Tag Archives: UN

Possible Mass Graves Detected Near Burundian Capital

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On Friday, Amnesty International reported that new satellite images, video footage and witness accounts show that dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December 2015 were later buried in mass graves.

The rights group has reported that there are five possible mass graves in the Buringa area, which is located on the outskirts of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. A statement released by Amnesty disclosed that “the imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts. Witnesses told Amnesty International that graves were dug on the afternoon of 11 December, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of Burundi’s escalating crisis.” According to Amnesty, witnesses described how police and local officials scoured Nyakabiga and other neighborhoods in Bujumbura in a bid to retrieve the bodies of those who were killed and took them to undisclosed locations. The latest report on such mass graves comes after UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein earlier this month called for an urgent investigation into the alleged existence of mass graves following the violence that erupted in December. At the time, he cited “large-scale human rights violations,” stating that the “increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves is extremely alarming.” The Burundian government however has dismissed these allegations, stating that they are based on false information that was supplied by the regime’s opponents who fled into exile. Government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba has stated that the US is free to go to Burundi and investigate the allegations, which he said were intended to portray Burundi as being a dangerous country.

On 11 December, in coordinated attacks, gunmen stormed three military installations in Burundi. The following day, 28 people were found shot dead in three neighborhoods in the capital city. An eyewitness reported at the time that some of the dead had their hands tied behind their backs, with another witness blaming government security forces and stating that they went after the victims in door-to-door searches.

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek re-election last April touched off street protests that led to a failed coup in May and a rebellion which has left the country on the brink of civil war. Opponents and supporters of the president have been targeting each other in gun, rocket and grenade attacks, with the violence spreading beyond the capital city and into the provinces.

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Sierra Leone Reports New Ebola Case Just Hours After Region Declared Free of Virus

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On 15 January, Sierra Leone officials confirmed a death of Ebola, just hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the latest West Africa outbreak over.

According to an Ebola test centre spokesman, tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive. Sidi Yahya Tunis disclosed that the death occurred earlier this week and that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district, adding he had travelled there from Kambia, which is located close to the border with Guinea. The victim was a 22-year-old female student. According to district medical officer Augustine Junisa, “the victims was taken ill when she was on holidays in Bamoi Luma and was taken to Magburaka, where her relatives took her to the government hospital for medical attention…Three days later she died at home and her death was reported to the hospital officials and initial swap test was taken which proved positive.” Sources have reported that health officials are now urgently seeking those who had come into contact with the victim.

Sierra Leone was declared free of the virus on 7 November 2015, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on 14 January. While the WHO has warned that flare-ups are expected, Friday’s announcement of a new case in the region is a setback for the area. Already, ten other flare-ups have taken place in areas where the spread of Ebola was thought to have ended, effectively raising new questions about WHO procedures in assessing whether the epidemic was really over. On Friday, the UN Health agency reported that Sierra Leone’s government was moving rapidly in order to contain the new threat, noting however that it was not immediately clear how the 22-year-old woman may have contracted Ebola as all known transmission chains in that country were halted in November. 

Timeline of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

Below are key dates in the latest Ebola epidemic, which is the worst outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which first surfaced in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the latest toll released by the WHO, the epidemic has left more than 11,300 dead, mainly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Almost 29,000 cases were reported during the outbreak.

Epidemic Starts in Guinea:

  • December 2013: A one-year-old baby dies in southern Guinea and is later identified as “patient zero.” The virus remains localized until February 2014, when a care worker in a neighbouring province dies.

Ebola Begins to Spread in West Africa:

  • 31 March 2014 – Two cases are confirmed by the WHO in Liberia, while on 26 May, Sierra Leone confirms its first case, to be followed in late July by Nigeria, in August by Senegal and in October by Mali. Senegal and Nigeria are declared free of Ebola in October 2014 while Mali is declared Ebola-free in January 2015.

Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone Cut Off From The World:

  • 30 May 2015 – According to the aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola is “out of control.” The three worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – declare measures that include states of emergency and quarantines. Many neighbouring states close their borders with the affected countries.

A ‘Public Health Emergency’:

  • 8 August 2014 – The WHO declares Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern.” Four days later, it authorizes the use of experimental drugs in order to fight Ebola after an ethical debate. That day, a Spanish missionary infected in Liberia dies in Madrid, becoming the first European fatality.

Death in the US:

  • 30 September 2014 – A Liberian man is hospitalized in the US state of Texas, effectively becoming the first Ebola infection to be diagnosed outside of Africa. He dies on 8 October.
  • 6 October 2014 – A Spanish nurse in a Madrid hospital becomes the first person to be infected outside Africa. She is treated and released on 19 October.

