Efforts to broker a ceasefire in South Sudan continue as a United States special envoy, along with other mediators, hold a meeting with rebel leader Riek Machar.
Reports have indicated that US special envoy Donald Booth met with Mr Machar at an undisclosed location in South Sudan. Mr Booth later indicated that mediators would continue to press for the release of jailed associates of Mr Machar for them to attend peace talks in Ethiopia. A rebel spokesman has also indicated that a ceasefire would be signed if Mr Machar’s associates were freed. Hussein Mar Nyout has also dismissed claims made by the South Sudanese government that is forces were now in full control of Unity State. He also described as baseless a government allegation that forces loyal to Mr Machar had damaged oil facilities there.
Calm Restored in the Central African Republic Following Leaders Departure
In the Central African Republic, after weeks of sectarian clashes, restive calm has returned to the streets Bangui, with banks, offices and markets re-opening. The country’s interim leader has also announced that the days of looting and revenge attacks were over.
Sources on the ground have reported that local residents of Bangui now feel safe enough to leave their homes across the city. The police have also returned to the streets while some local residents have stated that the city is the busiest it has been for a year. Many believe that this feels like a turning point as in recent weeks, there has always been at least one district, whether Muslim or Christian, where violence has resulted in people staying at home.
Following the rebel leader’s resignation on Friday, interim leader and speaker of the provisional parliament Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet vowed that the “anarchy” that has gripped the country would be swiftly brought to an end, adding that “the chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over.” He also issued a stern warning to warring militiamen from the Seleka group and the anti-balaka Christian fighters set up to oppose them. Speaking at a police headquarters in the capital Bangui, he stated “to the ex-Seleka, to the anti-balaka and the lovers of looting, I’m giving you a severe warning: The party is over.”
The return of soldiers and police to duty was another encouraging sign for the CAR after weeks of horrific sectarian violence. Over the weekend, hundreds of people lined up to re-enlist in the army, following an appeal from the chief of staff. Many of them had either deserted after the rebel takeover, or left in order to join the vigilante groups.
In recent months, the capital city has been riven by sectarian violence, with about 20% of the 4.6 million population said to have fled their homes.
Following months of fighting, Michel Djotodia seized power in March 2013, effectively becoming the CAR’s first Muslim leader. Although he later disbanded his Seleka rebels, attacks on Christian civilians around the country continued, prompting the formation of vigilante groups, which targeted Muslims. On 10 January 2014, following intense pressure from the CAR’s neighbor’s, Michel Djotodia, along with Prime Minister Nicholas Tiengaye, stepped down. The transitional national council now has two weeks in order to select a new President.
While the situation in Bangui is calm, the mood could quickly turn. On Monday, the Redo Cross reported that about fifteen people were killed ove the weekend, confirming that a degree of tension throughout the country
South Sudan Reconciliation “Possible” As Two Sides Meet
A chief negotiator in South Sudan has indicated that rebels are confident that “full reconciliation” can be achieved with the government. Taban Deng’s comments come as the two sides hold ceasefire talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. South Sudan’s Information Minister Michel Makuel has also indicated that the government is committed to ending the conflict. Fresh violence erupted in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, resulting in around 1,000 people being killed since then. In turn, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting, which has seen clashes between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
After days of disputes pertaining to procedural issues and the agenda, direct talks between the two sides finally began on Sunday in Addis Ababa. On Tuesday, chief mediators Seyoum Mesfin and Lazurus Sumbeiywo flew to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in order to hold talks with President Salva Kiir. A major issue to be raised during the talks will be the demand made by Riek Machar to release twelve people who have been detained over allegations of a coup plot. The president has so far repeatedly ruled out their release, stating that they will face justice. Mr Machar however denies that there was a coup plot, stating instead that the current president’s forces are responsible for the violence, which is being used as a mechanism to consolidate his hold on power ahead of elections which are due in 2015.
Since fighting began in mid-December of last year, both sides have been under intense diplomatic pressure to end the fighting in South Sudan, which is the world’s newest state. On Monday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with the two parties in Addis Ababa and urged them to negotiate a ceasefire. China is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir also held talks with President Kiir on Monday. According to Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, the two leaders were “in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force to protect the oilfields in the South.
When it seceded from Sudan in 2011, the South ended up with most of the oilfields however it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Sudan’s territory. With fighting escalating over the past few weeks, the government in Khartoum, Sudan now fears that the fighting that is occurring in the South will disrupt its oil revenue.
Despite the two sides hold talks in Ethiopia, fighting in South Sudan has continued. On Monday, heavy fighting between President Kiir’s and Mr Machar’s forces occurred near Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. Army spokesman Philip Aguer indicated that it was only a “matter of time” before Bor was recaptured from the rebels. The United Nations also announced on Monday that militiamen had taken control of a UN food warehouse in Bentiu and that UN vehicles had been commandeered in the rebel-held town of Bor.
On Monday, the South Sudanese government announced that it had agreed to a cessation of hostilities with rebel leader David Yau Yau. The government, which has been fighting Mr Yau Yau for nearly two years, feared that his troops, which are stationed in Jonglei state, would joint the new rebellion.
First Chemical Weapons Leave Syria
Meanwhile in Syria, the United Nations has confirmed that the first consignment of chemical weapons has left the Syrian port of Latakia. Officials at the UN have indicated that Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian frigates are escorting the consignment. A previous attempt to collect the arms was aborted after Syrian officials failed to deliver the toxic chemicals to the collection point in Latakia. The “most critical” chemical include about twenty tonnes of blister agent sulphur mustard.
