Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Tuareg people and the mystery of the Niger convoy - U.S. says at least a dozen senior Libyan officials fled by convoy into Niger

"A flurry of confusing reports lent an air of mystery to the convoy and set off excited speculation among Libyan rebels that Colonel Qaddafi had fled the country [Libya] — bringing joy that he could do no more harm here, and disappointment that he might have escaped Libyan justice — though by day’s end they were in doubt that he had fled." (New York Times)
  • The Tuareg people and the mystery of the Niger convoy (Daily Maverick)
  • Libyan convoys in Niger, may be Gaddafi deal (Reuters)
  • U.S. says at least a dozen senior Libyan officials fled by convoy into Niger (New York Times)
  • Libyan rebel leader Abdelhakim Belhaj admits to Al Qaeda ties (Libya Watch)

Full details here below.

The Tuareg people and the mystery of the Niger convoy
From The Daily Maverick - http://dailymaverick.co.za
By KHADIJA PATEL and SIMON ALLISON
Published: Wednesday, 07 September, 2011; 08:45:30 (South Africa).
Full copy:
Niger’s foreign minister insists that while several people, of varying importance, arrived in Niger in a heavily armed convoy on Tuesday, neither Gaddafi nor any of his sons were among the passengers. Asked whether Gaddafi was welcome in Niger, the minister said that decision was up to the president but added: "Gaddafi in Niger could cause some problems". Niger is certainly too close to Libya for any future government of Libya to feel free of the shackles of Gaddafi but in Niger itself, Gaddafi’s wheeling and dealing with the nomadic Tuareg people could prove especially challenging.

On Tuesday, while Nato jets continued to pummel Sirte, the hometown of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the nearby town of Bani Walid laid down their arms and agreed to hoist the flag of the National Transitional Council (NTC) well before the 10 September deadline. Rebel soldiers celebrated the advance closer to Gaddafi’s hometown by shooting into the air but their celebrations proved premature. Tribal leaders in Bani Walid recanted later in the day. But away from the to-and-fro of the negotiations, the most salacious news of the Libyan war came from Niger. Early reports indicated that a convoy of between 200 and 250 vehicles was given an escort by the army of Niger across the Libyan border. Reuters soon fanned rampant speculation of who exactly was aboard the convoy by quoting a French military source who believed the convoy would be joined by Gaddafi en route to neighbouring Burkina Faso, which has of course offered Brother Leader asylum.

The speculation was killed by the foreign minister of Niger who unequivocally denied that Gaddafi had fled Libya and was in Niger. "It is not true, it is not Gaddafi and I do not think the convoy was of the size attributed to it," the minister told AFP. Reports from Chad late on Tuesday appeared to corroborate the minister. The size of the convoy does now appear to have been significantly exaggerated. Eye witnesses claim no more than 30 vehicles passed into the town Agadez on Monday night. Speculation however has grown that South Africa – diplomatic superheroes that we are – is brokering a deal that would see Libya move entirely into rebel hands in exchange for a safe passage for Gaddafi into Burkina Faso. In Libya, the rumour mill is a particularly lucrative industry.

The much trumped-up convoy consisted of more than a dozen pickup trucks bristling with well-armed Libyan troops, according to eyewitnesses. Tuareg rebel leaders were reported to have led the convoy into the town of Agadez under the protection of the local army. Gaddafi remains popular in towns like Agadez, where the majority of the population is Tuareg. Gaddafi is remembered fondly for his for his assistance to the Tuareg during their fight for independence.

The convoy into Niger raises questions about the Tuaregs and their political influence in Libya and the Sahel region. The Tuaregs are the nomads of the Sahara desert, and move largely unimpeded across the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali. They’re historically uncomfortable with governments and restrictions, and are a headache for whatever government is trying to exert its control over them. For example, the leadership of Western Sahara, the breakaway region of Morocco, is led by Tuaregs; and Tuaregs feature prominently in the ranks of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Gaddafi was one of the few leaders who successfully co-opted the tribe into his regime, a feat achieved through the provision of political support and money. Tuareg fighters from other countries were welcomed in Libya, and Gaddafi funded Tuareg wars, even across borders: the two Tuareg leaders who apparently headed the convoy – Agbaly Alambo and Rhissa Agbouly – led an unsuccessful Gaddafi-funded rebellion in Niger before finding refuge in Libya.

In this context, Tuareg support for Gaddafi makes sense. What is more puzzling is how and why they escaped – or were allowed to escape – into Niger. Apparently, the convoy originated from Bani Walid, the town which has been besieged by the rebels for the last week. But did it fight its way through the rebel lines, or was it allowed past? There’s plenty of speculation about a possible secret deal to let the convoy through, with Libya’s new leaders perhaps preferring to be rid of a potentially troublesome – and heavily armed – group of people.

The heavily armed convoy also raises pressing questions about Gaddafi’s reported use of mercenaries during this war. Allegations of “African” mercenaries in Gaddafi’s troops have circulated for as long as this war has raged, but there has so far been scant evidence that Gaddafi did indeed hire mercenaries to quell the armed insurrection against his rule. An Amnesty International investigation into rebel claims that Gaddafi had paid men from Central and Western Africa to fight for him, found no evidence to corroborate such allegations. Early on in the war, many of the foreigners that were paraded to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later found to have been quietly released. Many of the foreigners accused of being mercenaries are actually sub-Saharan migrant workers without the requisite visas permitting them to be in the country. Talk about African mercenaries has flamed mistrust of dark skinned people in Libya, lending an air of racism to the foundations of the new Libya. Dark skinned people face arbitrary arrest and persecution as rebels seek to win Libya over from what they deem to be Gaddafi’s hired hands. So too, the Tuaregs in Libya have also been accused of being hired guns.

