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UNREST

Mali Junta Slams French ‘Breach’ of Airspace As Paris Urges EU Sanctions

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The Mali military junta has condemned what it calls a “clear breach” of its airspace by a French military aircraft during the week, warning of potential consequences should it happen again. This comes as France has urged the European Union to impose sanctions on the military régime in Bamako, that has failed to honor a timeline for a return to democracy.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga stated that a complaint had been issued to France after one of its military planes travelled between Coted’Ivoire’s economic capital Abidjan and the northern Malian city of Gao on Tuesday.

According to the military government, the flight was a “clear breach” of Malian airspace given the closure of most of the country’s land and air borders due to regional sanctions recently imposed on the country.

The junta claims the French military plane had switched off its transponder, preventing it from communicating with Malian aviation authorities.

In the wake of the incident, the Bamako government says it will “refuse all responsibility for the risks to which the perpetrators of these practices may be exposed in the event of a further violation of our airspace”.

🔴#Mali: un aéronef de Type A400 immatriculé FNBAN de l’Armée a “survolé l’espace aérien malien sans autorisation, le 11 janvier 2022”, selon un communiqué du Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, ministre de l’Intérieur. Le gouvernement malien dénonce “la violation de son espace aérien”. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/qiBIJiZSqo

Ecowas shutters land, air borders

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The French military have denied the Malian government’s claims, saying that the plane’s transponder had been switched to “military mode”, adding that “all procedures were respected” and the aircraft’s flight plan had been approved.

On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States agreed to close all land and air borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo over delayed elections.

The sanctions – backed by France – came after Mali’s military government proposal in December that it would hold onto power for up to five years before restoring democracy.

Mali’s junta, led by Colonel Assimi Goita, took power in August 2020, promising to hold elections on 27 February.

Military junta “trying to fool” traditional allies

Meanwhile France has sad it will urge the European Union to impose further sanctions against Mali.

Speaking on Wednesday, French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Mali risked being “suffocated” unless the military junta lived up to its responsibilities and stopped seeking to “fool” the country’s traditional partners.

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With France holding the rotating EU presidency, Le Drian said that the EU measures would be in line with the unprecedented sanctions recently agreed with Ecowas.

The issue is due to be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the French city of Brest this Thursday, as France maintains that Mali is now a “European issue”.

“The junta is trying to fool all of its partners,” said Le Drian, noting how Bamako had called for help from Russian Wagner mercenaries as well as the “unacceptable” slipping of the election schedule.

With France already seeking to tighten the vice on the military rulers in Bamako, national carrier Air France said Wednesday that in line with official decisions it was suspending flights to and from Mali until further notice.

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AFRICA

Benin army vehicle strikes land mine as security fears in north grow

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A Benin army vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in a national park near the border with Burkina Faso on Thursday, the park’s management said, the latest in a series of security incidents as fears rise about widening Islamist violence.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that two soldiers were killed in the explosion. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm that report.

African Parks, the South African non-profit group that manages Pendjari National Park, said in a statement that the explosion had occurred near a hotel that has been closed since 2019. It made no comment on casualties.

Benin is among the West African coastal countries considered most vulnerable to a spillover of Islamist violence from the landlocked Sahel countries, where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State exert influence over vast tracts of territory.

The government confirmed two attacks by jihadist fighters near the Burkina Faso border last month, including one that killed two soldiers and wounded several more. Additional attacks have been reported in the local and French media since then but have not been confirmed by the authorities.

The prefect of the Atakora region, where Thursday’s explosion occurred, said there had been “an incident, not an attack” and said the army would issue a statement with more details.

Before last month’s violence, Benin had not reported an Islamist attack since 2019, when a local guide was killed and two French tourists were kidnapped in Pendjari and later taken to Burkina Faso. They were rescued from a militant group by French soldiers.

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Expanding conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are increasingly threatening their neighbours to the south.

Togo said last month it had repelled an attack near its northern border, the first by suspected Islamists in the country. Ivory Coast has also suffered several Islamist attacks near its border with Burkina Faso since 2020.

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AFRICA

Three protesters shot dead in Sudan anti-military rallies

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Original article from  (Reuters) – Security forces shot dead three protesters and fired tear gas in Sudan on Thursday as crowds thronged the capital Khartoum and other cities in more anti-military rallies, medics and Reuters witnesses said.

At least 60 people have died and many more have been wounded in crackdowns on demonstrations since a coup in October that interrupted efforts to bring about democratic change, according to a group of medics aligned with the protest movement.

The people killed on Thursday were all protesters and died from shots fired by security personnel during rallies in the cities of Omdurman and Bahri, across the River Nile from Khartoum, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.

Protesters attempted once again to reach the presidential palace in the capital to keep up pressure on the military, whose coup halted a power-sharing arrangement negotiated after the 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir.

