Six people including civilians were killed when a military detachment was ambushed in northern Burkina Faso, security sources said Sunday.
The nation, among the world’s poorest, is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
“A unit from Gaskinde (Soum province) was ambushed on Saturday. One (soldier) sadly lost his life, and another was injured. On our side, there were five other casualties, all volunteers,” a security source told AFP.
The five civilians were part of Volunteers for the Defence of the Nation (VDP), a network of civilian volunteers who help the army in their uphill battle against the various jihadist groups operating in the country.
“The Kourao VDP were patrolling the area and were targeted by armed individuals. A unit went to their aid and came under heavy fire,” said another security source, confirming the death of one soldier.
The source said “the enemy side” had also suffered casualties in the ensuing exchange of fire, without giving more details.
The jihadist insurgency began in neighbouring Mali in 2012 and spread into its territory in 2015, killing more than 1,200 people and displacing roughly one million.
Last week six people, including a pregnant woman and a young girl, were killed in a roadside bomb, also in the country’s north.
The poorly equipped and disorganised army is flailing, and the creation of the VDP was an attempt to bolster efforts against the insurgency.
Members receive 14 days of training and are then sent out on patrols and surveillance missions, equipped with light arms.
More than 100 have been killed in combat since January 2020.
Over 1,000 troops from Chad — pledged in a recent Sahel summit — are expected to arrive in days to help strengthen security in what is known as the three-border zone, where the frontiers of Burkina, Mali, and Niger converge.
Eritrean soldiers fighting across the border in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region killed hundreds of people in a massacre last year in a likely crime against humanity, Amnesty International said Friday.
The rights watchdog spoke to survivors of the atrocities and used satellite images to piece together the bloody events of last November in the ancient town of Axum in a new report.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum,” said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International.
“Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity.
“This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict.”
Tigray has been the theatre of fighting since early November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
He declared victory after pro-government troops took the regional capital Mekele in late November, though the TPLF vowed to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region.
Tigray has been without internet and difficult to access since the start of the conflict, making claims and counter-claims of violence hard to confirm.
The presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is widely documented but has been denied by Addis Ababa and Asmara.
Eritrea fought a brutal border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000, back when the TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition.
Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Eritrea, whose President Isaias Afwerki and the TPLF remain bitter enemies.
Amnesty said it had spoken to 41 survivors and witnesses of the violence who said that on November 19, 2020, Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces took control of Axum “in a large-scale offensive, killing and displacing civilians with indiscriminate shelling and shooting.”
“In the nine days that followed, the Eritrean military engaged in widespread looting of civilian property and extrajudicial executions.”
Witnesses said the Eritrean forces were easily identifiable, via their vehicles, language and unique ritual facial scars, while they also openly declared themselves as such.
The worst violence unfolded after a small group of pro-TPLF militiamen attacked the soldiers’ base on 28 November and they retaliated, leaving the town strewn with bodies.
“The Eritrean soldiers came into the city and started killing randomly,” said a 22-year-old man who had wanted to bring food to the militia, who he described as young and barely knowing how to fight.
Residents told Amnesty that many victims in Axum carried no weapons and were running away from the soldiers when they were shot.
“I saw a lot of people dead on the street. Even my uncle’s family. Six of his family members were killed. So many people were killed,” said a 21-year-old male resident.
The next day the soldiers allegedly shot at those trying to move the bodies, while carrying out house-to-house raids.
One man told Amnesty he saw soldiers line up six men and shoot them from behind in the street outside his house.
The organisation said it had collected the names of more than 240 of the victims, but could not independently verify the overall death toll. However, corroborating testimonies and evidence made it plausible that hundreds had died.
“Residents estimate that several hundred people were buried in the aftermath of the massacre, and they attended funerals at several churches where scores were buried,” said the report.
Satellite imagery showed signs of mass burials near two of the town’s churches.
“As a matter of urgency, there must be a UN-led investigation into the grave violations in Axum. Those suspected of responsibility for war crimes or crimes against humanity must be prosecuted in fair trials and victims and their families must receive full reparation,” said Muchena.