The weapons are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Navy Ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board. Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed agreement that aims to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of this year. The agreement was brokered by Russian and American officials after rockets filled with nerve agent sarin were fired at three towns in the Ghouta agricultural belt located around the Syrian capital Damascus on 21 August 2013. The attack resulted in the deaths of hundreds of peoples. While Western powers have indicated that the assault could have only bee carried out Syrian government forces, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the attack on rebel fighters.
Route of First Consignment
- The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from twelve sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
- Russia has also provided security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment’s. Meanwhile China has sent ten ambulances and surveillance cameras while Finland has sent an emergency response team in the event that accidents should occur.
- Denmark and Norway will provide cargo ships and military escorts in order to take the chemicals to an as yet unnamed port in Italy. Russia and China will also provide naval escorts.
- Upon arrival in Italy, the “most critical” chemical weapons will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, in order to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Meanwhile less toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.
On 4 December, a report entitled “The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond” was presented to EU home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in the European Parliament. This, the second report on the topic, focuses on collusion between authorities and criminal networks in human trafficking from the Horn of Africa into the Sinai Peninsula. Between 2007 and 2012, as many as 30,000 men, women and children were trafficked by Eritrean and Sudanese security officers working with Bedouin gangs.
The report categorises trafficking in two main categories, those who are “kidnapped”, and those who are “smuggled”, leaving voluntarily, but abducted in the process of migration. In both cases, the victims are ultimately transferred to members of the Rashaida and Hidarib Bedouin tribes (either through financial exchange, or surrendered by force), and sent to torture camps in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Many of the victims have been abducted from refugee camps in Ethiopia, Sudan or Eritrea. Most troubling, the report finds that approximately 95% of abductees are from Eritrea.
Nearly 3,000 Eritreans attempt to leave their landlocked nation each month. The disproportionate number of Eritreans abducted stems from three key factors: 1) the diaspora includes a tightly knit community structure and disposable income, which increases the chance of collecting ransom; 2) the lack of alternatives and relative destitution of Eritrean migrants and refugees particularly youth who are forced into conscription and child labour; and 3) the involvement of some Eritrean authorities in trafficking.
Eritreans require an exit visa to leave their nation. Because there is a “shoot to kill” policy at the Eritrea/Ethiopia border, many Eritreans choose to exit the nation through the Sudanese border, seeking shelter in Sudanese refugee camps. The report finds that trafficking would not be possible without the collusion of local Eritrean security officials. Further, many involuntary Eritrean victims are kidnapped by the country’s senior military officers and smuggled into Sudan.
Once in Sudan, the victims’ families are contacted with a threat to sell the hostages to Bedouin traffickers in Sinai if the ransom demand is not met. The report states that the hostages are, “chained together without toilets or washing facilities and dehydrated, starved and deprived of sleep.”
If demands are not met, victims are ultimately sent to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and placed in torture camps as ransom demands continue. Torture methods include “burning, beating, and electrocuting. Some hostages are slashed with knives, or have bottles melted on their skin. Some are repeated [sic] raped; some have been hung.” In addition, some victims have had their organs harvested.
Estimates reveal that between 5,000 and 10,000 of the hostages have died in captivity. Refugees continue to be abducted and held in Sinai, and an increasing number of victims are taken involuntarily from their home countries. Since 2009, nearly £366 million has been extorted from families in ransom payments. Those that escape trafficking risk further abduction, or are detained by Egyptian or Israeli authorities, where they are imprisoned then forced to pay their own deportation and repatriation fees.
Days after a drone strike, carried out by US forces, targeted al-Shabaab militants in the southern Somali town of Jilib, government officials have confirmed that three senior al-shabaab commanders, including an explosives expert, have been killed.
On Tuesday, one day after the attack, residents near the site of the strike reported three people dead in a vehicle, which had burst into flames shortly after the sound of an aircraft was heard overhead. The drone strike had targeted a Suzuki four-wheel-drive as it made its way along a road leading rom Barawe, the site of failed night-time assault that was mounted by US special forces earlier this month, to Jilib in southern Somalia.
Amongst those killed in Monday’s drone strike was Ibrahim Ali Abdi, also known as Anta-Anta. According to Somalia Interior Minister Abdikarin Hussein Guled, Somalia’s intelligence services had been tracking him for some time before the drone strike was carried out. During a government radio interview, the minister stated that “the operation in which this many had been killed was very important for the government. This man had a major role in the death of many innocent civilians and his death will help in brining back peace.” The two other men who were killed in the strike were Abdikarim Kibi-Kibi and Warsame Baale, deputy commanders of two al-Shabaab units that control large areas of southern Somalia.
Somalia’s government officials have described Abdi as being the head of al-Shabaab’s bomb-making division. He was well-known for making suicide bomber vests and preparing car bombs that had been used regularly by militants in order to attack government officials and African Union peacekeepers. According to the Prime Minister’s spokesman, who noted that the Somali government had welcomed the strike, “he was al-Shabaab’s chief suicide bomb-maker, he was responsible for numerous bomb attacks which claimed the lives of many Somalis,” adding that “it is a victory for the Somali people that such dangerous individuals should be taken out.” So far, there have been no comments released by al-Shabaab, however the death of a top bomb-maker will likely force the group to reconfigure its operations as they train new militants to take over the role.
While Somali’s Interior Minister did not specify who was behind the drone attack, on official in Washington confirmed that the US army was responsible. While the official did not indicate where the drone was launched from, the US army operates these devices from its bases located in neighboring Djibouti and Arba Minch, in southern Ethiopia. Furthermore, the fact that such an operation was authorized by US President Barack Obama, signifies that officials in Washington will likely now go after operatives even if they have not directly targeted American interests.
The latest strike to target Somalia comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab and which killed sixty-seven people. The missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALs on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission however failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader who remains on the run.
The strike comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab. It is also the missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALS on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.