The military has justified the coup as a “correction” needed to stabilise the transition. They have said peaceful protests are permitted and those responsible for causing casualties will be held to account.

In Omdurman, where several protesters have been killed in the past week, a protester said that security forces fired live rounds and tear gas, and ran over several protesters with armored vehicles.

“There was incredible violence today, the situation in Omdurman has become very difficult. Our friends have died, this situation can’t please God,” he said, asking not to be named as some protesters have been arrested in recent days.

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Khartoum State’s health ministry said security forces raided Arbaeen Hospital in Omdurman, attacking medical staff and injuring protesters, and said the forces besieged Khartoum Teaching Hospital and fired tear gas inside it.

In Bahri, a witness saw forces use heavy tear gas and stun grenades, with some canisters landing on houses and a school as protesters were prevented from reaching the bridge to Khartoum.

In a statement, Sudanese police said, “The demonstrations witnessed a deviation from peacefulness and cases of aggression and violence by some demonstrators towards the forces present,” citing a number of injuries among police and armed forces.

The statement also said that three people had been arrested for the killing of two citizens in Omdurman and that 60 suspects were arrested overall.

As in previous demonstrations, mobile phone and internet services were largely cut from late morning, Reuters journalists and Netblocks, an internet blockage observatory, said.

Most bridges connecting Khartoum with Bahri and Omdurman were closed. Images of protests in other cities including Gadarif, Kosti and Madani were posted on social media.

KEPT BACK FROM THE PALACE

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The Forces of Freedom and Change coalition, which had been sharing power with the military before the coup, called on the U.N. Security Council to carry out an investigation on what it described as intentional killings and raids of hospitals.

In Khartoum, protesters tried to reach the presidential palace but security forces advanced toward them, firing frequent volleys of tear gas, according to a Reuters witness.

Some protesters wore gas masks, while many wore medical masks and other face coverings and several brought hard hats and gloves in order to throw back tear gas canisters.

Protesters barricaded roads with rocks, bricks, and branches as they marched towards downtown Khartoum and security forces approached from more than one side.

Motorcycles and rickshaws could be seen taking away protesters who were injured or had fainted.

The protests, the first of several rounds of demonstrations planned for this month, come four days after Abdalla Hamdok resigned as prime minister. read more

Hamdok became prime minister in 2019 and oversaw major economic reforms before being deposed in the coup and returning in a failed bid to salvage the power-sharing arrangement.

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“We came out today to get those people out. We don’t want them running our country,” said Mazin, a protester living in Khartoum, referring to the military.

Hamdok’s return and resignation did not matter, he said, adding, “We are going to continue regardless.”

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NEWS

Nigeria’s Rampant Banditry and Some Ideas On How to Rein It in

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Gusau — ‘The problem is that the peace deals negotiated so far are badly flawed and amateurishly executed.’

They are known simply as “bandits” – heavily armed criminal gangs that have terrorised Nigeria’s rural northwest, killing, kidnapping, forcing people from their homes, and taunting the authorities with their brazenness.

The violence typically involves scores of gunmen on motorbikes sweeping into villages, shooting all the young men they can find on the assumption they belong to local vigilantes, and then carting away livestock and anything else of value.

The raids are increasingly daring. In the last few months, bandits have downed an air force jet; attacked the military’s officer training school; struck a prestige commuter rail service running between the capital, Abuja, and the city of Kaduna; and kidnapped students for ransom from schools and colleges so many times that education is now in peril.

And although bandits aren’t natural ideological bedfellows for jihadist movements, there’s also a persistent fear that al-Qaeda-linked Ansaru and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – the country’s largest extremist group after splitting from Boko Haram – are recruiting among them to expand their influence across the entire north.

Zamfara, one of Nigeria’s poorest states, is at the centre of the banditry. It tops the country’s league table of violent deaths, with 495 reported killings between July and October. That’s far more fatalities than northeastern Borno – where ISWAP and Boko Haram operate.

The insecurity has triggered a food emergency across the northwest, with over 450,000 people fleeing farms and rural markets. The US government’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network, known as FEWS NET, has predicted “catastrophe” levels of hunger in parts of the region – which means famine for some households.

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The following outlines what’s gone wrong in the ongoing attempts to resolve the expanding crisis, and offers some recommendations on a way forward.

The failed military response

Roughly 10 military operations have been launched against banditry in the northwest so far, but they have failed to make a dent in the insecurity. The mobile gangs take advantage of a forested, sparsely populated region, and when attacked, simply move elsewhere.

The security stick doesn’t address the root causes of the violence. Land disputes are a key issue: Expanding farms have encroached on the routes and cattle reserves used by pastoralists, resulting in friction – on both sides – when fields are trampled. Local authorities are seen to have failed to fairly adjudicate these conflicts.