“We repeat our call on the Ethiopian government to grant full and unimpeded access across Tigray for humanitarian, human rights, and media organisations.”
Twitter chief Jack Dorsey on Wednesday backed the messaging platform’s ban of US President Donald Trump but said it sets a “dangerous” precedent and represents a failure to promote healthy conversation on social networks.
“Having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications,” Dorsey said in a string of tweets about his take on the company’s decision late last week to permanently bar the president.
“While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation,” Dorsey said, inviting feedback from users.
Trump’s access to social media platforms that he used as a megaphone during his presidency has been largely cut off since a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington last week.
In addition to Twitter, bans have also been put in place by Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, and Snapchat, while YouTube temporarily suspended his channel.
However, Twitter was the Republican billionaire’s go-to tool, which he used to directly communicate on a daily basis with some 88 million followers, posting everything from proclamations to accusations and spreading misinformation via the platform.
Social media operators say the embittered leader could have used his accounts to foment more unrest in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
On Monday, Twitter took things one step further, announcing it had also suspended “more than 70,000 accounts” linked to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory that claims Trump is waging a secret war against a global liberal cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
Overdue or overdone?
Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Trump is considered overdue by critics who argue he has gotten away with abuses but has worried free-speech advocates and drawn criticism from various NGOs and leaders.
The company said in a blog post explaining its decision that after close review of the president’s recent tweets it had “permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Twitter also blocked efforts by Trump to sidestep the ban of his @realDonaldTrump account when he posted tweets from the official presidential account @POTUS and the @TeamTrump campaign account.
“We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now,” ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said at the time.
“But, it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions.”
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, stating Monday through her spokesman that she believed freedom of opinion should not be determined by “the management of social media platforms.”
Dorsey said Wednesday that while he believes Twitter made the right decision to ban Trump, it “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”
“This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet,” he said.
Dorsey rejected the notion that social media giants coordinated efforts, reasoning that it was more likely they each came to the same conclusion about the potential for violence.
Snipped by Snapchat
Image-centric social network Snapchat on Wednesday became the latest platform to permanently ban Trump.
“Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of president Trump’s Snapchat account,” the platform told AFP.
“In the interest of public safety, and based on his attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence, which are clear violations of our guidelines, we have made the decision to permanently terminate his account.”
The actions by social media companies angered ardent defenders of Trump, who was impeached by the House of Representatives on Wednesday for inciting “insurrection.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a longtime Trump ally, demanded that major tech platforms explain why Trump is no longer welcome.
Removal of the president and others by multiple platforms, he said, “silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.”
US Olympic swimming gold medalist Klete Keller was charged by the Justice Department Wednesday with participating in the January 6 attack on Congress by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Keller was filmed as part of the crowd that illegally entered the huge Rotunda hall of the Capitol after violent protesters broke through police lines and forced their way in.
A statement accompanying formal charges unveiled Wednesday said police identified the three-time Olympian first by what appears to be an official team jacket bearing the large logo “USA” on the back and an arm patch that read “United States Olympic team.”
He was charged with illegally entering the Capitol, violent or disorderly conduct, and obstructing law enforcement.
Keller, 38, competed in the Olympics in 2000, 2004, and 2008, taking two golds and a silver in the 4×200 meter freestyle relays, and two bronzes in the individual 400-meter freestyle.
His 2004 relay gold in Athens was one of the most celebrated races in swimming, with a US star team that included Michael Phelps, against an Australian foursome led by the powerful champion Ian Thorpe.
In the anchor position, he was able to hold off a surging Thorpe for the win, ending years of Australian dominance in the event.
His life after the Olympics was rocky, with a divorce, multiple lost jobs, and plunge into homelessness and living out of his car for a time, he told The Olympic Channel in a 2018 podcast.
Google-owned YouTube on Tuesday temporarily suspended President Donald Trump’s channel and removed a video for violating its policy against inciting violence, joining other social media platforms in banning his accounts after last week’s Capitol riot.
Trump’s access to the social media platforms he has used as a megaphone during his presidency has been largely cut off since a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington DC last week.
