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Anti-Islamist offensive opens new front on Mali's 'ever-present' terror threat
by Staff Writers
Gao, Mali (AFP) Oct 26, 2013

Nigeria army says killed 74 'suspected' Boko Haram fighters in raid
Maiduguri, Nigeria (AFP) Oct 25, 2013 - Nigeria's army said Friday it had killed 74 suspected Boko Haram fighters in a raid on insurgent camps in restive Borno state, the latest operation in the military's bid to crush a four-year Islamist uprising.

"The operations, which involved ground and aerial assault...led to the destruction of the identified terrorists camps, killing 74 suspected militants," area army spokesman Mohammed Dole said of the Thursday raid in Borno in the northeast, Boko Haram's stronghold.

The strike targeted two villages in the Mainok local government area, not far from Borno's capital of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago.

It followed a Monday assault on Boko Haram camps in another part of Borno, which the military said left 37 Islamists dead.

The military launched its offensive against Boko Haram more than four months ago and has claimed major successes.

But last month, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the country's top military leaders to redouble their efforts following a spate of brutal attacks blamed on the Islamists that killed hundreds of defenceless civilians, including scores of students.

The phone network in Borno has been switched off since the offensive was launched. The military's version of fighting has therefore been difficult to verify with local leaders and residents.

South Sudan jails 10 soldiers for rights abuses
Juba (AFP) Oct 25, 2013 - Ten South Sudanese soldiers were imprisoned for human rights abuses perpetrated during a 2012 campaign to disarm fighters from warring communities, an army spokesman said Friday.

The soldiers were tried before a military court and will be "imprisoned from two to four years" for their role in abuses committed in the troubled eastern state of Jonglei, said spokesman Philip Aguer, without specifying exact charges.

Three others who are on trial for murder are awaiting the decision of President Salva Kiir as to whether they will be put to death as requested by the military court, he said.

Twenty more suspects are still being investigated, he added.

Since winning independence in 2011, the South Sudanese military has led campaigns against well-armed community factions but have themselves been accused of murder, rape and human rights violations, rights groups say.

The Sudanese civil war raged between 1983 and 2005 between the regime in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, along with its armed wing the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and ended in a peace accord and the eventual establishment of a separate state after a 2011 referendum.

The region remains awash with weapons and mines left over from the conflict.

A major anti-Islamist military offensive in Mali by French, Malian and UN troops has highlighted worries over the possibility of renewed attacks in the run-up to nationwide polls, say analysts.

The troubled west African nation and its allies launched Operation Hydra on Sunday after being taken aback by a recent upsurge in violence in the north, according to Jean-Herve Jezequel, an analyst in Dakar for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

About 1,500 troops are involved, including some 600 French, 600 Malians and 300 UN soldiers, and the operation is expected to last "at least 10 days", according to a Malian military source.

French leader Francois Hollande said Friday Hydra marked the first time that such a large deployment from each of the allies had worked together in Mali to fight "terrorism" which he said had become entrenched in the north and in other parts of Africa's Sahel region.

France launched a military intervention in January to oust armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda that had occupied the vast desert north for the previous nine months, meting out beatings and executions as part of a brutal regime of Islamic sharia law.

Hollande said the infrastructure of terrorism in Mali had been damaged but "not defeated" by the operation.

Under heavy attack in the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, the Islamists retreated into the desert and the cover of the Ifoghas mountains.

But the fragile peace did not last, and on September 28 the militants resumed their deadly insurgency, killing a dozen civilians and UN peacekeepers across the north in three weeks.

France's announcement of the launch of Hydra came after two Chadian UN peacekeepers and a civilian were killed in northern Mali on Wednesday.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants said they were behind the attack on a United Nations checkpoint in the far northern town of Tessalit.

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the attack, which followed an urgent request by the UN mission in Mali for more troops.

The upsurge in violence comes with just a month to go until parliamentary elections which are supposed to mark the completion of Mali's transition back to democracy following a military coup in March last year that precipitated the fall of the north to the Islamists.

A presidential election in August which saw former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita voted in as the first post-conflict head of state was staged without incident, in all likelihood because the recently-defeated Islamists had not had time to regroup.

The ICG's Jezequel believes however that elections such as November's legislative polls could be ideal targets for the type of attacks carried out by armed Islamist groups.

France had planned to reduce its 3,000-strong force to 1,000 by the new year but the fresh violence has forced Paris to rethink its timetable.

Some 2,000 troops will now remain until the end of December, with the withdrawal of a further 1,000 to be completed by the end of January 2014.

The UN peacekeeping force, known as MINUSMA, is eventually expected to comprise about 12,600 troops and police but the prospect of France's departure from its former colony -- even deferred -- is still worrying the Malian army.

"MINUSMA alone cannot do the job," said a Malian soldier in Gao, the largest city in the north and the site of a rocket attack by Islamists on October 7.

"The French army is needed in the north. The Islamists have begun to seriously reorganise."

Another Malian military source told AFP the French army had helped with the recent arrest of terror suspects in Gao -- evidence, he said, "that the danger is ever-present".


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Paris (AFP) Oct 24, 2013
French, UN and Malian forces were engaged in a major operation aimed at preventing a resurgence of Islamist rebels in Mali, the French military said Thursday. "We have engaged, with the Malian army and (UN mission) MINUSMA, in a large-scale operation" in the so-called Niger Loop, an area hugging a curve of the Niger River between Timbuktu and Gao, French general staff spokesman Colonel Gille ... read more

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