Nigeria is also under-policed, so farmers turned to vigilantes – known as Yan Sakai – for protection. But the Yan Sakai have been indiscriminate in their retaliatory violence. Although the bandits do recruit from among pastoralists, the vigilantes’ response has been to target all herder communities, regardless of culpability.

The pastoralists have responded with their own, forest-based – and better-armed – self-defence groups, which over time have become almost indistinguishable from the original bandits.

What’s to be done?

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To try and stem the spreading chaos, some state governments have turned to peace deals to essentially buy off the gunmen. The model is the oil-rich Niger Delta from a decade ago, where militants protesting the government’s exploitation of the area accepted amnesty deals and development programmes to end attacks on oil facilities.

But that approach has had mixed results in the lawless northwest. Zamfara introduced an amnesty and a cash for guns scheme in 2016. Initially, it seemed to work, but it fell apart two years later with the death of warlord Buharin Daji, the lynchpin of the deal.

Zamfara tried again in 2020. This time, the new governor, Bello Matawalle, offered cows in return for guns (to avoid monetising the violence). He also ordered the disarmament of the Yan Sakai, and pledged to construct Rural Grazing Areas – settlements with dams and veterinary services set aside for pastoralists. But the attacks continued, and Matawalle made a U-turn in September, cancelling further dialogue.

A new military offensive was launched in Zamfara in September, combined with a telecommunications blackout, and bans on the sale of fuel in jerry cans to try to blunt the bandits’ mobility. But the measures have simply pushed the bandits into neighbouring states.

It has been the same story in Katsina, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, with peace deals never properly sticking. Yet pastoralists in both Zamfara and Katsina also point out that governments have failed to deliver on the development promises they made.

Some states, led by Kaduna and Niger, have taken a far harder line by refusing to negotiate over ransom demands or amnesties. But they have not fared any better, with a string of high-profile student abductions that has forced the closure of schools.

Private mediation has also been tried. The most prominent was by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, the leader of the influential Izala Islamic sect. He held a series of forest meetings with bandits, arguing that their grievances should be taken seriously and would need the kind of political and financial investment that ended the Delta crisis.

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Why peace deals don’t work

There’s a tendency to see the bandits as an undifferentiated group of ruthless, criminally minded men, ready to welch on any deal as soon as it’s in their interests to do so. In much of Nigeria, they are referred to as “terrorists” – which clouds conciliation attempts.

Both Matawalle, the Zamfara governor, and Gumi, the cleric, have argued that among the bandits are the self-defence groups that took up arms to defend pastoralist communities against the Yan Sakai – and to protest government neglect – and these are the men the amnesties and promises of development spending aim to reach.

But regardless of government intentions, the problem is that the peace accords negotiated so far are badly flawed and amateurishly executed.

These are some of the key issues getting in the way of workable deals:

Nothing in writing: There are usually no documents that outline terms and conditions, and no legal framework to guide implementation. That’s why, one bandit leader told The New Humanitarian, he considers them a “deal”, not an “agreement”: They are essentially transient and non-binding.

Lack of consultation: The peace deals are further weakened by the lack of involvement of farming communities. As a result, the farmers believe the interests of the aggressors are prioritised over the rights of the victims. The Yan Sakai – who farmers see as vital community defenders – complain that they hear about peace deals over the radio, just like everybody else.

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Bandit proliferation: It’s estimated that there are at least 80 major gangs operating in the northwest. No chain of command unites them, and they act in their own individual interests. This means a complicated series of negotiations are needed to bring them all on board – if that’s even possible.

Hungry lieutenants: Negotiations are also complicated by the power dynamics within each gang. Deals are made with leaders, who have grown rich from banditry. They then need to sell the accord to their men, some of whom may not yet be ready to retire from a life of relatively easy money. Some deals have failed due to the overestimation of a warlord’s influence.

Guns galore: Media-friendly disarmament ceremonies don’t tell the full story. There are a lot of weapons in circulation, and it’s the village-based Yan Sakai that are at a disadvantage when it comes to surrendering them. The more mobile bandits can cache their weapons out of sight in the forests. And even though they are known to possess RPGs and anti-aircraft guns, those are usually not handed in – a lack of monitoring means they are likely to stay hidden.

No DDR: The lack of a formal disarmament, demobilisation, and rehabilitation (DRR) programme to support the reintegration of repentant bandits is also a challenge. Its absence compromises empowerment and psycho-social support programmes – which can leave surrendered bandits stranded and frustrated, vulnerable to re-recruitment.

Left and right hand: The lack of policy cohesion between the federal and state governments adds to the challenges of making peace. For instance, at the same time that Zamfara was offering an amnesty in 2018, the army was on an offensive, undermining the process.