Tuaregs specifically from Niger and Mali have been singled as suspected mercenaries in Gaddafi’s army. Reports indicate that some 4,000 Tuaregs who had been unemployed after a peace deal ended their rebellion against the Niger and Mali governments in 2009 did indeed take up arms for Gaddafi. In March, the BBC reported that Tuaregs were being paid $10,000 to join the Libyan government forces and a further $1,000 a day to fight. If indeed true, this would not be the first time Colonel Gaddafi has turned to the Tuareg for troops. In the 1970s he bolstered his Islamic Legion, a military force to fight for a united state across North Africa, with the Tuareg.

Many Tuaregs have already left Libya, returning to Niger and Mali, but their reputation for violence remains with Tuaregs who remain in Libya, severely exacerbating tensions between the local Tuaregs and rebels. The report on Tuesday of the convoy of vehicles crossing into Niger is markedly similar to a report late last month of a convoy of 60 vehicles that had driven over the Libyan border into Niger. French media also reported a separate incident of a convoy of 20 vehicles crossing into Mali. The Tuareg seem to be in an almighty hurry to leave Libya, taking with them anything that could fetch a price across the border. In the case of the convoy that had crossed the Niger border last month, Niger officials found the remnants of a destroyed helicopter piled on to the back of a pickup truck. But the convoy on Tuesday is reported to have been loaded with cash looted from the central bank but more significantly, senior members of the Gaddafi regime. As Americans implore Niger officials to arrest any of Gaddafi’s aides found in the country, the Tuareg might find that their passengers fetch a handsome price. DM

Read more:

Libyan army convoy in Niger may be Gaddafi deal in Reuters Africa;
Reports Say Loyalists Are Fleeing From Libya to Niger in The New York Times;
Poor, Destitute Niger: Gadhafi’s New Home? In International Business Times.
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NOTE FROM THE EDITOR OF NIGER WATCH
Here below are copies in full, for future reference, incase the above links become broken.

Libyan convoys in Niger, may be Gaddafi deal
From Reuters - af.reuters.com
By EMMA FARGE and ABDOULAYE MASSALATCHI
Published: Tuesday, 06 September 2011; 4:55pm GMT
BENGHAZI, Libya/AGADEZ, Niger (Reuters) - Scores of Libyan army vehicles crossed the desert frontier into Niger in what may be a bid by Muammar Gaddafi to seek refuge in a friendly African state, military sources from France and Niger told Reuters on Tuesday.

The Libyan rebels who overthrew Gaddafi two weeks ago said they also thought about a dozen other vehicles that crossed the remote border may have carried gold and cash apparently looted from a branch of Libya's central bank in Gaddafi's home town.

Details of the developments remained very sketchy.

The military sources said a convoy of between 200 and 250 vehicles was escorted to the northern city of Agadez by the army of Niger, a poor and landlocked former French colony. It might, said a French military source, be joined by Gaddafi en route to adjacent Burkina Faso, which has offered him asylum.

U.S. officials said they thought Gaddafi was still in Libya, though the convoy in Niger might contain senior figures.

France, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as Libya's new rulers and NATO, all denied knowing where Gaddafi was or of any deal to let him go abroad or find refuge from Libyans and the International Criminal Court who want to put him on trial.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said it was for Libyans to decide the venue but that Gaddafi must not slip away quietly. "He will have to face justice for all the crimes he has committed in the past 42 years," he said.

Near Tripoli, Reuters journalists found torture chambers used recently as Gaddafi tried to suppress the revolt.

Sources close to Niger's government said the head of Gaddafi's security brigade, Mansour Dhao, was in the capital Niamey. He was allowed in to the country earlier in the week.

But Niger's foreign minister, Bazoum Mohamed, was quoted by Al Arabiya television saying that Gaddafi was not in the military convoy, which arrived late on Monday.

Those comments did not contradict a French military source who said the 69-year-old fugitive and his son and heir Saif al-Islam might join the convoy later to head for Burkina Faso.

France has taken a lead in the NATO action backing Libya's uprising and, with its Western allies, would be likely to have the ability to track any sizeable convoy in the empty quarter.

But Niger's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Adani Illo, told Reuters that such surveillance over thousands of miles of desert was still hard. "The desert zone is vast and the frontier is porous," he said. "If a convoy of 200 to 250 vehicles went through, it is like a drop of water in an ocean."

Gaddafi has broadcast defiant messages since he was forced into hiding two weeks ago, and has vowed to die fighting on his own soil. But he also has long friendships with his poor African neighbours, with which he shared some of Libya's oil wealth.

The sources said the convoy, probably including officers from army units based in the south of Libya, may have looped through Algeria rather than cross the Libya-Niger frontier. Algeria last week took in Gaddafi's wife, daughter and two other sons, angering the interim council now ruling Libya.

"GOOD SPIRITS"

Gaddafi's fugitive spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said in remarks broadcast on Monday: "Muammar Gaddafi is in excellent health and in very, very high spirits ... He is in a place that will not be reached by those fractious groups, and he is in Libya."

NATO warplanes and spy satellites have been scouring Libya's deserts for months, raising the likelihood that any convoy of the size mentioned would have been spotted. But a spokesman for the Western alliance said it was not hunting Gaddafi and had a U.N. mandate only to stop his forces attacking civilians.

"Or mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people," Colonel Roland Lavoie said in a statement.

Tuareg nomads living in the Sahara say those fleeing Libya include many black Africans, some of whom may have been fighters for Gaddafi and most of whom fear the anger and reprisals of Gaddafi's enemies among Libya's Arabs.

NTC commanders last week said both Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam were in the tribal stronghold of Bani Walid, 150 km (90 miles) south of Tripoli. But that belief has evaporated this week after days of blockade of the town.

