ECOWAS set-up standby force for Mali’s deployment

The extra-ordinary session of the authority of heads and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ended with an agreement to set-up a stand by force that will be in a high state of readiness for imminent deployment to Mali.

The regional body however noted that dialogue remains the preferred option in the resolution of the political crisis in West-African country.

Regarding the security situation in the northern part of the country, the leaders agreed that recourse to force may be indispensable in order to dismantle terrorists and transnational criminal networks that pose a threat to international peace and security.

ECOWAS Chairman and Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had earlier in his address to the summit’s opening session, stated that Nigeria fully supports the recommendations of the Chiefs of Defence Staff for an intervention force to be deployed immediately to Mali to help restore order and stability.

ECOWAS member states were urged to concretise their commitment to provide military and logistical contributions to the ECOWAS military force for the stand by force that will be in a high state of readiness for imminent deployment.

Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore was also urged not to participate in the forthcoming elections while the nation’s electoral commission was advised to expedite action by unveiling a free, fair and transparent election time table, ahead of the planned transition.

The African Union had in October,  approved a political road map for Mali that foresees elections by April, a move aimed at restoring stability after a coup last March.

On Guinea Bissau, ECOWAS leaders renewed its appeal to member states to extend financial assistance to the government and called on the international community to ease sanctions imposed on the country to alleviate the sufferings of the population.

Europe to send 400 special forces to Mali

Meanwhile European armies are expected to send up to 400 Special Forces troops to Mali to join an African-led mission against Islamists allied to al-Qaeda occupying the country’s north, diplomats said.

The mission, expected to launch early next year, will be made up of as many as 3,300 troops, most of them from Mali but with reinforcements from Niger, Burkina Faso and other African nations.

“We expect that there will be support from the EU in the order of 200 to 400 military support troops to help train the African Union force,” one European diplomat with knowledge of the proceedings said.

The soldiers would mostly be tasked with training local forces and would not take part in fighting, the diplomat added.

Ansar Dine, an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, seized territory the size of France in Mali’s north after a military coup in March that ousted the government in the capital, Bamako.

Since then, the group has implemented strict Islamic law and has desecrated ancient sites in Timbuktu, claiming that they were “idolatrous” and against Islam.

International security agencies fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for foreign fighters allied to al-Qaeda who are seeking territory from which to launch attacks against Western interests.

Military strategists from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Poland will meet on Thursday to discuss their expected support for the intervention.

Britain has said that “no option is off the table” but has stopped short of committing resources so far.

The blueprint agreed in Abuja will be sent to the United Nations for discussion ahead of a Security Council resolution expected before the end of November.

 

 

Jonathan supports deployment of troops to Mali

President Goodluck Jonathan has called on the summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) holding in Abuja to come up with bold decisions that will help re- enforce peace and security not only in Guinea-Bissau and Mali but the entire West African sub region.

The President who was the first to address the summit’s opening session, stated that Nigeria fully supports the recommendations of the Chiefs of Defence Staff for an intervention force to be deployed immediately to Mali to help restore order and stability.

He said that “the decision is consistent with the United Nations Security Council resolution which supports the use of force to flush out the rebels and anarchist that have turned that country into a lawless zone.”

“This, we (ECOWAS) must do to avert costly consequences not only in Mali but the entire sub region and Africa in general.”

Since January 2012, several insurgent groups have been fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence or greater autonomy for northern Mali-an area known as Azawad.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region by April and declared independence.

The country has also witnessed a number of Coup d’état and attacks on the Presidential villa in the year.

Turning to Guinea Bissau, President Jonathan said that the situation there requires the injection of funds to stabilise the polity for the total restoration of constitutional order, to ensure that the interim administration in the country is stable.

ECOWAS set to deploy troops to Mali and Guinea Bissau

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it will meet the 45-day deadline set by the UN Security Council for the final adoption of the modalities on the deployment of troops to Mali in line with resolutions 2056 and 2071 of the Security Council of the United Nations.

This formed the discussion at an extra ordinary meeting of foreign and defence ministers of member countries.

ECOWAS Commission President, Mr. Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said there is need for a twin approach to the Mali crisis, combining dialogue with military pressure to help Mali dismantle terrorist networks and regain her territorial integrity.

The meeting became crucial as the sub-region finalises plan on the adoption of the United Nation Security Council resolution on Mali and Guinea Bissau.

The resolution will allow for international military intervention in Mali following the capture of the northern part of the country by different armed groups.

