ECOWAS Re-Admits Burkina Faso As 46th Session Ends

EbolaThe 46th session of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) ended on a pleasant note with the readmission of Burkina Faso into the body.

The body also directed that all steps be taken to ensure that the country receives full support as it goes into elections next year.

Member states further reiterated a commitment to promoting and upholding the principles of democracy, good governance, peace and security as enshrined in the relevant ECOWAS treaties.

The summit says it is pleased with w the region’s improved growth prospects for 2015 despite the impact of the Ebola Virus Disease on the region’s economy.

The West African sub regional Heads of State and Governments made this known in a 69 point communique  issued at the end of the meeting that lasted for a whole day, as the various they brain stormed on all burning issues affecting the sub region.

They commended the political parties, civil society groups and the Armed Forces in Burkina Faso for resolving the crisis and congratulated Mr Michel Kafando on his appointment as Interim President.

On the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease, the Summit reaffirmed a strong commitment to continue to mobilise in the fight against the scourge and reiterated the urgent need for member states to strengthen their national health systems.

They also reaffirmed a commitment to promoting and upholding the principles of democracy, good governance, peace and security in the sub-region and expressed deep concern over continued terror attacks by the Boko Haram group in Nigeria, and sympathised with the government and people of Nigeria.

The Heads of State and Government also expressed concern on the security situation in Northern Mali and pledged to continue in the peace process.

They further stressed the need for elections in five countries – Nigeria, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso – to be conducted in a peaceful, free, fair and credible manner come 2015.

They also promised to support Cape Verde as it battles natural disaster following a volcanic eruption in Fogo Island in November.

The next ordinary session of ECOWAS will hold on May 28, 2015, in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

France Says 15 Militants Killed Overnight In Mali Fighting

Around 15 Islamist militants were killed by French and Chadian troops in fighting overnight in northern Mali’s Ametetai valley, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.

He said some 1,600 French and Chadian troops operating in the area continued to search for Islamist rebels.

France is still not in a position, however, to confirm reports that the military operation has killed two key al Qaeda commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Le Drian told BFM TV.

Shown a photograph published in French media of a partly shrouded corpse said to be Belmokhtar’s, Le Drian said it would be good news if it was the jihadist leader but that he was not convinced by the image.

“Our forces fought terrorist groups last night, still in the same area, the Ametetai valley region, where there is a strong concentration of them. Around 15 militants were killed,” Le Drian said.

“It’s not over yet as after the Ametetai valley there are other valleys … Given the ferocity of the fighting over the past fortnight, we can see there is a hideout there.”

Three French soldiers and dozens of Islamists have been killed in a seven-week campaign that has driven al Qaeda-linked fighters who took over northern Mali last April back into mountain and desert redoubts, where they are being hunted by hundreds of French, Chadian and Malian troops.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has pledged to avenge the French assault, which Paris says it launched due to fears that its former colony could become a launch pad for wider Islamist attacks.

Asked about the risks of the fighting to a French family taken hostage in Cameroon last month by Islamist militants and taken into Nigeria, Le Drian said France had information on the whereabouts of the three adults and four children, and everything indicated they were still alive.

“I think if the hostages had been killed, their captors would have let it be known,” he said. “We are using all the means we can to get them freed.”

French Forces Yet To Find Abou Zeid’s Body In Mali

The head of France’s joint chiefs of staff, Edouard Guillaud has described news of Al Qaeda’s senior field commander in the Sahara, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid’s death as ‘probable.’

Guillaud’s remarks are the first indication from the French government that Abou Zeid died in fighting in the rugged north of Mali.

Asked on Europe 1 radio whether he had been killed, Guillaud said: “It is probable, but only probable. We don’t have any certainty for the moment, (but) it would be good news.”

Guillaud said that Abou Zeid’s death could not be confirmed because his body had not been recovered.

Chad’s army, which is fighting alongside French forces in northern Mali, said last week that it killed Abou Zeid and another al Qaeda commander in the area, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Guillaud said he was “extremely cautious” about reports of Belmokhtar’s death, noting that some militant websites had said the al Qaeda commander behind January’s mass hostage-taking in Algeria was still alive.

Abou Zeid is regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators, responsible for the kidnapping of more than 20 Western hostages since 2008. He is believed to have killed British hostage Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in 2010.

While his killing would deal a serious blow to al Qaeda’s leadership in the region, it also raises questions about the fate of seven French hostages thought to be held in northern Mali.