NTC officials said Saif al-Islam, for one, may have escaped south into the desert, toward the southern, pro-Gaddafi bastion of Sabha and perhaps on to Niger. Tracking him would be hard; fully 1,300 km (800 miles) of sand separate Sabha from Agadez, with a further 750 km of road to travel to Niamey.

Near Sirte, Gaddafi's home town on the Mediterranean coast, there was the first sign of heavy fighting for some days. Combatants reported exchanges of shell fire and rockets to the east. Several NTC fighters were wounded in an ambush.

Though conditions in Tripoli were improving with the return of water supplies two weeks after rebels overran Gaddafi's headquarters compound, evidence of brutality during his battle to cling to power during the Arab Spring is also accumulating.

Reuters journalists in the provincial town of Khoms found evidence Muammar Gaddafi had deployed squads which held suspected opponents in shipping containers, tortured them for information about insurgent networks and disposed of their bodies in unmarked graves.

"They wanted to frighten the people, so if anyone was thinking of going over to the rebels, they would change their minds," said Nabil al-Menshaz, a council official in the town.

AFRICAN JOURNEYS

A spokesman for the NTC said banknotes in the convoy of gold and cash that the council believed had reached Niger had been stolen from Sirte's branch of the Central Bank of Libya.

NTC official Fathis Baja told Reuters: "Late last night, 10 vehicles carrying gold, euros and dollars crossed from Jufra into Niger with the help of Tuaregs from the Niger tribe."

It was unclear if these vehicles were separate from the much larger military convoy reported by the foreign sources.

Burkina Faso, also once a French colony and a recipient of large amounts of Libyan aid, offered Gaddafi sanctuary last month but has also recognised the NTC as Libya's government.

President Blaise Compaore, like Gaddafi, took power in a military coup. He has run the country for 24 years.

Gaddafi has long touted his origins among the peoples of the desert. After largely turning his back on fellow Arab leaders, most of them allied with his Western adversaries, Gaddafi had portrayed himself as an African "king of kings".

He was fond of epic road journeys on his travels around the continent, so the drama of a flight across the Sahara into friendlier lands further south might seem a fitting departure.
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At Least a Dozen Libyan Officials Flee to Niger
From The New York Times - www.nytimes.com

A flurry of confusing reports lent an air of mystery to the convoy and set off excited speculation among Libyan rebels that Colonel Qaddafi had fled the country — bringing joy that he could do no more harm here, and disappointment that he might have escaped Libyan justice — though by day’s end they were in doubt that he had fled.

[PHOTO: Libya's Transitional National Council negotiators and tribal elders from Bani Walid met in a mosque near the city to talk about a peaceful surrender on Tuesday. Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

By ANNE BARNARD, ADAM NOSSITER and ALAN COWELL
Published: Tuesday, 06 September 2011
The colorful and contradictory accounts from rebel leaders and officials of various countries seemed to reflect the unpredictability of the conflict and of the colonel himself, and the difficulty that rebel forces, preoccupied with securing Libya’s main cities near the Mediterranean Sea, face in trying to snare fleeing loyalists in the vast desert south.

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebel negotiators pressed fighters loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in the town of Bani Walid to surrender on Tuesday, as a dozen senior members of his government fled the country in a convoy that crossed the southern desert into Niger, according to the State Department.
Some versions said the convoy included more than 200 military vehicles, the kind of grand entourage that Colonel Qaddafi sometimes took on his travels. Others said it was made up mainly of Tuareg fighters who had sided with him as mercenaries or irregulars. Rebel leaders issued conflicting statements, with some saying one of his sons had fled with gold looted from the country’s banks.

But later, in Washington, the State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, confirmed that a convoy had left Libya for Niger carrying “some dozen or more senior members of the regime,” including senior military commanders, but not Colonel Qaddafi.

The American ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, spoke to officials there and urged them to detain and return to Libya any exiles wanted by international prosecutors, Ms. Nuland said.

She said that Nigerois officials had been strongly urged “to detain those members of the regime who may be subject to prosecution, to ensure that they confiscate any weapons that are found and to ensure that any state property of the government of Libya — money, jewels, etc. — also be impounded so that it can be returned to the Libyan people.”

Senior rebel officials were left trying to learn who, if anyone, had slipped through their fingers even as their fighters pressed for the surrender of encircled loyalist strongholds in Surt and Bani Walid.

Ali Tarhouni, the deputy chairman of the Transitional National Council, said in a statement, “We’re in direct contact with officers on the ground and our friends at NATO, and we are trying to verify the facts about the convoy.”

Col. Ahmed Bani, the rebels’ military spokesman based in Benghazi, said in an interview that he thought about 15 people had fled.

“We can’t confirm how many vehicles were in the convoy or who was in the convoy,” he said. “They are saying that there was gold and money in the convoy, but we can’t confirm that.”

One thousand miles of desert separate population centers in Libya and Niger, and while rebels say they have troops in southern Libya, it is unclear whether any rebels were near roads or border crossings that the convoy might have taken.

Rank-and-file rebels said that they were disappointed by the escape of senior officials, like Mansour Dhao, Colonel Qaddafi’s security chief, who was blamed by many Tripoli residents for the crackdown there and was said by a Nigerois official to be in the convoy. But they said the escape had provided more evidence that the old government had lost its bite.

“We know that they don’t have the power to do anything significant,” said Rabei Dehan, 21, a Tripoli resident who said he had fought in the western mountains and spoke for a rebel unit called the Red Thuraya Battalion.

Niger’s government sought to play down the scale and composition of the convoy and said Colonel Qaddafi was not traveling in it. In a telephone interview, Marou Amadou, Niger’s minister of justice, described the convoy as small — “three vehicles maximum” — and unarmed. Niger had allowed the group to cross into its territory for purely humanitarian reasons, he said.

