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Pacifist group calls for ‘dialogue’ between Mali government and jihadists

War between the state and jihadists in central Mali has led to growing inter-communal violence

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Pacifist group pushes for 'dialogue' between Mali government and jihadists
A Fulani man tries to insulate his tent from water after flooding at an Internally Displaced People's (IDP) camp in Faladie, where nearly 800 IDPs have found refuge after fleeing inter-communal violence in central Mali. (Photo by MICHELE CATTANI / AFP)

Mali’s government should consider “dialogue” with jihadists waging an insurgency in the country, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank suggested on Tuesday.

The idea of talking to jihadists may seem ludicrous to some, it admitted but said all avenues should be explored to save civilians from further harm.

In a report, the ICG did not suggest halting military operations against Katiba Macina, the armed group of radical Islamist preacher, Amadou Koufa behind a four-year-old insurgency.

But it recommended “a shift of tack, with force used alongside efforts to bring Katiba Macina leaders to the table”, adding that prospects of defeating the movement on the battlefield were “remote”.

The report said previous contacts had “revealed a degree of pragmatism among Katiba Macina militants, suggesting that even if the odds are stacked against success, dialogue with the group is worth trying.”

An independent group that analyses conflicts and seeks solutions, the ICG acknowledged that the idea of talking with jihadists could outrage “some Bamako elites” and may be seen a step toward a deal and Sharia rule.

Foreign powers, in turn, “might see it as legitimising a terrorist outfit with blood on its hands,” the report added.

However, “war between the state and jihadists in central Mali has led to growing inter-communal violence,” the ICG said.

“To spare civilians additional harm, the government should explore the possibility of talks with the insurgents about local ceasefires and humanitarian aid.”

The government in Bamako “should empower religious leaders to explore initial talks” with jihadist leaders and also seek dialogue among central Malians, “including those sympathetic to the insurgency,” the report suggested.

Fulani vs Dogon –

To make such talks more palatable to Malian authorities and Western allies like France, which has intervened militarily to combat Islamists, jihadist forces should be compelled to renounce ties to transnational movements such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Delegates to a national conference in 2017 called for the opening of talks with Amadou Koufa and radical Tuareg leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly, but the resolution was rejected by the Malian and French governments.

Amadou Koufa in March 2017 joined the newly-formed Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which was born of a merger to become the leading jihadist alliance in the Sahel region with links to Al-Qaeda. Iyad Ag Ghaly is its leader.

Since the appearance of Koufa’s movement, recruited mainly among his own Fulani (Peul) community, communal violence has spread in central Mali, a mosaic of ethnic groups.

Fulani people, who are traditionally cattle-breeders, have confronted the Bambara and Dogon communities of settled farmers and hunters, who in turn have created “self-defence militias”.

In an explosion of violence on March 23, about 160 Fulani villagers were slaughtered at Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, by suspected Dogon hunters.

The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced on May 16 that it had recorded “at least 488 deaths” since January 2018 in attacks by “traditional hunters against civilians of the Peul population” in the central Mopti and Segou regions.

Over the same period, armed Fulanis “caused 63 deaths” among civilians in the Mopti region, MINUSMA said.

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Former Sudan president, Omar al-Bashir appears before a prosecutor

Bashir rode in a heavily-armed convoy from the notorious Kober prison in the Sudanese capital Khartoum

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Fallen Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was Sunday seen in public for the first time since being ousted, as he was driven in an armed convoy to the prosecutor’s office. The former strongman, who ruled his northeast African nation with an iron fist for three decades, was toppled on April 11 after weeks of protests against his reign.

Dressed in a white traditional robe and turban, Bashir rode in a heavily-armed convoy from the notorious Kober prison in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to prosecutors’ office to face charges of alleged corruption.

Prosecutor Alaeddin Dafallah told reporters after Bashir left the office that the ousted president had been informed that he was facing charges of “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally.”

Meanwhile, a top general from the country’s new ruling military council vowed that those who carried out a deadly crackdown on an iconic protest site that left dozens dead earlier this month would face the death penalty. “We are working hard to take those who did this to the gallows,” Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chief of the ruling military council said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“Whoever committed any fault” will be held accountable, Dagalo added. Thousands of protesters who had camped outside Khartoum’s military headquarters for weeks were violently dispersed by armed men in military fatigues on June 3, according to witnesses.

More than 100 people were killed that day in Khartoum, according to doctors linked to the protest movement, while the health ministry put the nationwide death toll at 61.

‘Regret’ for crackdown

Protesters and witnesses accuse the feared paramilitary group led by Dagalo, the Rapid Support Forces, of carrying out the assault on demonstrators. Demonstrators and US officials have called for an independent probe into the crackdown.

