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Former Ethiopian spy chief, 25 others charged with human rights abuses

Under Ethiopia’s previous government, the NISS was accused by rights groups of overseeing the torture and murder of dissidents.

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Former Ethiopian spy chief, 25 others charged with human rights abuses
File photo: Former Ethiopian spy chief, Getachew Assefa

Ethiopia has charged powerful former intelligence chief, Getachew Assefa, and 25 others over alleged human rights abuses, the office of the attorney general said Tuesday.

Getachew was the head of the Ethiopia National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) until June 2018, when he was removed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed amid a raft of reforms in the Horn of Africa nation.

Under Ethiopia’s previous government, the NISS was accused by rights groups of overseeing the torture and murder of dissidents.

Getachew was charged with 25 other intelligence officers, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

“The 26 suspects have been charged with a total of 46 criminal charges, with 22 of them currently in custody while the other four individuals, including Getachew Assefa’s cases will be tried in absentia”, it added.

Since taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sought to address rights violations and break with the country’s authoritarian past.

In July last year, he publicly acknowledged torture carried out by security services, describing it as a form of “terrorism”.

Attorney General, Berhanu Tsegaye said in January that an arrest warrant had been issued for Getachew, however, his whereabouts are unknown, with some reports he is being shielded by officials in his home state of Tigray.

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Grenade attack on police camp kills 9 in Ethiopia

The attack occurred Thursday evening in the town of Burayu, roughly 20 kilometres northwest of the capital, Addis Ababa

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Grenade attack on police camp kills 9 in Ethiopia

Ethiopian officials said Friday that more than 20 people linked to a prominent rebel group had been arrested after a grenade attack on a police camp that left nine injured.

The attack occurred Thursday evening in the town of Burayu, roughly 20 kilometres northwest of the capital, Addis Ababa, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The town is located in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, the epicentre of anti-government protests that fuelled the rise of Abiy Ahmed to the post of prime minister last year.

Those arrested so far are either members or supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), according to a statement from the Oromia region’s communications office.    

“We’ve arrested 22 people who are either members of OLF or sympathisers, and they are suspected of participation in the Burayu grenade attack,” said the statement, which was carried by the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation. 

The OLF fell out with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1992 and soon began launching armed attacks.

But last year, Abiy removed the OLF from a list of terror organisations, and its exiled leadership made a triumphant return home.

In February, the government announced that some 1,000 OLF members had surrendered their arms and entered rehabilitation camps. 

Officials said it was a sign that security issues in the region were being resolved.  

OLF leader Dawud Ibsa did not immediately respond to calls and text messages seeking comment Friday. 

The injured in Thursday’s attack included one police officer and a female cook at the Burayu camp, Fana said. 

All the victims were discharged after receiving medical treatment in Addis Ababa.

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Pope Francis arrives Madagascar during three-nation tour

Francis told his hosts that they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment”

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Pope Francis arrives Madagascar during three-nation tour
Pope Francis waves as he passes aboard his papamobile, a Karenjy Mazana II made in Madagascar especially for his visit, during his official visit to Madagascar in Antananarivo on September 6, 2019. (Photo by RIJASOLO / AFP)

True to his reputation as “pope of the poor”, Pope Francis began a visit Saturday to Madagascar.

Arriving from Mozambique, where he pleaded for understanding and the renunciation of violence in a country riven by 16 years of civil war and now jihadist attacks, the Argentine pontiff warned of the dangers of deforestation and the impact of environmental degradation.

Francis told his hosts that they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment and help people escape poverty.”

Madagascar is home to 25 million people, the vast majority of whom live in poverty with an income of less than two dollars a day.

The pope said there “were many causes driving excessive deforestation which benefits just a few people… and compromises the future of the country.”

The authorities must ensure social justice, he added, echoing concerns about the global environment highlighted by massive fires across the Amazon forest.

After the welcoming ceremonies, the pope’s first engagement Saturday is a mass and prayer vigil with at least 12,000 young scouts.