The director of Radio Sahara, an independent radio station in Agadez, Niger, a town where the convoy was reported to have passed through, dismissed reports of a large military convoy. “Nobody has seen the convoy,” the director, Hamed-Assaneh Raliou, said. “Outside, maybe, in the bush. Maybe. It would astonish me, though, a convoy of 200 vehicles.”
“The only convoy was Sunday, 10 people,” he said. “Three vehicles. That’s the only convoy. I saw that one. They came Sunday afternoon.” He said they were in contact with Nigerois authorities.

The convoy was later reported to have moved on from Agadez toward the Niger capital, Niamey, 600 miles away in the southwest near the border with Burkina Faso.

Abdoulaye Harouna, owner of the newspaper Agadez Info, told The Associated Press that he saw the group arrive in several dozen pickup trucks. At the head of the convoy, Mr. Harouna said, was a Tuareg rebel leader who had sought refuge in Libya several years ago and was believed to be fighting for Colonel Qaddafi.

A rebel military spokesman, Abdulrahman Busin, expressed skepticism that a convoy could have gone unnoticed by NATO, whose warplanes have been conducting air operations over Libya under a United Nations Security Council mandate since March.

But a NATO official, who spoke in return for anonymity because of the political delicacy of the situation, said, “To be clear, our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people.”

Colonel Qaddafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, whose whereabouts also remain a mystery, continued to portray the former leader as unbowed. He told Syrian television that Colonel Qaddafi was still in Libya, and in “excellent health, planning and organizing for the defense of Libya.”

“We are fighting and resisting for the sake of Libya and all Arabs,” The A.P. quoted Mr. Ibrahim as saying. “We are still strong and capable of turning the tables on NATO.”

Meanwhile, rebel leaders sought to project control, continuity and gravitas. Mr. Tarhouni, the rebel official, presided as rebel forces handed over a major oil and gas complex to the same government official who was responsible for the facility’s security under Colonel Qaddafi, but who joined rebels early on.

The Mellitah oil and gas complex, which delivers natural gas to Italy via a pipeline, was handed back without any damage or looting by the rebels, according to employees, who had returned to work. But they said Qaddafi troops who occupied it earlier had stolen jewelry, electronics and even underwear from the houses of Italian managers.

Mr. Tarhouni said the transfer showed that the rebels were responsible and not intent on holding on to power and property seized during the fighting.

“The revolutionaries are not only capable of liberating Libya, but also making sure that its wealth is well protected,” he said in an interview. “I’m so proud not only that they are protecting the wealth, but also that they are easily willing to hand it back to the authorities.”

A rebel commander stood next to Mr. Tarhouni — both wore hard hats — and said that he had assigned rebels specific tasks to preserve the facility as loyalist troops fled, and that “now it’s my job to give it back.”

Mr. Tarhouni said the refinery would restore full production, including 25 million to 30 million cubic meters, or about 33 million to 39 million cubic yards, of natural gas exported daily to Italy within a few weeks, and called the transfer a signal to international energy companies that “your investment here is safe.”

He said oil tankers would soon be taking delivery.

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera television said Libyan forces had struck a deal with loyalists in Bani Walid, 100 miles southeast of Tripoli, and planned to enter the town later in the day. But when elders negotiating for the loyalists tried to carry the proposed deal back into town, the loyalists, who watched the talks on Al Jazeera and apparently found their representatives too conciliatory, refused to receive them and told them to go join the rebels.

By nightfall there was no indication that rebels had moved in.

Anne Barnard reported from Tripoli, Libya; Adam Nossiter from Dakar, Senegal; and Alan Cowell from Paris. Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Steven Erlanger from Paris.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 7, 2011, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Says at Least a Dozen Senior Libyan Officials Fled by Convoy Into Niger.

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Poor, Destitute Niger: Gadhafi’s New Home?
From International Business Times - www.ibtimes.com
By International Business Times
Published: Tuesday, 06 September 2011; 9:30 AM EDT
Libyan army vehicles loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are reportedly crossing the desert borders southward into the West African nation of Niger. Speculation is rising that Gadhafi, realizing he has completely lost his hold over Libya after more than four decades, is desperate to find refuge in a friendly African state.

But what's Niger?

This vast landlocked country just north of Nigeria and east of Mali, is one of the world's poorest nations. More than four-fifths of Niger's territory is desert, forcing most of its about 15 million people to reside in the fertile far south and western corners of the nation.

Most of the people – who generally belong to the Hausa tribe, Tuareg or the Zarma-Songhai – are subsistence farmers with little access to education.

Nigeriens are plagued by various ills that keep them in poverty: periodic droughts, substandard schools, poor health care, and lack of infrastructure.

Despite a high infant mortality rate, Niger has one of the world’s highest fertility rates, which has led to half the population being under the age of 15.

Gadhafi has long intervened in the affairs of the Sahara nations, including Niger. He has sent money and arms to various groups engaged in uprisings, and he has reportedly recruited thousands of Nigeriens to fight as mercenaries in his private army in Libya.

As the former head of the African Union, Gadhafi allegedly viewed himself as “King of the Africans” and dreamed of a “Unites States of Africa.”

During the recent civil war in Libya, West African soldiers (as well as ordinary migrant workers) have tried to flee -- those who couldn't leave suffered horrific abuse and even death at the hands of Libyan rebels. Many of these Africans crossed into Niger, directly south of Libya’s border.

It is in Niger’s rugged northern terrain where the fabled Tuareg tribe dominates -- these are the hardy warriors whom Gadhafi has long hired as his soldiers and bodyguards. However, how many of them have crossed northward to Libya during the civil war to help fight the rebels is unclear.