Operators say the embittered leader could use his accounts to foment more unrest in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“In light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J. Trump’s channel for violating our policies,” YouTube said in a statement.
The channel is now “temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a ‘minimum’ of 7 days,” the statement read.
The video-sharing platform also said it will be “indefinitely disabling comments” on Trump’s channel because of safety concerns.
Facebook last week suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following the violent invasion of the US Capitol, which temporarily disrupted the certification of Biden’s election victory.
In announcing the suspension last week, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Trump used the platform to incite violent and was concerned he would continue to do so.
Twitter went a step further by deleting Trump’s account, depriving him of his favorite platform. It was already marking his tweets disputing the election outcome with warnings.
The company also deleted more than 70,000 accounts linked to the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims, without any evidence, that Trump is waging a secret war against a global cabal of satanist liberals.
Trump also was hit with suspensions by services like Snapchat and Twitch.
The president’s YouTube account has amassed 2.77 million subscribers.
The home page of the Trump channel featured a month-old video of Trump casting doubt on the voting process in November’s presidential election, and had logged some 5.8 million views.
On Tuesday, an activist group called on YouTube to join other platforms in dumping Trump’s accounts, threatening an advertising boycott campaign.
At least six rangers in DR Congo’s Virunga national park, famous for its mountain gorillas, were killed Sunday in an attack officials blamed on a militia group.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is caught up in persistent unrest in the eastern North Kivu province, where a plethora of armed groups are battling for control of rich mineral deposits.
“Mai-Mai (militia) carried out an ambush at Nyamitwitwi. The provisional toll is six park rangers killed along with two Mai-Mai,” local government delegate Alphonse Kambale told AFP.
Provincial lawmaker Elie Nzaghani confirmed the tally from Nyamitwitwi in Rutshuru province.
“We confirm that a group of armed men attacked our positions in the region of Nyamitwitwi, a central sector of the park in the territory of Rutshuru” in North Kivu province, the park’s spokesman Olivier Mukisya told AFP by email.
Mukisya said six rangers were killed and another was seriously injured in the attack around 9:30 am.
Virunga park, created in 1925, covers some 7,800 square kilometres (3,000 square miles) and is home to about a quarter of the world’s population of critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Nearly 700 armed rangers work in Virunga where sources say at least 200 have paid with their lives in attacks going back more than a decade.
Various rival armed groups have repeatedly clashed over land and resources and stoked tensions in North Kivu, which like the rest of eastern DR Congo has been riven by decades of conflict.
Mai-Mai militia groups have been accused of killing hundreds of civilians over the years.
Mai-Mai (the word comes from the Swahili for water) sprinkle themselves with water before going into combat in the belief it affords them protection.
Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed for unity Sunday after the violent attack on the US Capitol, which he described as an attempted coup by President Donald Trump, drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany.
In a video posted on Twitter that quickly went viral, the Hollywood star compared the attack by Trump supporters to Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazis carried out pogroms in Germany in 1938 that included breaking the windows of Jewish-owned stores.
“Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States,” said Schwarzenegger gravely, sitting at his desk between the US and California state flags.
“The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol.
“Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men, drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history,” continued Schwarzenegger, who was born in Austria in 1947.
“I have never shared this so publicly because it is a painful memory, but my father would come home drunk once or twice a week and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother.”
The actor, known for his roles in the “Terminator” franchise and “Conan the Barbarian,” did not explicitly say his father had been a Nazi, but said, “my father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
“President Trump sought to overturn the results of an election and of a fair election. He sought a coup by misleading people with lies,” Schwarzenegger said.
“President Trump is a failed leader. He will go down in history as the worst president ever. The good thing is that he soon will be as irrelevant as an old tweet.
“No matter what your political affiliation is, I ask you to join me in saying to President-elect Biden, ‘President-elect Biden, we wish you great success as our President. If you succeed, our nation succeeds,'” Schwarzenegger concluded.
“And to those who think they can overturn the United States Constitution, know this: you will never win.”
The US Justice Department announced Wednesday that it has indicted 15 people involved in the assault on Congress, including one man accused of possessing bombs made to act like “homemade napalm.”
