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Mine explosion destroys US army vehicle in Niger

“The incident occurred outside a weapons range, so it is possible that non-hostile factors were the cause of the damage,

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Nigerian troops clearing land mines as they advance to prevent mine explosion

A US army vehicle was damaged in a mine explosion in western Niger, but there were no fatalities, and the US military was investigating whether the incident was hostile, embassy and local security forces said on Sunday. The incident occurred in Ouallam in the Tillaberi region, not far from the border with Mali, where four US soldiers and five Niger soldiers were killed in an ambush in 2017, according to the sources.

“A US mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicle was damaged in Niger” on Saturday, the US embassy in Niamey said in a statement. Ouallam is located about 100 kilometres from Niamey and is home to a major training camp of the Nigerien army where soldiers are trained to participate in the UN Mission in Mali, known as Minusma.

Related: Niger forces kill four suspected suicide bombers near fuel depot

“The incident occurred outside a weapons range, so it is possible that non-hostile factors were the cause of the damage,” it said. “We’re still looking to confirm that element.” The mission in Niger has been heavily scrutinised in the wake of the 2017 attack.

In that October 4 ambush, US special forces soldiers and Nigerien troops were attacked by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State group and equipped with small arms, grenades and trucks mounted with guns.

The Pentagon has remained tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the ambush and the nature of the mission in Niger. The US operates an aerial drone base in Agadez that provides surveillance of Boko Haram fighters and others allied with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that operate along borders with Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

Niamey has also given the US permission to base armed drones on its soil. On May 14, 2019, 28 Niger soldiers were killed near the village of Tongo Tongo when they were ambushed “by heavily armed terrorists,” according to the Niger government.

Related: Anti-Boko Haram militia in Nigeria frees 900 children: UN

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to by-pass an internet blackout imposed by army rulers.

“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut-off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.

“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.

The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilisation of protesters, according to users.

“They cut the internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.

Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule. 

Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.

“My parents live abroad, the internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.

“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.

‘Gross violation’ –

At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.  

Here, an hour of internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.

Generally across Sudan, the internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fibre optic cables, and the connection is erratic. 

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access.

At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones. 

“Cutting the internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader, Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters this week.

The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation”.

“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.

For the generals, the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.

And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the internet blackout.

‘People still communicate’ –

Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.  

Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the internet.

“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.

“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”

“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself… but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”

Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.

“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now, it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent, Hoiam whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.

The main factor was the “very poor” internet connection at her office, she said.

The internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.

“But still, with or without internet, people manage to communicate.”

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Ethiopia plans ban on motorbikes in Addis Ababa to curb crime spree

“Exceptions will be made to those conducting licensed businesses with motorcycles.” -Addis Ababa Mayor

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Ethiopia plans ban on motorbikes in Addis Ababa to curb crime spree

Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa plans to ban motorcycles in the city from July in a bid to curb a spree of muggings and robberies, local authorities said on Wednesday.

Addis Ababa mayor, Takele Uma said motorbikes had been used in recent crimes and the city would prohibit them from July 7 though people using bikes for business may be exempt.

“Exceptions will be made to those conducting licensed businesses with motorcycles as well as those who use motorcycles as postal carriers and motorcycles affiliated to embassies,” the mayor told reporters.

Addis Ababa, a city of an estimated five million, is generally considered safe for residents and foreigners. But a growing number of violent crimes involving suspects on motorbikes or in cars has caused recent alarms.

The mayor said the proposed ban came after a study of criminal activities in the city found a significant number were carried out using motorcycles.

Takele said the Addis Ababa municipal administration will also impose a ban on trips by most freight vehicles in the city during daytime to alleviate traffic congestion in the capital. 

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Two police officers killed in attack on police station in Niger

It is the closest attack to the city yet in a long-running insurgency by suspected jihadists.

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Two police officers killed in attack on police station in Niger
An armed policeman stands guard at the police checkpoint where two policemen were killed and four injured by armed men during an overnight attack on June 18 at the police station at the northern entrance to Niamey, the first to happen at the gates of the capital of Niger. (Photo by BOUREIMA HAMA / AFP)

Two policemen were killed late Tuesday when gunmen attacked a police station on the northern edge of the Niger capital Niamey, a security official said.

It is the closest attack to the city yet in a long-running insurgency by suspected jihadists.

“The toll is two dead and four wounded, two of them serious,” the security source said Wednesday.

“We heard gunfire coming from the station at 11:00 pm (22:00 GMT),” a witness told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The police station is at the northern entrance to the city, on the highway from Ouallam, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) away.

Police investigators were on the scene on Wednesday morning, a reporter saw.

Niger, a large state in the heart of the Sahel region, is grappling with attacks by jihadist groups in the west of the country, and raids by Boko Haram Islamists in the south, near the border with Nigeria.

Eighty-eight civilians were killed by Boko Haram in March alone, and more than 18,000 villagers forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

On June 8, a US military vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device as it entered a firing range near Ouallam for a joint training exercise.

Niger hosts an estimated 800 US troops, the largest American deployment in Africa.

The scale of the US presence came to light in October 2018, when four US and five Nigerien troops were killed in an ambush by fighters affiliated to the so-called Islamic State group.

Security is tight in Niamey, with high-profile deployment of the military and police checkpoints on the highways into town.

The city is due to host a summit of the African Union (AU) on July 7 and 8.

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