A Nigerien Tuareg told France’s Le Monde publication: “There are hundreds of [us]. [We] leave in caravans. The ride is long but easy. We avoid Nigerien army checkpoints, and once in Libya, we’re at home. We’ve always been welcome there.”

Issuf Maha, a former official of the Nigerien Patriotic Front rebel group, told the French journal: “Unemployment, idleness, destitution and political frustration, added to the feeling that they are in debt to Gadhafi. All the ingredients are there to make the Tuaregs fight by his side. Gadhafi doesn’t need equipment or money, he needs men.”

Gadhafi has also recruited Tuareg fighters from the southern part of his own country Libya, as well as from Mali.

In a sidebar analysis, the BBC said “There is some support for Col Gadhafi in Niger: local groups have tried to organize pro-Gadhafi demonstrations, although turnout was fairly small. However, Niger's government has recognized the National Transitional Council in Libya and is a new democracy.”

In addition, BBC noted that Niger’s new leader, President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in February, “is trying hard to convince the international community that he is a responsible leader, so he will be keen to prevent Niger getting caught up in the Libya conflict.”
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FURTHER READING

Note, yesterday's report at libyawatch.blogspot.com entitled Libyan Rebel Leader Abdelhakim Belhaj Admits to Al Qaeda Ties.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The African Union welcomes the successful conclusion of the transition process in Niger

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Wednesday, 16 March 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Jean Ping, has followed with great interest the holding of the second round of the presidential election in Niger, on 12 March 2011. He welcomes the smooth conduct of the election, as well as the calm, wisdom and the high sense of responsibility demonstrated by the people of Niger before and during the voting, as well as when the results were announced.

The Chairperson of the Commission congratulates Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou for the confidence bestowed upon him by the people of Niger, by electing him to the highest office in his country.

He reiterates his deep appreciation to General Salou Djibo, Head of State and Chairman of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), and the members of the CSRD, as well as to the political forces of Niger, for having successfully concluded the transition, in accordance with their commitments.

The Chairperson of the Commission takes this opportunity to express his gratitude to all AU partners, notably the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the European Union (EU), for their accompaniment of the restoration of constitutional order in Niger.

He assures the people of Niger and the new authorities of the determination of the AU to continue to support them in their efforts to consolidate the democratic process and promote the socio‐economic development of their country.

The holding of this election and the inauguration of the new President will mark the conclusion of the process of restoring constitutional order in Niger. In this context, the AU welcomes the prospect of the resumption of the participation of Niger in its activities, as well as the valuable contribution that President Mahamadou Issoufou will be able to make to the promotion of peace and the integration of the continent.

SOURCE: African Union Commission (AUC)
With thanks to APO

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Private-army phenomenon exacerbates African conflicts -UN

Independence led to an upsurge in African conflicts. Ex-soldiers from all over the world flock to war zones for pay. European and US security firms are at large in African states.

Private-army phenomenon exacerbates African conflicts, UN says
Source: Deutsche Welle - www.dw-world.de
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn
Date: Thursday, 18 November 2010
A working group from the United Nations has been visiting South Africa this week to investigate the link between African conflicts and international mercenaries, and discuss ways to enforce legal regulations.

Africa is a continent that seems to be perpetually at war with itself. Nearly half of its 53 countries are home to an active conflict or a recently ended one.

The causes behind most of the dirty wars raging in nations such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Niger have been lost in time; the soldiers and rebels involved locked in a spiral of violence where killing is the only aim as ideological targets fade into the past.

But where there is little hope, there is considerable profit. Much of Africa is a fertile recruiting ground for private mercenaries and security contractors who are willing to do the dirty work for various governments, according to Dex Torricke-Barton from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General at the UN in New York.

"Many ex-military personnel from South Africa have offered their services over the last decade and there are also plenty of former European and US troops who are willing to fight," Torricke-Barton told Deutsche Welle.

"The vast majority of these people are contractors, and they perform a wide range of services including providing intelligence, risk assessment, training, and logistics - as well as fighting."

The well-paid private soldiers often operate with impunity, either under the shield of government command or through the shady subterfuge of multinationals who have hired them to protect their interests.

Currently a UN working group - its mouthful of an official name is the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries as a Means of Violating Human Rights and Impeding the Exercise of the Right of Peoples to Self-determination - has been visiting South Africa this week to investigating the link between African conflicts and international mercenaries, and to discuss ways to enforce legal regulations.

The UN has said the growth of unaccountable private armies has exacerbated conflicts in Africa. It has suggested the hired guns are helping to keep the cycle of violence alive in many wars purely to reap financial rewards, while committing atrocities with no fear of prosecution.

Legal gray area

"There are many problems associated with the growing use of private security contractors in conflict zones," Torricke-Barton said. "Governments can rely on these people to avoid taking direct legal responsibility for their conduct, and to commit human-rights abuses which fail to get addressed through the current, weak international legal framework."

Allan Cowley, a former British army officer and military analyst, agreed that private soldiers "absolve the governments from any direct responsibility" in the conflicts they're waging.

"They work in a netherworld, a gray area between legality and criminality, where neither they nor their employers appear accountable for their actions," he told Deutsche Welle.

Earlier this decade, a golden era for private security firms heralded the rise of companies that have gained Western credibility - and sometimes notoriety - through their involvement in government-backed operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the use of mercenaries has only increased in line with the grudging acceptance of their role in modern warfare.

Now the UN wants governments in Africa to enforce both new and existing laws in an attempt to rein in what many experts says is an exponentially expanding industry.

Turning a blind eye

"In the post-Cold War world, there has been a proliferation of new security challenges in Africa," said Torricke-Barton. "Governments and conventional military forces have been ill-equipped to deal with these, so they call in independent talent to solve their problems."

