districts reported 21 and 12 probable cases respectively. The northern district of Siguiri reported 4 probable cases. This area requires continued vigilance, particularly due to its proximity to Mali.
Officials in the Guinean capital of Conakry have banned all public Christmas and New Year celebrations in a bid to curb the spread of EVD. A statement issued by Conakry governor Soriba Sorel Camara on 16 December indicated that “large-scale gatherings in public places are suspended for the moment,” adding “beaches will remain closed” and firecrackers and fireworks will also be banned. The capital city’s governor has appealed to residents to “refrain from anything” that would compromise efforts to contain the spread of Ebola. This means avoiding “all gatherings in markets, bus stations, ferry landing stages, hospital and the airport.”
At the national level, case incidence in Liberia has been on the decline, with 6 districts reporting new confirmed or probable cases in the week leading up to 14 December.
Transmission remains intense in Montserrado, which includes the capital Monrovia. The district reported 3 confirmed cases and 9 probable cases. Grand Bassa experienced a decline in cases, reporting only one confirmed case after having reported 7 in the previous week. The other districts to report confirmed cases during this period included Bong (1 confirmed case); Grand Cape Mount (2 confirmed cases) and Marigibi (1 confirmed case). In the northern region of the country, Lofa reported no cases for the seventh consecutive week. This is likely due to the strength of response efforts being carried out across the district.
EVD transmission across Sierra Leone remains intense, with the country reporting 327 new confirmed cases in the week leading up to 14 December. While WHO officials have reported that there are signs that the increase in case incidence has slowed, and that the incidence may no longer be on the rise, the country reported the highest number of confirmed cases in epidemiological week 50.
EVD transmission remains most intense and persistent in the western and northern districts of the country. The capital city Freetown accounted for 125 of all new confirmed cases. Other western districts that reported new confirmed cases include Port Loko (56 cases); Western Rural Area (52 cases); Bombali (23 cases) and Kambia (11 cases).
In the country’s eastern region, the district of Kono, which has experienced high transmission over the past five weeks, reported 12 confirmed cases in the week leading to 14 December. The neighbouring district of Koinadugu in the northeast reported three cases. Although transmission has been intense in Tonkolili for the past three weeks, in recent weeks the number of new weekly cases has declined from a peak of 56 four weeks ago to 14 cases over the past week. In the southern region of the country, the district of Bo continues to report a high number of new cases, with 24 confirmed cases in the week leading up to 14 December. By contrast, the south-eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun reported 1 and 3 new cases respectively. Only two districts in Sierra Leone did not report any new cases during this reporting period: Bonthe and Pujehun.
Officials in Sierra Leone have banned any public Christmas celebrations in a bid to halt the spread of EVD. According to the government’s Ebola response unit, soldiers will be deployed across the country throughout the holiday period to ensure that all residents remain indoors. Officials in Sierra Leone have also imposed a two-week lockdown on the eastern diamond-mining district of Kono. The lockdown will effectively limit residents’ movements until 23 December.
Countries with an Initial Case/Cases or with Localized Transmission
Five countries: Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United States of America; have reported a case or cases of EVD imported from a country with widespread and intense transmission.
In Mali, a total of 8 cases (7 confirmed and 1 probable) including 6 deaths (5 confirmed and 1 probable) have been reported. The most recent seven cases were reported in the Malian capital Bamako and are not related to the country’s first EVD case, which was reported in Kayes on 24 October. The last confirmed case tested negative for the second time on 6 December and was discharged from hospital on 11 December. All identified contacts of both the initial case and the outbreak in Bamako have now completed the 21-day-follow up. If there are no more reported cases of EVD in Mali, the West African country will be declared Ebola-free by the WHO in mid January.
In the United States, there have been four confirmed cases of EVD and 1 death. All contacts in the country have now completed the 21-day follow-up period. If no further cases are reported in the US, the country will be declared Ebola-free at the end of December.
Nigeria, Senegal and Spain have all been declared Ebola free by the WHO.
Up to the end of 7 December 2014, there has been a total of 17,942 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) reported in five affected countries: Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leona and the United States of America. The region has recorded 6,388 deaths.
In the week leading up to December 7, reported case incidence in Guinea increased, with 103 confirmed and probable cases; in Liberia, reported case incidence is declining, with 29 new confirmed cases over a period of three days leading up to 3 December. The situation in Sierra Leone is still worsening, with 397 new confirmed cases in the week leading up to 7 December. The case fatality rate across the three most-affected countries currently stands at 76%.