Ouedrago observed the urgent need to halt the mafia and criminal practices of terrorist groups and the atrocities committed with impunity by the extremists.

The meeting, he says, will address the concepts of operations for clearly defining the stages of the operating procedures and methods for the planned deployment.

Lending her voice to that of the president of the commission, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Missus Salamatu Suleiman explains issues that will be considered at the meeting.

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed warned that tackling the crisis in Mali and other parts of the West African sub-region is no longer an option but a necessity.

The recommendation of the council will be presented to the extraordinary summit of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on Sunday to give additional guidelines regarding the resolution of the crisis for onward transmission to the African Union which will also transmit to the United Nation.

 

 

Niger Rep. police arrests five Boko Haram suspects

Niger has arrested five people near the Nigerian border suspected of belonging to the militant Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, Niger security officials said on Tuesday.

The group has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Nigeria since 2010. Observers say they suspect it is using Niger as a transit route to link up with other militant groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, now controlling northern Mali.

“State Security Police arrested the five suspected Boko Haram members who entered Niger on Sunday through the Zinder region. They have been transferred to Niamey for further questioning,” a security official said, asking not to be named told Reuters.

Another security official said Niger had heightened security along its border with Nigeria as the country intensifies its fight against the militant group, which wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria’s military had announced the death of 35 members of Boko Haram and arrested several during an overnight gun battle in Damaturu, capital of northeastern Yobe state which borders Niger.

Jonathan warns of military intervention in Mali if talks with rebels fail

President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that military intervention in northern Mali will be inevitable if talks with Islamist group controlling the region, fails.

President Jonathan made this known during his visit to Senegal. He however stated that a West African force would only be deployed, with the approval of the United Nations.

ECOWAS would send a force to the area if a peace deal is not reached with the Islamist fighters, stated the president, adding that “diplomacy and negotiation is first.”

“ECOWAS will definitely intervene militarily, but … first and foremost we are negotiating,” he said after talks with Senegalese President Mr Macky Sall.

“We must stabilise the government … I believe through negotiation we will be able to resolve the crisis, we don’t necessarily need military intervention … but if that fails we will have no option.”

“Military intervention is extreme and when negotiations fail, at that time you can talk about military intervention” he said.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibrille Bas held talks with the militants last month as part of bloc’s diplomatic effort to end the conflict.

ECOWAS, as also asked the UN Security Council to endorse its plan to send 3,000 troops to Mali.

However, it refused, saying it needed more clarity on the West African body’s military objectives and how it intended to achieve them.

Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels took control of large swathes of northern Mali after President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a coup in March.

But the rebel alliance has since ruptured, with Islamist fighters chasing Tuareg rebels out of several northern towns and imposing Sharia law.

The Islamists have destroyed ancient shrines in the historical city of Timbuktu, claiming they violated Sharia law and promoted idolatry among Muslims.

The UN warned that the destruction of the shrines could amount to war crimes and the International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities.

The Islamists have also stoned to death an unwed couple and amputated the hand of an alleged thief.

Alleged atrocities committed in the rebel-held north are being investigated by international prosecutors.

A new unity government was formed in Mali’s capital, Bamako, at the weekend, promising to spearhead initiatives to end the instability in the north.

Mali has so far rejected a full-scale foreign intervention but said its army, once re-equipped, would need the support of two or three battalions.

AU urges Ansar Dine rebels to part ways with al-Qaeda

Malian Islamist rebel group  can be part of a negotiated political solution to reunite the divided West African country if it breaks with al Qaeda and its allies, a senior African Union official said on Monday.

African leaders at an AU summit in Addis Ababa are backing negotiations to try to form an inclusive national unity government in Mali, where a March 22 military coup in the southern capital Bamako triggered the seizure of the north of the nation by a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels.

Since then, the Islamists, some allied with al Qaeda, have displaced local Tuareg separatists to seize control of most of the largely desert north, including the main towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They include Ansar Dine, a Malian group led by a prominent Tuareg fighter and political leader, Iyad Ag Ghali.

Parallel to the negotiations, the AU through the West African regional grouping ECOWAS is pursuing a plan to create a military force which, with U.N. backing, would intervene to expel the northern rebels and reunify Mali if the talks failed.

“We have not yet exhausted all the possibilities to reach a peaceful solution to this situation,” AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters at the summit.

While the AU has ruled out negotiations with what it calls “terrorist groups” such as al Qaeda and its allies like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, regional mediators were maintaining contacts with the Malian Tuareg-led MNLA movement and Ansar Dine, Lamamra said.