Growing interest in Africa's natural resources and the growing presence private firms there has led to an explosion in international investment, points out military analyst Cowley.

"A blind eye cannot see what's right under its nose," Cowley said. "Just as many of these companies pay little regard to the people and surroundings in which they operate, so they have even less concern about who they employ to protect their businesses, and how these security firms enforce their directives."

A number of African governments signed legislation in 2007 that required private soldiers and security firms to get official authorization to operate in war zones. However, these laws and older statutes have remained unimplemented by many of the signatories.

"There are many national, regional and international legal arrangements which relate to the use of mercenaries. But all of these legal layers have deficiencies of some form of another, and the legal status of contractors remains fuzzy at best in international law," said Torricke-Barton.

"Most of the work of modern private security contractors falls outside the purview of the 1989 UN Convention on Mercenaries ... A lot more work needs to be done by the international community to adapt the regulatory framework to the 21st century," he added.

Private security firms sign up to new Code of Conduct

The UN's efforts to address exactly these problems come just days after a landmark US and British-backed code-of-conduct was implemented by the Swiss government and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law.

The code will be compulsory for any country using private security operators, and will require companies to meet standards in "recruitment, vetting personnel, training, control mechanisms, compliance with local and international laws and protection of human rights."

The code also imposes limits on the use of force and an assurance that staff cannot invoke contractual obligations or "superior orders" in a conflict zone to justify crimes, killings, torture, kidnappings and detentions. The aim is to prevent abuse and rein in excessive violence in lawless conflict zones.

The US and Britain are among the 35 countries that have backed the Swiss code, and 58 private security companies – including Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater – have already signed up.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Nigeria and its huge potentials is key to success of Africa

Africa: How to Grow African Economy -UK Financial Expert
Source: Daily Independent (Lagos) - www.independentngonline.com
Written by Abel Orukpe
Date: Monday, 01 November 2010
(Lagos) - Former United Kingdom Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Paul Boateng, said Africa economies have the capacity to boom despite the current global meltdown ravaging economies around the globe.

He also said Nigeria and its huge potentials is the key to the success of Africa.

Boateng is participating at the Kuramo conference being organised by the Lagos State government in partnership with the organised private sector to bring together the best brains in all aspects of life to fashion out the best way to moving Africa economies forward.

He spoke with journalists at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos on why the economies of developing countries have continued to dwindle.

According to Boateng, "The good news is that Africa has proved to be remarkably resilient in terms of its economy during this current global downturn and we have every expectation that Africa would come through this difficult process for her world to make a stronger and better place."

He posited that to make the economies of developing countries work, Africans have the responsibility to ensure that their economies are well managed, adding that it is by doing this that African continent can grow and create jobs for its people.

In his words, "The key to that is that all of us recognising the responsibility that we have to ensure that the economy are managed well, that we have effective and sound micro- economic policy and that together we create a continent in which there is growth with jobs

Boateng, the first black cabinet minister in UK contended that the growth of developing economies and job creation go hand -in - hand and that if these aspects are fixed economies of developing countries, where African countries belong will be stronger for it.

"The truth is that both of them go together, growth and jobs and the good news is that Africa should be on track to come out of this recession stronger than it was before".

The former secretary to the treasury, who said he was delighted to be in Lagos, said that the Kuramo conference is a clear sign that the government and people of Lagos recognise the role of this great metropolis in rebuilding and strengthening the African economy.

On the future of Nigerian economy, he said: "Nigeria and its future, Nigeria and its huge potentials are the key to the success of Africa that is why all people of good will look to Nigeria to demonstrate leadership, to demonstrate the strength that historically I believe that it has and to fulfil that it displayed some what 50 years ago when the people of Nigeria won their independent so this is a great conference and we are looking forward very much to do a serious work in order to make sure that the economy of Africa and its people fulfil the potentials that they have."
Hat tip: AllAfrica.com
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'Reversing Brain Drain Is Key To Continent's Development', Says Wole Soyinka In Tunis
Source: Tunisia Online News
Date: 26 October 2010 - excerpt:
Addressing the African Development Bank's (AfDB) "Eminent Speakers" program in Tunis on Friday, Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Literature Prize, said that the reversal of Africa's brain drain is key to the continent's development. ...
Hat tip: allafrica.com/afrora.com

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nigerian weapons haul shows lengths Iran will go to supply Hamas



Map of Niger courtesy of nigeriamasterweb.com article 19 February 2010: Niger President Toppled, Whisked Away
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Nigerian Weapons Haul Shows Lengths Iran Will Go to Supply Hamas
Source: The MidEast News Source - www.themedialine.org
Written by Benjamin Peim
Date: Sunday, 31 October 2010



Gaza-based groups learned in last war that home-made Qassams aren’t effective
The capture in Nigeria late last week of over a dozen containers filled with weapons highlights the lengths to which Iran is taking to supply its Hamas ally in the Gaza Strip, but leaves a question mark over how successful the arms conduit has been, analysts say.

The containers, unloaded in Lagos, the country’s largest port, came from a cargo ship originating in Iran, the company that owned the ship said in a statement. While their ultimate destination has not been confirmed, analysts believe the containers were bound for Gaza, ruled by the Muslim group Hamas.

“It’s getting harder to obtain the weapons so they’re using all types of funny places,” Martin van Creveld, a retired professor of military history at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “They find a place that is so messy they can get through, and Nigeria apparently wasn’t messy enough.”

As Hamas’ main weapons supplier, Iran’s success in delivering missiles and other arms into Gaza will be a key factor in any future conflict with Israel. In its last confrontation with Hamas 14 months ago, Israel sustained almost no casualties, but if the Islamic group succeeds in obtaining more sophisticated weaponry it could put Israeli cities in rocket-range and jeopardize Israel’s control of the skies.