A total of 103 new confirmed and probable cases of EVD were reported across the country in the week leading up to 7 December. Since early October, the national trend in Ebola cases has been increasing, with between 75 and 148 confirmed cases reported in each of the past seven weeks.
The previously reported surge of new cases in the eastern district of N’Zerekore, which had only 4 new confirmed cases in the week leading up to 7 December, appears to have abated however transmission in the neighbouring district of Macenta continues to be intense, with 15 new confirmed cases. Several districts in central and northern Guinea have reported persistent transmission. These include Faranah, with 8 confirmed and probable cases; and Kankan, with 4 new confirmed cases. In the western region of the country, the capital city Conakry reported 16 new confirmed cases in the week leading up to 7 December. Along with the neighbouring district of Coyah, which confirmed 18 new cases in the week leading up 7 December, Conakry has now reported an increase in the number of new confirmed cases during each of the past three weeks. Telimele has reported a case for the first time in over twelve weeks.
While ten of Guinea’s districts have yet to report a case of EVD, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “there has been a geographical expansion in transmission: as of 1 October, 9 districts had reported a confirmed or probable case during the past 7 days; as of 1 December, 14 districts reported a case during the past 7 days.
Over the past four weeks, case incidence in Liberia has been on the decline, with five districts reporting new cases in the three days leading up to 3 December. In the three days leading up to 3 December, there were a total of 29 confirmed cases reported across Liberia.
The district of Montserrado, which includes the capital Monrovia, reported 15 confirmed cases and accounted for more than half of all confirmed cases nationally over the reporting period. The other districts to report a case during this period include Bong, with 1 confirmed case; Grand Bassa, 7 confirmed cases; Grand Cape Mount, 5 confirmed cases; and Sinoe, with 1 confirmed case. The district of Lofa, which is located in the northern region of the country near the border with Guinea and Sierra Leone, reported no cases for the sixth consecutive week.
EVD transmission across Sierra Leone remains intense with 397 new confirmed cases reported in the week leading up to 7 December. This is three times as many as Guinea and Liberia combined.
The worst affected area remains the capital city, Freetown, which reported 133, or one-third, of all new confirmed cases during this reporting period. Transmission remains persistent and intense in other areas of the country, including in the districts of Bo, 14 cases; Bombali, 57 cases; Kambia, 10 cases; Kono, 24 cases; Koinadugu, 2 cases; Moyamba, 10 cases; Port Loko, 76 cases; Tonkolili, 13 cases; and the Western Rural Area, 57 cases. In the southern districts of the country, Kenema and Kailahun reported zero cases. Since 1 November, Kenema has reported only one case of EVD. Pujehun was the only other district not to report a new case. Bonthe, which over the past two weeks had previously not reported any cases, reported a single confirmed case of EVD in the week leading up to 7 December.
On 10 December, Sierra Leonean authorities imposed a two-week lockdown on the eastern diamond-mining district of Kono after eight cases of Ebola were confirmed in one day. The lockdown will effectively limit residents’ movements until 23 December. Only essential vehicles, including fuel-carrying tankers, military, police, NGO workers and UN-associated vehicles will be allowed through the heavily monitored checkpoints into the district. Private and commercial vehicles and motorcycle taxes will be barred while mining activity has ceased. According to Sierra Leone’s health ministry, Tuesday’s spate of Ebola reports increased the cumulative total of confirmed cases in the region to 119. Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centre for Disease Control are assisting Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Centre in preventing the deadly virus from spreading throughout Kono, which has a population of 350,000. While the rapid reaction has helped contain the virus to about half of the fifteen chiefdoms in Kono, WHO teams that arrived in the area ten days ago were taken aback by the situation. According to sources, in the space of eleven days, two WHO teams buried 87 victims, including a nurse and an ambulance driver who were enlisted to help dispose of corpses that were piling up in the local hospital.
On 12 December, Mali’s Health Ministry reported that the last Ebola patient treated in the West African country has been released from hospital, leaving no known cases of the deadly virus in Mali. A statement released by the ministry disclosed that the last patient was discharged from hospital on Thursday after several Ebola tests came back negative.
The deadly Ebola virus had first entered Mali through an infant girl who died of the disease in October after arriving from neighboring Guinea. Later that month, an imam who also arrived from Guinea with the disease, died in Mali. The recent eight recorded cases of Ebola were all linked to the imam. According to officials from the Health Ministry, the country now has no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola however authorities are still monitoring twenty-six people who had contact with the sick. The government has warned that because people are still being monitored for symptoms, and with the fact that another sick person could cross the border, all Malians must remain vigilant. Mali will officially be declared Ebola-free forty-two days after the last Ebola patient tested negative for the disease.