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Mali rebels strike amid post-Libya anarchy
by Staff Writers
Dakar, Senegal (UPI) Mar 8, 2012

Muslim chief concerned over Nigerian army abuse allegations
Kano, Nigeria (AFP) March 8, 2012 - A key Muslim leader in Nigeria on Thursday raised concerns over alleged rights abuses by soldiers deployed to stop attacks blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram.

Emir of Kano Ado Bayero, the most influential traditional and spiritual chief in Nigeria's second-largest city of Kano, met the new army head deployed there and asked him to look into "rampant cases of rights violations by soldiers", according to reporters present at the meeting.

Hundreds of soldiers were deployed after coordinated bombings and shootings in Kano, northern Nigeria's biggest city, on January 20 which killed at least 185 people, making it Boko Haram's deadliest attack yet.

"We have received lots of complaints from residents about ill-treatment by soldiers at checkpoints," Bayero told Brigadier-General Ilyasu Isa Abba in the presence of the reporters.

"Instead of manning checkpoints, soldiers have resorted to harassing and dehumanising people. Complaints have been lodged with us about lots of rights violations at checkpoints, such as soldiers immersing people in open sewers and forcing them to frog-jump."

On Sunday, around 100 protesters lit bonfires and marched through the city in protest over the shooting death of a motorcyclist by soldiers at a checkpoint.

The army chief promised to look into the complaints.

Nigeria's military has regularly faced accusations of abuses. A special task force deployed in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Boko Haram's base, has been accused of killing civilians and burning homes after attacks.

North Africa, never the most placid of places, has been plunged into turmoil in recent weeks by groups of heavily armed fighters that have fanned out across the Sahara to destabilize the region known as the Maghreb.

The Feb. 8 capture of town of Tinzawatene on Mali's northern border with Algeria rebel Tuareg tribesmen, who served under Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, vividly illustrates the growing scale of the crisis.

"A year after the eruption of Libya's spontaneous revolution, there are few signs of progress toward establishing internal security or a democratic government," observed the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global security.

"The overthrow of the Gadhafi regime has had an enormous impact on Libya's southern neighbors," most notably Mali, Niger and Mauritania, the foundation said.

There are growing fears that the Tuaregs' National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and other armed groups roaming the vast wastelands of the Sahara and the semi-arid Sahel region to the south will join forces with the jihadist al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb that has extended its operations from Algeria to Mauritania, and even as far south as Nigeria.

Algeria, a major energy exporter where AQIM is based, fears an eruption of violence across the entire region and its government has raised its security alert to the highest level.

"Le Pouvoir, the Algerian political-military-business elite that controls most aspects of Algerian life, fears instability above all else and has tried to shut down any effort within Algeria to emulate the revolutionary unrest in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt," Jamestown noted.

Algiers fears the unrest is "intended to pave the way foreign intervention in North Africa but many Algerians worry that the government's inability to extinguish AQIM's low-level insurgency is a means of justifying Le Pouvoir's tight grip on Algerian politics and maintaining high levels of spending in the military and security services."

The MNLA seized Tinzawatene after weeks of fighting the Malian military, which is getting counterinsurgency training from U.S. Special Forces along with the security forces of neighboring states grappling with AQIM.

It's not clear whether the Tuareg fighters, estimated at more than 1,000 strong and armed with missiles and heavy mortars taken from Libya, will be able to hold onto the town against counterattacks by the Malian army.

But if they can, they have access to a network of Saharan smuggling routes running from Algeria that would consolidate links to AQIM's seasoned jihadist fighters as well as provide them with secure supply lines.

The Tuareg, a Berber people, inhabit the deserts across the deserts in north and west Africa.

Their struggle dates back almost a century and their last rebellion, demanding more autonomy and development, ended in 2008 with little to show for it.

But now the MNLA for the first time is seeking outright independence for three northern regions where the Tuareg, who make up 10 percent of Mali's population of 13 million, predominate.

"This has been simmering for a long time," said Jeremy Keenan, a Tuareg specialist at London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

"But this new rebellion would not have happened if all these guys had not come back from Libya."

He said there was little indication that the Tuareg in neighboring Niger, where some of Gadhafi's family has found sanctuary, were going to join their cousins in Mali, as has happened in the past.

But if that happened again, "the situation could get out of control," Keenan cautioned.

Algiers has traditionally mediated between the Mali government and the Tuareg, and its powerful intelligence service, the DRS, is once again seeking to broker a settlement in hopes of containing the current surge in violence.

Politically volatile Algeria has largely avoided the upheavals of the Arab Spring over the last year but its elite are nervous because parliamentary elections are scheduled for May and Islamist parties are expected to make sweeping advances.

However, this time around, the MNLA, flush with heavy weapons acquired in Libya that match them pretty evenly with Mali's 7,500-strong military, don't appear to be in a conciliatory mood.

Indeed, Jamestown's Andrew McGregor said he fears the rekindling of the Tuareg rebellion will infect other militias in northern Mali, "a development that threatens to turn the northern conflict into a more general civil war."

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Two killed in clashes between army, smugglers in Cameroon
Yaounde (AFP) March 8, 2012 - Clashes between Cameroonian troops and ivory poachers in the northern Bouba Ndjidda reserve have killed a soldier and a smuggler and left four wounded, local officials said Thursday.

"These past few days, there was fighting between our soldiers and smugglers at Bouba Ndjidda," said a regional administrative official close to the case, who asked not to be named.

"To my knowledge, a poacher was killed and four others were injured," he told AFP, giving no more details.

"A Cameroonian soldier was killed," said an official working for a non-governmental organisation reached in Garoua, the main town in the region where the national park lies. He also asked not to be named, but said the dead soldier was believed to be a member of the elite Rapid Intervention Battalion.

The administrative official neither confirmed nor denied the killing of the soldier, saying it was "a delicate matter linked to the internal security of the state."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on March 6 reported on its website the discovery of hundreds of elephant carcasses in the Cameroon park, all of them missing their tusks.

"This is the worst poaching massacre that I can recall in the decades we have worked to save elephants in Africa," said Allard Blom, managing director of WWF's Congo Basin programme.

"Poaching is escalating because of a growing demand for ivory from Asia and if we fail to take immediate action in the face of such plunder, then (many) of Africa's elephants could disappear forever to satisfy human greed."

It was not possible to determine whether the army was still pursuing operations against smugglers in the reserve on Thursday, but a regional official with the ministry of forests and fauna said the smugglers were still in the park on Tuesday.

More than 100 soldiers were deployed on March 1 to battle smugglers from neighbouring Chad and from Sudan who entered Cameroon in January and killed "128 elephants", according to the government, or "more than 480" according to park officials.

The WWF last Friday said the smugglers appeared to come from Sudan via Chad in highly organised and heavily armed gangs, seeking to build up a stock of "vast quantities of Ivory for the Asian markets."

"The government should not be surprised at the seriousness of the situation because we have warned it on many occasions of the dramatic increase in ivory poaching in Cameroon," stated Basile Yapo Monssan, directeur of WWF Cameroun, cited by his organisation.


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Campaign to arrest Uganda rebel chief goes viral
Washington (AFP) March 7, 2012
A campaign to bring accused war criminal Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels, to justice has gone viral on the Internet. The hashtag "#stopkony" was among trending topics on Twitter on Wednesday, vying for the top spot with tweets about the new iPad and Peyton Manning, who was released after 14 years as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. The campa ... read more

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