The department said it had arrested several suspects, including Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump who invaded the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and another man found with 11 styrofoam-enhanced Molotov cocktails in his truck.
Others whose charges were unsealed include a man alleged to have entered the US Capitol with a loaded handgun, another who is accused of punching an officer, and a West Virginia state legislator who took part in storming the Congress, said Ken Cole, a federal prosecutor with the Washington US attorney’s office.
Cole said that not all the charges over Wednesday’s violence had been unsealed and that more were in the pipeline as the FBI investigates.
“This investigation has the highest priority,” he said, with “hundreds” of Justice Department investigators working the case.
More charges and arrests were expected.
Dozens of people were arrested and charged by local Washington police, but the charges announced by Cole Friday were on the federal level, and potentially carry heftier punishment.
But he said the FBI was not investigating anyone on possible “incitement” or “insurrection” charges.
Some people have called for Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani and others to be charged with incitement for openly encouraging the president’s supporters to take action just hours before the mob stormed the Capitol.
“We don’t expect any charges of that nature,” Cole said.
Suspected militants beheaded over a dozen men and teenagers participating in a male initiation ceremony in northern Mozambique, local sources said Wednesday, in the latest violent incident in the country’s insurgency-hit northeast.
The dismembered bodies of at least five adults and 15 boys were found on Monday, scattered across a forest clearing in Muidumbe district.
Islamist militants operating in the area had attacked several nearby villages over the weekend, looting and burning down homes before retreating into surrounding thicket.
“Police learnt of the massacre committed by the insurgents through reports of people who found corpses in the woods,” said an officer in the neighbouring Mueda district who asked not to be named.
“It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 meters,” he added.
“These were young people who were at an initiation rite ceremony accompanied by their advisers.”
An aid worker in Mueda, who also declined to be named, confirmed the massacre had taken place, saying some of the boys had come from that area.
She said body parts had been sent to their families for burial on Tuesday.
“Funerals were held in an environment of great pain,” said the worker, hired by the World Food Programme to assist citizens displaced by the unrest.
“The bodies were already decomposing and couldn’t be shown to those present.”
Mozambican authorities have not yet commented on the deaths, and provincial police did not respond to multiple telephone calls from AFP outside office hours.
Jihadists have caused havoc in Mozambique’s northeastern Cabo Delgado province over the past three years, ravaging villages and towns as part of a campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate.
The militants have stepped up their offensive in recent months and violently seized swathes of territory, terrorising citizens in the process.
In April, jihadists shot dead and beheaded more than 50 youths for allegedly refusing to join their ranks.
The unrest has killed over 2,000 people since 2017, more than half of them civilians, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data group.
Over 400,000 others have been displaced by the conflict and sought refuge in nearby towns and cities.
Around 100,000 people fled to the provincial capital Pemba via boat over the past week alone, Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday, raising concerns over access to clean water and sanitation.
Little is known about Mozambique’s jihadists, who call themselves Al-Shabab — although they have no known links to the group of that name operating in Somalia.
Last year the militants pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.
The joint United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) condemned Tuesday “violent incidents” in North Darfur state which left nine dead and 20 wounded.
“UNAMID is deeply concerned about the violent incidents that erupted in Kutum town on 12 July and the attack by unidentified armed men on the Fata Borno IDP (internally displaced people) camp on the morning of 13 July 2020 which left 9 IDPs dead and 20 injured,” the peacekeeping mission said in a statement.
“It is regrettable that these incidents have taken place while the transitional government of Sudan and the armed movements are close to concluding negotiations expected to bring peace and stability… to the Darfur region and the whole of Sudan,” it added.
Darfur has long been plagued by poor security and armed groups.
In 2003, a deadly ethnic conflict broke out in Darfur between African minority rebels and forces backed by the government of ex-president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April 2019.
Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court over charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The United Nations says the conflict killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
Sudan’s current transitional government, comprised of military and civilian figures led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok since last year, has engaged in talks with three key rebel groups to reach a peace deal to end the wars in Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
A signing ceremony with various rebel factions slated for Tuesday was delayed once again.
In the wake of the recent unrest, North Darfur’s governor announced a state of emergency on Monday.