The shipping company, French-based CMA CGM, said it had been duped by Iranian trader who arranged the shipment. The shipper had listed the materials inside the containers as, “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone," but when Nigerian security service personnel opened the containers, they found rockets, bullets, mortars and other weapons under a thin layer of floor tiles.

In the past, Hamas and Iran have sought to bring weapons into Gaza through smuggling routes that wind along the east coast of Africa from the Sudan, north into Egypt. From there, they arrive in Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. But, these routes have grown more difficult as Israel and Egypt crack down on weapons shipments.

“They [Hamas and Iran] were under heavy pressure by the Egyptians,” Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Terror Project at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, told The Media Line. “These routes are under strict supervision, and there is probably some international political pressure as well.”

Israeli warplanes reportedly bombed a caravan of trucks in Sudan that were transporting weapons to Hamas in January 2009, although Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. The United States could be monitoring the situation, as well.

“They are aware of American capabilities to intercept arms on the east coast of Africa,” said Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.

Bar said Iran has infrastructure in Nigeria, which makes it a prime spot to turn to for its smuggling operations. “They have more assets there than in Egypt and the security is weaker,” he told The Media Line.

Hamas has its own rocket workshops in Gaza where it manufactures simple, short-range Qassams, which constituted the mainstay of Hamas’ arsenal when it confronted Israel in the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead. Qassams have a range of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), which limits targets to mostly empty and agricultural land adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

No matter how much Hamas beefs up its inventory of Qassams, short-range rockets like the Qassam won’t significantly improve the group’s fighting capabilities, according to Bar. “The real game changer,” he said, would be surface-to-air missiles that threaten Israeli control of the skies over Gaza.

Without the ability to upgrade its weapons technology in Gaza, Hamas is seeking longer-range and more sophisticated rockets from abroad, analysts said.

“They want to upgrade their capabilities so they can strike further into Israel and possibly strike at our air traffic,” Bar said. “But there is nothing specific in this shipment to change the strategic balance.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said October 20 that Israel believes Hamas, in fact, has obtained surface-to-air strike capability. However, van Creveld, of The Hebrew University, told The Media Line it was likely they would only be capable of hitting helicopters. Jets, which are the key to Israel’s control of Gaza skies, are out of range for Hamas fighters for the time being, he said.

While this smuggling attempt failed, Hamas and Iran will continue their efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza, analysts said.

“This is a permanent agenda they have,” Schweitzer said. “I don’t think this will deter them from trying to procure weapons in other venues in the future.”

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Bill Gates dédicace un ballon de football au Nigeria en soutien à l’éradication de la polio en Afrique

ROTARY INTERNATIONAL - COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE

CONTACT: Sandra Prufer, + 1 847 866-3208 sandra.prufer@rotary.org

Kiki Melonides, +1 847 866-3134 kiki.melonides@rotary.org


Bill Gates dédicace un ballon de football au Nigeria en soutien à l’éradication de la polio en Afrique


Les Rotary clubs du Nigeria et d’Afrique unissent leurs efforts alors que le ballon achève son périple de quatre mois à travers le continent africain.


ABUJA, Nigeria (8 juin 2010)Bill Gates, co-président de la Fondation Bill & Melinda Gates a apporté son soutien à la campagne Bouter la polio hors d’Afrique en dédicaçant un ballon de football qui voyage de la ville du Cap à l’Égypte en préambule de la coupe du monde de football 2010. Au cours de ce voyage épique, durant lequel le ballon s’est déplacé dans 22 pays affectés par la polio ou à risques, les Rotary clubs d’Afrique ont mobilisé le public pour des campagnes de vaccination d’une grande amplitude et ont sensibilisé l’opinion à l’importance de l’éradication de la polio. Bill Gates a loué les efforts du Rotary pour éradiquer la maladie de l’Afrique et du reste du monde.


M. Gates a salué le Nigeria pour les résultats significatifs obtenus dans le combat contre la polio et s’est joint aux dirigeants nigérians pour souligner les campagnes de vaccination qui se déroulent actuellement en Afrique et qui ciblent plus de 100 millions d’enfants âgés de moins de 5 ans.


Depuis que le Rotary et ses partenaires ont commencé leur combat contre la polio en 1988, le nombre de cas a été réduit de 99 %. En Afrique, seul le Nigeria reste endémique, mais la maladie touche encore des enfants d’autres pays à risques, démontrant ainsi l’importance de vacciner contre la polio tous les enfants africains. Selon l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé, seulement trois nouveaux cas de polio avaient été constatés au 25 mai de cette année au Nigeria, contre 276 cas sur la même période en 2009.


« Les progrès récents dans le combat contre la polio au Nigeria constituent une réussite dont tous les Nigérians devraient être fiers, a déclaré Bill Gates. Grâce aux leaders politiques et traditionnels, au travail des professionnels de la Santé et aux parents qui souhaitent que leurs enfants soient protégés, le Nigeria est en bonne voie pour éliminer la polio. »


Après s’être déplacé pendant près de quatre mois dans tout le continent africain, le ballon s’apprête à atteindre sa destination finale, Alexandrie en Égypte. La conclusion de cette campagne de sensibilisation aura lieu à la bibliothèque d’Alexandrie le 12 juin sous les hospices de la première dame d’Egypte Suzanne Moubarak. Les joueurs de l’équipe d’Égypte championne d’Afrique taperont symboliquement dans le ballon pour le propulser hors d’Afrique dans la mer méditerranée. Hany Salama, star du cinéma et ambassadeur de bonne volonté de la polio sera également présent lors de l’évènement, ainsi que des enfants atteints de la polio, des représentants et des dignitaires gouvernementaux.