Ebola Begins a Halting Retreat:

  • 22 February 2015 – Liberia says it is lifting nationwide curfews and re-opening borders, as the epidemic begins to retreat.
  • 26 February 2015 – The US ends its military mission in West Africa, where it deployed 2,800 soldiers in order to fight against Ebola. Soldiers were mainly deployed to Liberia.

Closing in on a Vaccine:

  • 10 July 2015 – International donors pledge US $3.4 billion in order to help stamp out Ebola.
  • 31 July 2015 – The WHO says an Ebola vaccine provided 100-percent protection in a field trial in Guinea, suggesting that the world is “on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine.”

Hardest-hit Countries Emerge from the Epidemic:

  • 9 May and 3 September 2015 – Liberia is declared Ebola-free by the WHO after no new cases were recorded for 42 days. However the declarations are followed by a resurgence of the virus. On 4 December, Liberia releases from hospital its last two known Ebola cases.
  • 7 November 2015 – Sierra Leone is declared free of the outbreak by the WHO.
  • 29 December – The WHO declares Guinea’s Ebola outbreak over, six weeks after the recovery of its last known patient, a three-week old girl who was born with the virus.
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Eleven Killed In Ivory Coast Near Liberian Border

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According to a UN source, eleven people, including seven soldiers, were killed on Wednesday in clashes that erupted with fifteen unidentified gunmen in two military camps in Ivory Coast near the border with Liberia.

The UN source has disclosed that the UN deployed helicopters for reconnaissance of the clashes, which injured ten Ivory Coast soldiers, four seriously, adding that the military detained eight assailants, including three from Burkina Faso and one from Togo. Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi confirmed the incident, stating that the situation was under control and adding that “we have reinforced our position.” According to state radio, four of the gunmen were killed in the clashes, which began at around 5 AM.

Over the past two years, the Ivory Coast has been attacked by unidentified armed men near its border with Liberia on at least three previous occasions, including one assault in January in which two soldiers were killed.

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Central African Republic Sets Election Date as Violence Continues

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In a presidential decree, which was published on Tuesday, the Central African Republic (CAR) set legislative and presidential elections for 27 December. According to the decree, the polls will be preceded by a constitutional referendum, which will take place on 13 December. If required, a second round of voting will take place on 31 January 2016.

Some analysts have warned that premature elections could do more harm then good. The international community however has continued to press for elections to be held by the end of this year in order to replace the current interim authority, which has been plagued by internal fighting. On Tuesday, a diplomat disclosed that while the mandate of the interim authorities is due to expire next month, a regional summit later this month is expected to renew it through February in order to cover the election period.

While the interim government has attempted several times to hold elections in a bid to fully transition the country back to democratic rule, ongoing violence has forced officials to postpone the election date. With no current end in site to the latest wave of violence, which erupted in September, many are questioning whether elections will be held this year.

A United Nations official and an aid worker have reported that clashes between fighters in the CAR killed at least three people and wounded five others on Monday. Sources have reported that the latest fighting centred in and around the town of Bambari, which for the last year much of it has been controlled by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), which is a faction of the former Seleka rebel alliance. According to a UN official, “two people were killed during the fighting in a village 10 kilometres (6 miles) away (from Bambari) and one other died of his injuries.” A spokesman for the UPC has disclosed that the dead were members of the faction. Witnesses have since reported that their deaths triggered more widespread violence in Bambari, with gunmen opening fire in the town, burning houses and sending hundreds of people running for cover. The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard across the town. Eyewitnesses further disclosed that anti-balaka forces descended into Bambari on foot, opening fire as UPC fighters roamed the streets on motorbikes while UN peacekeepers attempted to restore calm. Earlier in the day, dozens of Muslims had marched through the town, protesting against the proposed rearmament of the country’s fractured armed forces, which many distrust.

According to UN figures, the successive waves of fighting in the CAR have forced at least 360,000 people form their homes across the country, with up to 40,000 displaced in Bambari alone. Many in Bambari have found temporary shelter near churches, in disused factories or near the bases of the UN MINUSCA peacekeeping force. Speaking about the situation in Bambari, Nicolas Peissel, field coordinator for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Ouaka province, has stated that “this is the worst violence we have seen in Bambari since the end of September.” On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it is deeply concerned by the worsening violence in the CAR, adding that since the end of September, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in the capital Bangui. The ICRC has urged all parties to the conflict to spare civilians, their schools, houses and medial facilities.