Pope Francis arrives Madagascar during three-nation tour
Pope Francis shakes hands to nuns at the end of the morning prayer at the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 7, 2019. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Tafika Fanomenza, 39, who is helping to co-ordinate the scores of volunteers involved in the preparations, as well as in the pontiff’s security, hoped Francis’ visit would help bring about change in Madagascar.

More than half of the young people on the world’s fifth-largest island are out of work, even if many boast good qualifications.

Political instability has done little to help the development of an economy largely dependent on agriculture, and the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.

Liberal-leaning President Andry Rajoelina was elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing.

Crowds of 800,000 –

Sunday will mark the high point of Francis’ visit with a huge mass in the capital expected to be attended by some 800,000 pilgrims. 

Many had already started setting up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, armed with posters of the Argentine pontiff.

Prospere Ralitason, a 70-year-old farmworker, arrived with some 5,000 fellow pilgrims from the central-eastern town of Ambatondrazaka, 200 kilometres away.

“We are tired, but it’s worth making all these sacrifices to see the pope with our own eyes and receive his blessing,” he told reporters, impatient to set out on the final two-hour hike on Sunday to attend the mass. 

“We spent Ar 65,000 and brought three kilos of rice to make the trip to Antananarivo,” said another pilgrim and farmworker, Jean-Claude Rabemanatrika, 40. 

“There are five of us at home and we don’t have enough money so we had to choose just one family member to make the trip.”

Pope Francis arrives Madagascar during three-nation tour
Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina flanked by Pope Francis and his wife Mialy shovels soil on a baobab tree at the Iavoloha presidential palace in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 7, 2019. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

“We’ve provided toilet, showers, a sickbay and somewhere to cook for our 5,000 guests,” beamed Marino Andriamasy, 35, who is in charge of the makeshift site where the pilgrims are staying. 

John Paul II –

The last pope to visit was John Paul II 30 years ago.

“I was a lieutenant when I helped with the security of John Paul II in 1989. Today, I am a divisional general and overseeing security for Francis’ visit to Madagascar,” said Samuel Rakotomalala.

Some 700 police officers will be deployed at the site, which is also equipped with 200 surveillance cameras and the 12,000 young scouts will also help out.

In June, 16 people were killed and dozens hurt in a stampede outside a sports stadium in the capital during a free concert.

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Villages in Mozambique’s northern region grapple with faceless jihadists

President Filipe Nyusi has repeatedly pledged to “eradicate” what he refers to as “criminals” rather than Islamists

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Mozambique's north grapples with faceless jihadists | News Central TV
A woman holds her younger child while standing in a burned out area in the recently attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia, on August 24, 2019. - On August 1, the inhabitants of Aldeia da Paz joined the long list of victims of a faceless Islamist group that has been sowing death and terror for nearly two years in the north of the country, which welcomes from September 4 the Pope. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Aldeia da Paz was once a sleepy place. Farmers went about their daily lives, tending to meagre crops along the road linking Mozambique to its northern border with Tanzania. 

Everything changed after nightfall on August 1st.

“They arrived around seven o’clock in the evening,” said Lucas Saimone, one of the village chiefs. “When they started shooting and burning down houses, the whole population fled into the forest.”

No one was killed, said Saimone, but the entire village was “turned to ashes.”       

That day, the inhabitants of Aldeia da Paz became the latest victims of unknown Islamist militants sowing death and fear in the north of Mozambique — a country renowned for its pristine beaches and coral reefs. 

Pope Francis is expected to visit on Wednesday, months after the nation was hit by two devastating cyclones that claimed more than 600 lives. 

But the northern province of Cabo Delgado is also grappling with a less visible, more insidious enemy than climate change.

Jihadists have killed at least 300 civilians over the past two years, often by beheading them. Dozens of villages have been wiped off the map and thousands of people displaced. Local media reported around 20 deaths in August.

READ: Mozambique cyclones: Donors pledge $1.2 billion to aid recovery

Since the attack, Aldeia da Paz has come to a standstill. The villagers are hungry and terrified. 