Comme l’explique Ismail Serageldin, directeur de la bibliothèque d’Alexandrie : « la polio existe toujours, mais elle peut être éradiquée. Nous ne devons pas céder à l’oubli ou au désintéressement qui laisseraient de si nombreuses victimes dans la misère. Nous sommes prêts du but. Ensemble, finissons-en. »


La campagne de sensibilisation panafricaine du Rotary « Kick Polio Out of Africa » (Bouter la polio hors d’Afrique), a été lancée le 23 février au Cap, par Monseigneur Desmond Tutu qui en a donné le coup d’envoi en tapant dans un ballon qu’il avait dédicacé. Lui-même touché par la polio lorsqu’il était enfant, il a rejoint la campagne du Rotary comme ambassadeur de bonne volonté.


Le ballon se rendra d’Égypte à Montréal (Canada), pour être présenté à la convention du Rotary dans la deuxième moitié du mois de juin. Le transport du ballon est assuré par DHL Express.


En soutien de la campagne, le Rotary invite les fans de football du monde entier à signer un ballon virtuel sur www.kickpoliooutofafrica.org et à rejoindre le grand mouvement mondial de solidarité envers les enfants africains - et les enfants du monde entier - pour les préserver de cette maladie paralysante et parfois mortelle. Les dédicaces virtuelles seront présentées aux responsables de l’Initiative mondiale pour l’éradication de la polio après la coupe du monde de football.


« Nous faisons appel aux footballeurs du continent pour assurer le succès de cette campagne. Des efforts unifiés galvanisant des sociétés entières sont seuls capables de bouter ce virus, qui ressemble tant à un ballon de foot, hors d'Afrique et enfin hors du monde », déclarait Nelson Mandela, ancien président d'Afrique du Sud, au cours de son discours devant l’Organisation pour l’Unité africaine en 1996, date officielle du lancement de la campagne Bouter la Polio hors d’Afrique.


« Source de nombreux bénévoles et partenaire privé de l’Initiative mondiale pour l’éradication de la polio, le Rotary a alloué 388 millions de dollars aux efforts d’éradication en Afrique, affirme June Webber, organisatrice de la campagne sud-africaine du Rotary. Alors que nous célébrons la première coupe du monde de football sur le sol Africain et le 20e anniversaire de la libération de Nelson Mandela de prison, les Rotariens et nos partenaires sont déterminés à offrir à cet ancien président emblématique une raison de plus de rentrer dans l’histoire. »


Le capitaine de l’équipe nigériane de football Nwankwo Kanu a rejoint la campagne en annonçant qu’il avait deux objectifs cette année : que le Nigeria se distingue lors de la coupe du monde de football et que la polio soit éradiquée d’Afrique.


L’éradication de la polio est depuis plus de 20 ans la priorité absolue du Rotary. L’organisation de service humanitaire internationale a consacré plus de 900 millions de dollars à cette cause et est le fer de lance de l’Initiative mondiale d’éradication de la polio aux cotés de l’organisation mondiale de la Santé, du CDC d’Atlanta et de l’Unicef.


Le Rotary s’est également récemment engagé à collecter 200 millions de dollars en réponse à la subvention de la Fondation Bill & Melinda Gates de 355 millions de dollars. La somme totale servira à soutenir les actions d’éradication.


Des progrès fantastiques ont donc été réalisés et le nombre de cas de polio est passé de près de 350 000 en 1988 à moins de 2 000 en 2009. Plus de deux milliards d’enfants ont été vaccinés dans 122 pays, évitant cinq millions de cas de paralysie et 250 000 morts infantiles.


Pour suivre le parcours du ballon : http://kickpoliooutofafrica.wordpress.com.

Pour signer le ballon virtuel : www.kickpoliooutofafrica.org.

Pour consulter des vidéos et des photos : www.thenewsmarket.com/rotaryinternational

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Le Rotary est une organisation mondiale de plus de 1,2 million de membres issus du monde des affaires, des professions libérales et du monde civique, qui apportent un service humanitaire. Il existe plus de 33 000 Rotary clubs dans plus de 200 pays et régions. Les Rotariens s’investissent dans des actions locales visant à répondre aux grands problèmes d'aujourd'hui tels que la pauvreté, les maladies et l’illettrisme.

Distribué par l’Organisation de la Presse Africaine au nom de Rotary International

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ping mourns Yar'Adua, congratulates President Jonathan

Ping mourns Yar'Adua, congratulates President Jonathan
From (Pana) Afrique en ligne - Friday, 07 May 2010:
(Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) - With the passing of President Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria and Africa have lost one of their illustrious sons, and an activist committed to the unity and well-being of all peoples of the continent, said Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Ping presented his deepest condolences to the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the African Union, and requested the Ambassador to convey them to the Government and people of 'this great brotherly country of Africa.'

In addition, the Chairperson has invited all of Africa to pray for the rest of the soul of the late President Yar'Adua and the soothing of hearts within his family and the entire population of Nigeria.

In his eulogy, Ping said he still remembered 'the brilliance, wisdom and vigour with which President Yar'Adua chaired on 29 October 2009, in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the 207th meeting of the Peace and Security Council, which took historic decisions on the situation in the Sudan, with the adoption of the Report and Recommendations of the AU High-Level Panel on Darfur.'

On the same occasion, the PSC took decisions on the situation in Guinea and Niger, which Ping said 'have contributed to accelerating the search for solutions to the crises in both countries.'

Also, Yar'Adua will be remembered for chairing the AU Summit of the PSC in Sharmel Sheikh, Egypt, in July 2008.

Meanwhile, Ping has sent his 'warm congratulations and best wishes for success' to Nigeria's new leader, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was sworn Thursday, saying he was assuming a 'noble and exciting mission to lead this great country of our continent.'

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