On Thursday, the military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi expressed “regret” over the crackdown. But the council insists it did not order the dispersal, saying it had actually planned to purge an area near the protest camp where people are said to sell drugs.

“The planning of the operation of Colombia (area) was done by military and security authorities,” the council said in a statement late Saturday. “We assure you that the council is keen to investigate minute by minute facts through its investigation committee.”

Brigadier Abderrahim Badreddine, a spokesman for the investigative committee, told state television Saturday initial findings indicate that “officers and soldiers of different ranks and regular forces” had entered the sit-in without any orders from their superiors.

As calls for an independent probe grew, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Khartoum on Sunday where the military council said he met its chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Bashir had swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Sudan suffered high rates of corruption during his rule, ranking 172 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index. When he imposed a state of emergency on February 22 in a bid to quell protests that erupted in December over the spiralling costs, Bashir issued a decree making it illegal to possess more than $5,000 in foreign currency.

But in April, military council chief Burhan said more than $113 million worth of cash in three currencies had been seized from Bashir’s residence after he was toppled. A team of police, army and security agents found seven million euros, $350,000 and five billion Sudanese pounds

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GNA announces a new political plan, promises elections in Libya

GNA leader proposed a forum that would be attended by “influential national forces on the political and social scene

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The head of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord announced Sunday a new political initiative and elections in a bid to move the conflict-wracked country beyond eight years of chaos.

“I present today a political initiative for a way out of the crisis (involving) simultaneous presidential and legislative elections before the end of 2019,” GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj said in a short speech broadcast by Libya al-Wataniya TV, without specifying a date for polls.

He proposed a forum that would be attended by “influential national forces on the political and social scene, and supporters of a peaceful and democratic solution” to Libya’s crisis. Sarraj’s GNA holds Tripoli, but strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army holds the east and much of the south of the country.

The LNA launched an offensive to take the capital in early April, but counter-attacks by forces loyal to the GNA have resulted in a stalemate on the southern outskirts. Sarraj said his proposed initiative would take place with support from the UN mission in Libya.

“Our army and the forces which support it have given a lesson in bravery to (Haftar) and to his militias,” Sarraj said. “His army has been broken, likewise that of his triumphalist entry to Tripoli that he presented as a two-day walk,” he added.

The two camps have so far refused to negotiate a ceasefire. The GNA is demanding that Haftar’s forces retreat to their previous positions, in the south and east. “We are confident that our forces are capable of repulsing the aggressor and of him sending him back to where he came from… victory was our ally, thank God,” Sarraj said.

He alleged that Haftar is seeking to “undermine the democratic process… and to re-establish a totalitarian regime; that of an individual and a single family”. Haftar meanwhile claims he is fighting “terrorists” and refuses to retreat.

Fighting since April 4 has killed 653 people, including 41 civilians, while more than 3,500 have been wounded — more than a hundred of them civilians — according to the World Health Organization.

The UN says more than 94,000 have been displaced by the fighting.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

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Journalists’ association condemns police threats in Somali

Police at a checkpoint near the site of Saturday’s bombing in Mogadishu, which killed eight people

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somalia journalists bash police

A Somali journalists’ association Sunday slammed the actions of police who it said threatened to shoot reporters trying to access the scene of a car bombing near parliament and warned of a “worsening situation” for the country’s press.

Police at a checkpoint near the site of Saturday’s bombing in Mogadishu, which killed eight people and was claimed by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, stopped a group of reporters from international newsgroups.

“When the journalists tried to explain to the police about their reporting mission, a police officer fired two bullets (in the) air and then pointed his rifle on Jama Nur’s head, according to Jama Nur Ahmed and two other colleagues,” the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said in a statement.

Also in the group were journalists from Reuters, AFP and Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, followed by a second wave of reporters who were similarly denied access.

“The journalists said the police officers told them they had orders restricting journalist coverage at the scenes of attacks and threatened that any journalist who tries to film will either be shot dead or his/her equipment will be broken resulting (in) the journalists to return back from the scene,” said the SJS.

It charged Somali police treat journalists “like criminals”, preventing them from doing their work of reporting on events in the country. “This is a symptom of a worsening situation against journalists in Somalia”.

It said that on May 14 police confiscated reporters’ equipment, detained a cameraman, and beat up two others trying to report on another Mogadishu explosion.  

AFP has documented several incidents in recent months of journalists being intimidated and threatened and their equipment seized while trying to report on Shabaab attacks.

The SJS called on the Ministry of Information, the commissioner of police and the office of the prime minister to open an investigation, “and take appropriate steps against those responsible.”

“We call the highest offices of the government including that of the Office of the Prime Minister to intervene in order to for the journalists to report freely and accurately without fear,” said the statement.

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