The failure of the formally negotiated deals has seen the rise of hyper-local agreements between individual communities and the gangs, with villagers paying a tax in return for peace. In some areas, bandits now act as the law, settling local disputes and dispensing “justice”.

The way forward?

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Here are some suggestions to deliver better results:

Smarter warfare: Nigeria must adopt a whole-of-government approach, with an emphasis on a military strategy that is holistic rather than piecemeal. In the immediate term, to establish peace, the government must first gain legitimacy by protecting the people.

Coordination: Peace deals alone are not a silver bullet in the fight against banditry: But they can be managed far better than the current ad hoc approaches: They need to be part of a “joined up” strategy that involves states and the federal government.

Incentives: A formal DDR programme needs to accompany any peace arrangement, similar to what is being implemented for surrendering jihadist fighters in the country’s northeast. Many of the bandits are young pastoralists without formal education. To leave the bush, they will need incentives, in the form of training and support.

No impunity: DDR should target the low-ranking footsoldiers – but the warlords must be held accountable for their actions. Given the sclerotic and frequently corrupt formal justice system, Nigeria should consider establishing special courts to try them.

Reparations: The success of any peace deal will depend on how the victims of the banditry are treated – including compensation for losses incurred during the conflict. For peace to be seen to be just, it needs to include reparations.

Reserves: To end pastoralist encroachment on farms – and farmer encroachment on grazing lands – reserves need to be gazetted, with water points, veterinary services, and schools also provided: an ongoing plea from pastoralists.

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The government has drafted a National Livestock Transformation Plan that aims to curb the movement of cattle by encouraging pastoralists to switch to sedentary livestock production – more mechanisation and less transhumance. It’s a good start, but it is yet to be implemented – and faces financial, technical, and political challenges.

As this list of suggestions shows, for there to be any hope of ending the banditry in the long run, Nigeria must address the root causes of the conflict, and that requires far-reaching reforms in governance, and real accountability for all those associated with the insecurity.

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AFRICA

Sudan: Five Anti-Coup Protesters Reported Dead

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Security forces have reportedly used live ammunition on pro-democracy protesters, killing four. Another person died after suffocating from tear gas.

Sudanese security forces reportedly used live ammunition and tear gas on protesters on Saturday, killing five people and injuring a number of others.

“One protester was killed in Omdurman by the bullets of the putschist military council,” the Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors said in a statement.

Two others died in different hospitals, one had also been shot and the other victim is understood to have suffocated as a result of teargas. Two more deaths were reported later on Saturday.

What do we know so far?

Pro-democracy protesters were on the streets of capital Khartoum and nearby Omdurman on Saturday. They were voicing opposition to the military’s formation of a new ruling council that sidelined the civilian coalition.

Witnesses and doctors’ reports conflicted with those of the authorities.

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Reuters news agency reported that security forces chased protesters through Omdurman — situated on the western bank of the Nile, just opposite the capital.

Witnesses estimated the Khartoum demonstrations numbered into the tens of thousands, replicated across the country in other cities.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, that supports the protests, said the pro-democracy movement was “facing excessive repression using all forms of force including live bullets in several areas of the capital Khartoum.”

The committee said security forces had stormed the Al Arbaeen hospital in Omdurman, beating staff and arresting protesters.

Sudanese police, in contrast, said they did not use live ammunition in the marches while the military said it does not kill peaceful protesters.

Authorities reported that 39 policemen were injured as protesters attacked police stations.

The military regime has cut mobile internet services despite a court order to restore them and phone signals have been disrupted, complicating demonstrations.

Why are the protests taking place?

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On October 25, the Sudanese military seized power by dissolving the transitional government and arresting cabinet ministers.

The coup was led by the same man who deposed al-Bashir in 2019, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

On Thursday, military leader Burhan announced a new ruling council with no civilian coalition representation. The actions of the military have scuppered any move towards democratic governance.

In the build-up to Saturday’s march, bridges across the Nile were closed as protesters gathered.

Roads to the presidential palace and other key sites were blocked with lines of barbed wire.

Local resistance organizations have been reported to be using flyers to spread their message to circumvent the internet blackout. The communication restrictions have been in place since the military seized controlin October.

US calls for restraint

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The US embassy in Sudan said it “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries of dozens of Sudanese citizens demonstrating today for freedom and democracy.”

The US was among several countries that have expressed concern over the actions of the military leadership. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called on the military “to refrain from further unilateral actions.”

Volker Perthes, the UN’s envoy in Sudan urged “utmost restraint” from security forces ahead of the protests, while calling for protesters themselves to “maintain the principle of peaceful protest.”

At least 14 protesters have been killed and about 300 wounded since the coup, according to the independent Central Committee of Sudan’s Doctors.

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