After a seven-week-old campaign, French, Chadian and Malian troops have pushed Qaeda-linked fighters, who had threatened to take over Mali, back to their mountain and desert hideouts.

Guillaud said French forces had found some 50 supply caches and around 10 workshops for making bombs that could be used well outside of the immediate region.

“On the ground we are finding literally an industrialization of terrorism,” he said.

Islamists Kill French Soldier In Northern Mali

France said on Sunday a third French soldier had been killed in fierce fighting with Islamist rebels in northern Mali but could not confirm Chad’s report that its troops had killed the al Qaeda commander behind January’s mass hostage-taking in Algeria.

A whirlwind seven-week campaign has driven al Qaeda-linked fighters who took over northern Mali last April into mountain and desert redoubts, where they are being hunted by hundreds of French, Chadian and Malian troops.

France’s defense ministry said 26-year-old Corporal Cedric Charenton was shot dead on Saturday during an assault on an Islamist hideout in the desolate Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near Algeria, the third French soldier killed in the campaign.

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said some 15 Islamists were killed in some of the fiercest fighting during the campaign so far but that he could not confirm Chad’s claim that its troops had killed al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar at a nearby camp in the remote Ametetai valley.

“We are facing a very fanatical adversary,” Burkhard said, noting the Islamists were armed with rocket and grenade-launchers as well as machine guns, AK47 assault rifles and heavy weapons. “They are fighting without giving ground.”

The death of Belmokhtar, nicknamed ‘the uncatchable’, has been reported several times in the past and analysts share caution shown by Paris in confirming his demise.

However, the latest report came a day after Chadian President Idriss Deby said Chadian forces had also killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, al Qaeda’s other senior field commander in the Sahara.

The killing of Belmokhtar and Abou Zeid, if confirmed, would eliminate al Qaeda’s leadership in Mali and raise questions over the fate of seven French hostages thought to be held by the group in northern Mali, an area the size of Texas.

Rudy Attalah, a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official focused on Africa and now head of risk analysis firm White Mountain research, was skeptical about Chad’s claim.

He said Belmokhtar had in the past carefully avoided operating in the same area as Abou Zeid and was known as an elusive operator who shifted through the desert in small, mobile groups of fighters.

“I don’t think they killed him at all,” Atallah said, adding Chad might be seeking to divert domestic attention from its 26 soldiers killed in the operation. “Deby is under a lot of pressure. Announcing these killings redeems his troops.”

An unidentified participant in militant website discussions said in a message posted on several jihadi forums that Belmoktar was “alive and well and leading the battles himself”, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring service reported on Sunday.

Belmokhtar would soon issue a statement himself, SITE reported the participant saying.

‘MR MARLBORO’

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has pledged to avenge the French assault on its fighters in Mali, which Paris said it launched due to fears its former colony could become a launch pad for wider al Qaeda attacks.

Belmokhtar, whose smuggling activities the Sahara earned him the nickname “Mr Marlboro”, became one of the world’s most wanted jihadis after masterminding the raid on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in which more than 60 people were killed, including dozens of foreign hostages.

Abou Zeid is regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators, responsible for the kidnapping of more than 20 Western hostages since 2008. He is believed to have killed British hostage Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in 2010.

France and Mali have said they could not confirm his death.

French radio RFI and Algerian daily El Khabar have reported that DNA tests were being conducted on members of Abou Zeid’s family to confirm whether a body recovered after fighting in Adrar des Ifoghas was indeed the Islamist leader.

Mali’s army, meanwhile, said it had killed 52 Islamist rebels in desert fighting some 70 km (45 miles) east of Gao, northern Mali’s largest town, with support from French helicopters and ground troops.

“There was a big fight with lots of enemy killed,” said Lieutenant Colonel Nema Sagara, the Malian army’s deputy commander in Gao. “Our troops went out to battle and they met them. There are no dead on the Malian side.”

Al Qaeda Commander Abou Zeid Killed In Mali

French forces have killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the most feared commanders of al Qaeda’s north Africa wing, during an operation against Islamist fighters in mountainous northern Mali, Algeria’s Ennahar television said on Thursday.

Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed three days ago in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border, said Ennahar, which is well connected with Algeria’s security services.

French and Chadian troops have been hunting fighters there after a lightning campaign to dislodge them from northern Mali.

A spokesman for France’s Elysee presidential palace declined to comment. Algeria’s government, Malian and Chadian officials could not confirm Abou Zeid’s killing.

A U.S. official said the reports that Abou Zeid had been killed appeared to be credible and that Washington would view his death as a serious blow to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A French army official, who would not comment on Abou Zeid, confirmed that about 40 Islamists had been killed in heavy fighting over the last week in the mountainous Tigargara region.