He welcomed the fact that the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), which originally led the successful rebellion in the north, declared on Sunday it had dropped its claims for a separate state after the northern revolt was hijacked by the al Qaeda-linked Islamists.

Lamamra said Ansar Dine could still also join the dialogue to form a national unity government for Mali, which he said should include influential figures from the north.

“We do encourage Ansar Dine to distance itself from al Qaeda and come to the table as a Malian national group,” he added.

Ag Ghali, who has been involved in past rebellions by the fiercely independent Tuaregs in northern Mali, has said his group, whose name Ansar Dine means “Defenders of the Faith”, wants to establish strict sharia, Islamic law, across Mali.

“DIVISION OF LABOUR”

Islamist groups including Ansar Dine have carried out public whippings of alleged adulterers in the north and destroyed UNESCO-listed shrines of local saints in the ancient town of Timbuktu, arguing such worship was un-Islamic.

African leaders are seeking U.N. Security Council support for the possible military intervention in Mali to end the rebellion in the north and reunite the Sahel state.

The Security Council has endorsed the West African efforts to end the unrest in Mali but has stopped short of backing a military operation until African leaders can clearly spell out its objectives and how it would be carried out.

Lamamra said AU and ECOWAS military experts were currently in Bamako drawing up a plan of action with the Malian army. He added the continental body should be able to go back to the Security Council with its detailed operational strategy for the intervention “in a matter of weeks”.

While African troops would make up the intervention force, Lamamra said he expected “a division of labour” for other tasks among the international community once the U.N. Security Council had given the go-ahead for the military operation in Mali.

“A number of countries can contribute intelligence,” he said, without specifying further.

Resolving the messy coup aftermaths in Mali, and also in Guinea-Bissau, where a military putsch in April interrupted a presidential election, are some of the tasks facing new AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa who was elected at the summit on Sunday.

In her first news conference after being elected and without referring specifically to Mali, Dlamini-Zuma, a former foreign minister and ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, said she would work to solve crises in Africa “as expeditiously as possible”.

She recalled that the AU had created its own Peace and Security Council precisely because, she said, the United Nations had often moved “at an elephant’s pace” to deal with African conflicts.

 

Insecurity in Nigeria dominates Council of State meeting

The insecurity in Nigeria on Thursday was the issue that dominated the National Council of States meeting presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan at the State House in Abuja.

Present at the meeting were past Nigerian leaders including Shehu Shagari, Ernest Shenekan and Abdulsalami Abubakar as well as the governors of the 36 states of the federation or their deputies.

There was no formal briefing after the meeting but sources said that National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki briefed the meeting on security situation in Plateau state and the efforts being put in place so far to nip it in the bud as well as the situation in Mali and its effect on neighbouring countries including Nigeria.

The Belgore Report on constitutional matters and the National Honours list were also discussed during the meeting

The 36 state governors met last night in Abuja to take a common position on the incessant violence in parts of the country ahead of the council meeting.

Officials close to the forum said the governors were discussing the level of insecurity especially in the North, and were considering taking a common position ahead of the Council of State meeting.

The governors’ meeting was summoned in the wake of the latest bloodshed in Plateau State, where dozens of people were in killed in attacks on villages, which also led to the deaths of Senator Gyang Dantong and state legislator Gyang Fulani.

Last night’s meeting was held at the Rivers’ State Governors’ Lodge in Abuja.

The governors’ meeting was attended by governors of Katsina, Kaduna, Borno, Zamfara, Kebbi, Taraba, Jigawa, Kogi, Enugu, Delta, Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo, Ebonyi, Abia, Plateau, Rivers, Bayelsa, Anambra, Gombe and Adamawa states. Deputy governors of Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Kwara, Ogun and Yobe states were also in attendance.

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ECOWAS has Mali force troop pledge, still lacks backing

West African military chiefs have secured troop commitments from three nations for their planned Mali intervention force, despite the mission still lacking an invitation from authorities in Bamako and backing from the United Nations.

Nigeria, Niger and Senegal will provide the core of a 3,270-strong force whose mission would initially be bolstering Mali’s fragmented army and stabilising political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held north if talks fail, officials said after military chiefs met in Ivory Coast.

Mali plunged into crisis after a March coup ousted the president. Separatist and Islamist rebels took advantage of the instability to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, creating a void that regional countries say an outside force may have to fill.