On Tuesday, following a clash with Muslim Seleka rebels, a UN peacekeeper was killed. According to a UN spokesman, the soldier from the MINUSCA force was found dead in Batangafo, which is located north of Bangui. A statement released by spokesman Stephane Dujarric has indicated that “following an outbreak of violence between armed anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements at an internally displaced persons camp in Batangafo, ex-Seleka elements confronted MINUSCA troops at a nearby MINUSCA checkpoint,” adding that “during the incident, one peacekeeper went missing and was subsequently found dead.” A UN official has disclosed that the peacekeeper was from Cameroon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing and has called for swift action in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The latest attack comes as the UN mission is trying to bolster security across the country ahead of elections, which are due to take place on 27 December and which are shaping up as a test of the country’s progress in its political transition. It also comes as France has announced that it will resume withdrawing its troops from the CAR following the elections.

On Tuesday, a UN official announced that the UN is sending hundreds of additional peacekeepers and its first drones to the CAR in a bid to bolster security ahead of next month’s elections. The new deployments may be in place for a planned upcoming visit by Pope Francis to the CAR at the end of this month, however the Vatican has already warned that it may be forced to cancel the trip due to ongoing security concerns.

Speaking to reporters, the UN official disclosed that Egypt will deploy a battalion of 750 troops while 140 police officers will be sent by Mauritania. The official further indicated that two companies of peacekeepers serving in West Africa may be temporarily sent to the CAR in order to bolster security after clashes led to the cancellation of the first round of voting in October. The new deployments will effectively boost the strength of the current 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping MINUSCA mission by about 1,140 troops.

MINUSCA officials are also planning to deploy its first surveillance drones over Bangui in order to better track potential trouble spots in the capital. The UN has also disclosed that they have been in talks with the Vatican about security in the country, with one official indicting that “the mission plans to have reinforcements to boost security for the elections. Some reinforcements should be in theatre before the pope’s visit.”

Separately, the head of the UN mission has requested the UN Security Council to allow purchases of weapons and equipment for the country’s police and gendarmes. The CAR has been under an international arms embargo since December 2013. Furthermore, UN officials have warned former presidents Francois Bozize, who is now in exile in Uganda, and Michel Djotodia, who lives in Benin, against meddling in the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Tuesday that France will resume withdrawing its troops from the CAR after elections take place in December.

Speaking on the sidelines of a security forum in Senegal, Le Drian told reporters that a resent surge in violence had forced France to put its withdrawal plans on hold. He further disclosed that “we decided to stop the process of winding down Sangaris to allow our force to support MINUSCA during the electoral period. Then it will be up to the new authority to decide how to organize its own army.”

France began withdrawing some of its troops, who numbered around 2,000 at the peak of the mission known as Sangaris, earlier this year. The UN mission in the CAR however has struggled to restore and maintain order.

Paris deployed soldiers to its former colony in late 2013 in an attempt to stem the bloodshed, which began after the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power earlier in the year provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias. Since late September, militia violence and inter-religious reprisal attacks have killed around ninety people in the capital Bangui. French troops have been instrumental to containing the situation. Last month, French troops helped halt a column of Seleka fighters, which was advancing on Bangui.

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Sierra Leone Due to be Declared Ebola Free Tomorrow

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The Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone is expected to be officially declared over on Saturday, when the West African nation will have gone 42 days without any new infections. However jubilation over the ending of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, where almost 4,000 deaths have been reported, has been tempered by caution as neighboring Guinea continues to battle the deadly virus.

Speaking at a news conference in Freetown on Wednesday, Palo Conteh, the head of Sierra Leone’s Ebola response, indicated that there were no plans for “an elaborate celebration,” adding that instead, the World Health organization (WHO) will deliver a formal declaration in the capital city on Saturday of the end of the epidemic. He warned however that “we have to be vigilant as it is not the end of Ebola, but the end of the current outbreak. We have fought the disease and we have won.” Since emerging in December 2013, the worst outbreak of Ebola on record has infected a reported 28,500 people, with 11,300 deaths registered, however officials believe that the real toll is significantly higher than the official data. This is largely due to under-reporting of probable cases during the early stages of the outbreak. Saturday’s announcement marks the official end of a battle, which was prematurely thought to have been nearing its end on previous occasions. On 24 August, President Ernest Bai Koroma led a festive ceremony, celebrating the discharge of the country’s last known patient. Optimism however was quickly shattered by the deaths of a 67-year-old woman and, two weeks later, a 16-year-old girl. While the primary cost of the outbreak has been in human life, the crisis has also wiped out development gains in Sierra Leone. The World Bank estimates that the West African country will lose at least US $1.4 billion in economic growth in 2015 as a result, which will lead to an “unprecedented” GDP contraction of 23.5 percent.

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