The official said 1,200 French troops, 800 Chadian soldiers and some elements of the Malian army were still in combat to the south of Tessalit in the Adrar mountain range.

Ten logistics sites and an explosives factory had been destroyed in the operation as well as 16 vehicles, she said.

France launched the assault on January 11 to retake Mali’s vast desert north from AQIM and other Islamist rebels after a plea from Mali’s government to halt the militants’ drive southward.

The intervention swiftly dislodged rebels from northern Mali’s main towns and drove them back into the surrounding desert and mountains, particularly the Adrar des Ifoghas.

Abou Zeid, regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators, is an Algerian former smuggler turned jihadist who is believed to be behind the kidnapping of more than 20 Westerners in the lawless Sahara over the last five years, earning AQIM tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

He is believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.

FLED TIMBUKTU WITH HOSTAGES

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, in an account of his kidnapping by another Islamist cell in the Sahara, recounted how Abou Zeid refused to give medication to two hostages suffering from dysentery, one of whom had been stung by a scorpion.

After a loose alliance of Islamist groups seized northern Mali from April last year, Abou Zeid took control of the ancient desert trading town of Timbuktu, employing a violently extreme form of sharia, including amputations and the destruction of ancient Sufi shrines.

Timbuktu elders who dealt directly with him during the Islamist occupation described a short man with a grey beard and a quiet, severe manner who was never seen without an AK-47 rifle.

Locals said that when he fled Timbuktu, before the town fell to the French-led military advance, he took several blindfolded Western hostages in his convoy.

Born in 1965 in the Debdab region of Algeria’s Illizi province, close to the Libyan border, Abou Zeid joined the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) during the 1990s civil war, which later transformed itself into AQIM.

Abou Zeid is regarded by some as one of AQIM’s radicals, unwilling to negotiate or make concessions, compared with the more diplomatic approach of his fellow Saharan commander Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the mass hostage taking at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria last month.

Fowler, the Canadian diplomat who encountered them both while held hostage, told Reuters last month that Abou Zeid in person was more genial than the austere, “all-business” Belmokhtar.

The two very different men are reported to have a strong rivalry within AQIM, which some analysts have suggested was behind Belmokhtar’s decision to found his own brigade last year.

Jonathan To Meet British PM and French President

The Presidency has announced that President Goodluck Jonathan will leave Abuja, Tuesday night for London and Paris to discuss with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron and the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande on matters of vital interest to the three countries.

A statement signed by the President aide on Media, Dr Reuben Abati stated that “the President’s talks with the British Prime Minister in London are expected to focus on the expansion of trade and economic relations between Nigeria and Britain as well as the enhancement of cooperation between both countries on the war against terrorism.”

“In Paris, President Jonathan will confer with President Hollande and French Government officials on the on-going deployment of Nigerian and ECOWAS troops to Mali to support the current military action against insurgents and terrorists in Northern Mali” the statement further adds.

Meanwhile, President Jonathan is expected to stop-over in Cairo, the Egyptian capital on his way to London, to participate in the conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) scheduled to open there on Wednesday.

The President is also scheduled to attend the launching of the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation in London on Friday.

He will be accompanied by the First Lady and relevant government officials.

He is due back in Abuja, next week Monday, the statement concludes.

 

French President Visits Mali To Support French Troops

The President of France, Francois Hollande arrived in Mali on Saturday on a one-day visit to support French troops fighting a campaign against Islamist rebels in the Sahel nation.

Hollande, accompanied by his ministers for Defense, Foreign Affairs and Development, flew into Sevare in central Mali, French TV channels said.

He was due to go on to Timbuktu, the famed Saharan trading town which was recaptured from the rebels on Sunday.

The French leader was expected to outline the next phase of the mission for the French forces, which in a three-week intervention launched at Mali’s request have pushed the Islamist fighters into the desert and mountains of the remote northeast.

Hollande has said that the French operation, which has 3,500 soldiers on the ground in Mali backed by warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, wants to hand over to a larger U.N.-backed African force which is still being deployed.

Sustained French airstrikes have forced fighters from the Islamist militant alliance that was occupying northern Mali to retreat into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border. The rebels are also believed to be holding there seven French hostages previously seized in the Sahel.

In their three-week offensive, the French forces recaptured last weekend, with little resistance from the rebels, the two main towns in northern Mali, Gao and the fabled ancient city of Timbuktu.

 

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.

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.