African leaders have warned of an “African Afghanistan” due to the presence of al Qaeda cells and foreign fighters but U.N. Security Council diplomats say the council is not yet ready to agree the African Union’s request to back military intervention.

Weeks after West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the standby force was ready, General Soumaila Bakayoko, head of Ivory Coast’s army, said some officers would travel to Mali to work out more detailed planning in the coming days.

“The hope is that we will be welcomed as brothers in arms,” he said late on Saturday, underscoring potential problems with Mali’s military, which wants outside help to fight rebels but has reacted angrily to ECOWAS criticism and sanctions impoased after its power grab.

Diplomats say the U.N.’s reticence to swiftly back the force is due to the lack of a clear plan to tackle the crises in both the capital and the north.

Mali’s interim president has not returned since seeking medical treatment in Paris after he was beaten up by a mob that broke into his office. After security forces failed to precent the attack, some diplomats say President Dioncounda Traore is reluctant to return until a regional force is in place.

REUTERS

Mali Junta accepts interim leader’s extension – Chief Negotiator

The chief negotiator for the West African regional bloc says the junta in Mali has accepted that the current interim president will stay in office until new elections can be held.

A group of middle ranking soldiers toppled Mali’s democratically elected president on March 21. Since then West African leaders have been pressuring the junta to exit the political scene and return to their barracks.

Djibrill Bassole, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, told reporters late Saturday that the junta and ECOWAS were in full agreement on the matter.

The junta in Mali had been resisting the extended presidency of Dioncounda Traore who took over as interim president on April 12 for an initial period of 40 days.

Bassole did not say how long the transition would last.

Nigeria to deploy troops to Guinea Bissau

Nigeria has announced plans to deploy troops to Guinea Bissau by the end of this week to provide security in the country as part of its commitment to the sustenance of peace and stability in West Africa sub-region.

The Minister of Defence, Dr Mohammed Bello Haliru announced the plan at the opening of the 30th ordinary session of the committee of ECOWAS chiefs of defence meeting in Abuja.

He announced that the Nigerian troops will be deployed to Guinea Bissau by weekend while troops to be deployed to Mali are on standby.

The ECOWAS Commissioner for political affairs, peace and stability, Salamatu Suleiman, in her presentation, had reminded member states on the urgent need for the deployment of troops to help the transition in Guinea Bissau and Mali. The two countries recently experienced military coup d’états.

Ms Sulieman, informed the committee that funds have been released for the intervention.

The military chiefs of ECOWAS sub-region have pledged commitment to the sustenance of constitutional and democratic governance in West Africa

According to Dr Haliru, the instability caused by internal conflicts in ECOWAS member states is a severe impediment to achieving the desired political and economic development of the sub-region.

The Minister noted that developments in Guinea Bissau and Mali gives cause for concern, as he urged the military chiefs of various countries in the region not to relent in their efforts to ensure that democratic governance are restored in the two countries.

The recent coup in Mali and Guinea Bissau was the crux of discussions at the meeting of the chiefs of defence staff of ECOWAS countries.

The chairman of the committee of chiefs of defence staff, General Soumaila Bakayoko, who spoke in French restated the sub-region’s zero tolerance for coup d’états in the region,

He said that negotiations are in top gear for the deployment of troops to the two countries to maintain law and order and help smooth transition to constitutional rule. A position supported by the Nigerian chief of defence staff, Air Chief Marshal, Oluseyi Petirin.

 

Boko Haram extends campaign to troubled Mali

At least 100 of Boko Haram guerrillas on Monday seized control of the town of Gao in Northern Mali, news agencies reportedly quoted Abu Sidibe, a Local Deputy Governor in the country to have said.

channels_television-boko_haram_members
Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful,” is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

“There are a good 100 Boko Haram fighters in Gao. They are Nigerians and from Niger,” Mr Sidibe was quoted to have said.

“They’re not hiding. Some are even able to speak in the local tongue, explaining that they are Boko Haram,” he added.

The news was confirmed also by the Bamako security forces.

Militants from Boko Haram “were in a majority among those who attacked the Algerian consulate” in Gao on Thursday, a Malian security official said, adding that “they had black skin”.
Seven Algerian diplomats, including the consul, were taken hostage at the time.

Mali has been grappling with a separatist uprising in the north. It intensified after the coup by army officers on 22 March.

Seven people were killed today, including a girl of seven, in a new wave of attacks launched by the Boko Haram Islamic group.

In Dikwa, Yobe state, the terrorists killed a policeman, a civilian and a local politician during the night, as made known by the Nigerian army.