All that remains are piles of ash and a few daub walls topped with blacked roof beams. 

‘Sentenced to die’ –

Villages in Mozambique's northern region grapple with faceless jihadists
Ilda Paulo, 60, a survivor of an Islamist attack in Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia where seven people have been killed walks in the patio of her daughter house in Macomia, on August 24, 2019. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Zahina Asman sits near a rusty saucepan surrounded by a pile of debris.

“This is all that is left of my house,” said the 60-year old, chewing on a cassava root.

“They didn’t kill anyone but they burnt all our crops. It makes no difference because without food, we are sentenced to die of hunger.” 

Catholic charity Caritas has delivered emergency aid, but chief Saimone does not consider this “enough”.

“What we need the most is a roof. People are sleeping outside,” he said.

“We also want some soldiers to stay here permanently like they do in other villages.”

Military officials were deployed to Cabo Delgado after the first suspected Islamist attack in October 2017. But today, there is barely a checkpoint along the 400 kilometres of road linking the regional capital Pemba to the border post town of Mocimboa da Praia. There is only the occasional soldier carrying an automatic rifle.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

Without a shelter and crops to harvest, many villagers have left.

Fransa Abou fled her home in November after it was incinerated by Islamists. She found refuge 50 kilometres away, in the district of Macomia, with her husband and four children.  

“My house was burnt with everything inside it. I came here to protect my children,” she said. 

‘We are hungry’ –

Fransa first stayed in a hut provided by relatives. But the house was destroyed by Cyclone Kenneth in May, forcing the family to squeeze into a tiny wooden structure.    

Villages in Mozambique's northern region grapple with faceless jihadists
A destroyed house is seen in the recently attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia, on August 24, 2019. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

“Over there, I used to fish and cultivate [crops]. Here, I can do nothing to feed my children. We are hungry,” said Fransa’s husband Ayuba Chacour, 30.

“Those who are attacking us, we don’t even know what they want!”

Less than 20 per cent of Mozambique’s 29.5 million inhabitants are Muslim. The majority live in Cabo Delgado, and do not understand why they are being targeted.   

Little is known about the attackers, who act under the name of Al-Shabab — Arabic for “the Youth”. The group was started by young fundamentalists who returned to the area after attending Koranic schools in Somalia and Tanzania.   

Aside from two dubious claims of responsibility by so-called Islamic State (IS), the group seldom communicates and makes no distinction between Christians and Muslims.   

Experts are baffled. Some have drawn parallels to Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. Others describe a group of political dissidents, frustrated by poverty and anxious to benefit from the vast natural gas deposits discovered off Mozambique’s northern coast.

Lack of action –

“Some of those who were arrested said they were paid to attack… They have no (religious) conviction,” said Eliane Costa Santana, a Brazilian missionary who has lived in Mocimboa da Praia for two years.     

“But they have succeeded in creating a climate of terror. People are scared to speak, to meet, to move, they stay holed up in their homes,” she said.

“And the army is not changing anything.”

President Filipe Nyusi has repeatedly pledged to “eradicate” what he refers to as “criminals” rather than Islamists.

Villages in Mozambique's northern region grapple with faceless jihadists
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi looks on during a meeting with businessmen from different sectors in Beira, Mozambique, on March 27, 2019. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Cabo Delgado’s police spokesman Augusto Guta told reporters the situation was a “concern” but that measures were being taken “to ensure safety to the communities”. He added that specific details could not be disclosed for security reasons.

On the eve of Pope Francis’ scheduled arrival in Maputo, the bishop of Pemba strongly condemned the government’s passivity in the face of what he calls Islamist “ghosts”.

READ:Cyclone hit communities in Mozambique require $3.2 billion fund

“They should tell us who they are, expose them and act to put an end to the attacks,” said Dom Luiz Fernandes.

“It is the poorest who die, those who have almost nothing, and we cannot accept this.”

The frustration is palpable.

“We live in a state of war,” said a Mocimboa resident.

“It is high time we went back to a regular life.”

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