They attacked a police station, a bank, and a hotel but was forced back by the soldiers, as lieutenant-colonel Sagir Musa, the Joint Task Force of the Borno State spokesperson announced.

Three of the guerillas were killed, the others, though injured, managed to run away.

Here are some facts about Boko Haram

THE GROUP

* Boko Haram became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

* Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful,” is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

* The group considers all who do not follow its strict ideology as infidels, whether they be Christian or Muslim. It demands the adoption of sharia, or Islamic law, across Nigeria.

* Boko Haram followers have prayed in their own mosques in cities including Maiduguri, Kano and Sokoto, and wear long beards and red or black headscarves.

* The group published an ultimatum in January 2012 giving Christians three days to leave northern Nigeria. Since then, attacks in northeastern Nigeria have killed many and hundreds of Christians have fled to the south. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Dec. 31 in an effort to contain the violence.

* Human Rights Watch said in January that the sect had killed at least 935 people since 2009.

* Jonathan said the violent sect had supporters within his own government and the insecurity the group had created was worse than during the civil war that broke out in 1967 and killed more than a million people.

* In a recent success, Nigeria arrested the purported spokesman for Boko Haram on Feb. 1, known as Abu Qaqa.

* Abu Qaqa, a shadowy figure and purported spokesman for Boko Haram said on March 20 it had “closed all possible doors of negotiation” with a government of “unbelievers” that it cannot trust, and called on Muslims to join the fight against it.

MAJOR ATTACKS BY BOKO HARAM:

* In its first attack in Jan. 2004, it attacked a town in Yobe State before being forced to withdraw by security forces.

* In July 2009, Boko Haram staged attacks in the northeastern city of Bauchi after the arrest of some of its members, and clashed with police and the army in Maiduguri. About 800 people were killed in five days of fighting in the two cities. Later that month, sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured by Nigerian security forces and shot dead in police detention hours later.

* In early July 2010, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy leader of the sect who was thought to have been killed by police in 2009, appeared in a video and claimed leadership.

* On Aug. 26, 2011 a suicide bomber struck the U.N. building in Abuja. At least 23 people were killed and 76 wounded. Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Aug. 29, demanding the release of prisoners and an end to a security crackdown aimed at preventing more bombings. It was the first known suicide bombing in Nigeria.

* An attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla on Abuja’s outskirts during a packed Christmas mass, was the deadliest of a series of Christmas attacks on Nigerian churches and other targets by the sect. At least 37 people were killed.

* On Jan. 20, 2012 coordinated bomb and gun attacks on security forces in the northern city of Kano killed at least 186 people in the group’s most deadly attack.

* On Feb. 26 a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in Jos, killing two people. Reprisals soon followed and Christian youths killed at least 10 people in Jos days later.

* On Easter Sunday a bomber tried to drive a car packed with explosives into a church compound in northern Kaduna during an Easter Sunday service. However the car was stopped and the driver turned back. The bomb exploded by a large group of motorbike taxi riders, the police and witnesses said. At least 36 people were killed and 13 critically injured.

Ousted Malian president hands in resignation

President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali has formally resigned as part of a deal with coup leaders to end the crisis gripping the West African state.

International mediator Djibril Bassole, Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, confirmed a letter of resignation had been submitted.

The resignation paves the way for the coup leaders to step aside and the parliamentary speaker to take over.

Mali has been grappling with a separatist uprising in the north.

It intensified after the coup by army officers on 22 March.

Sanctions lifted

Mr Bassole, who represents the West African regional bloc Ecowas, met Mr Toure in the Malian capital, Bamako.

“We have just received the formal letter of resignation from President Amadou Toumani Toure,” he told reporters.

“We will now contact the competent authorities so that the vacancy of the presidency would be established and so that they take the appropriate measures.”

Under the agreement, the Malian parliamentary speaker, Dioncounda Traore, will take over as interim president and govern with a transitional administration until elections are held.

Once he has been sworn in, Mr Traore has 40 days to organise this poll, the deal stipulates.

Mr Traore, who has been in Burkina Faso since the coup was launched, said as he left for Bamako: “I am leaving for Mali with my heart full of hope.

“My country has known enormous difficulties, but I am leaving with the hope the people of Mali will come together to face this adversity head-on.”

Ecowas has lifted sanctions it imposed after the coup and an amnesty has been agreed for the coup leaders.

The coup, led by Capt Amadou Sanogo, took place amid accusations from the army that the government had not done enough to supress the insurrection in the north.