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Archive for March 16th, 2012

The violence has cut off Gedo from trade with the capital, Mogadishu and the town of Baidoa

Posted by African Press International on March 16, 2012

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SOMALIA: Thousands displaced by fighting in Gedo

The violence has cut off Gedo from trade with the capital, Mogadishu and the town of Baidoa (file photo)

NAIROBI,  – Several thousand people have been displaced by clashes between Al-Shabab insurgents and Somali troops assisted by Ethiopian and Kenyan soldiers in Somalia’s southwestern Gedo region, locals told IRIN.

“In the last couple of weeks, we have had some 5,000 people displaced by the conflict; we already had hundreds of families who were displaced,” Mohamed Abdi Kaliil, governor of Gedo, told IRIN from Garbaharey, the regional capital. “We are trying to find some help for the displaced in our area but so far nothing.”

Families have been “forced to move from one town to another and from one village to another”, because of Al-Shabab activity, he told IRIN. “Their main aim is to hide from the violence; the people desperately need help with shelter, health, water and food.”

The fighting has cut off the region from trade with the capital, Mogadishu, and the town of Baidoa, and public services have not fared any better. According to Kaliil, more than 10 health centres across Gedo region have closed due to the conflict. 

Adan Abdi Hashi, administrator of the main hospital in Garbaharey, said its laboratory was burned down a week ago. “We had an attack by Al-Shabab and our facility was hit by an exchange of gun-fire and it caught fire,” he said.

The hospital serves four districts in Gedo. “We have no way of testing any patient for anything,” Hashi said. “We currently have dozens of patients with TB [tuberculosis] who need to be tested every two months to see how they are responding to the treatment but we cannot even do that.”

Drugs too were in short supply, he added.

Education hit

Apart from hospitals, the fighting has also affected schools. “In the parts still controlled by Al-Shabab, they closed down schools and are forcing children to take up guns,” the governor told IRIN.

Some schools in areas under the control of the pro-government forces have also closed for various reasons. In the only secondary school in Garbaharey town, many students are absent because they have already left the area, according to the principal, Ali Mohamed Isse.

“The trend is that people are still wary of the situation, so they left for safer areas and are not sending their children to school; I cannot really blame them,” Isse said.


A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said Al-Shabab – which has lost Garbaharey and other parts of Gedo to the combined forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Ethiopian and Kenyan troops – “is close by and carries out attacks at will.

“This has created a great deal of apprehension and uncertainty as to what will happen next,” the journalist said, adding that Kenyan air raids in parts of southern Somalia, including Gedo, were causing fear among the population.

“This has forced many people to flee any area they think is close to Al-Shabab,” the journalist said, adding that this had contributed to the displacement in the region. “It is a confused and continuous movement of people.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Gedo region is home to an estimated 77,000 displaced people. But for almost a year, Kaliil said, the area has been inaccessible to aid agencies due to the presence of Al-Shabab. 


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Norway calls for the death sentence against Timothy Shaun Stemple to be reversed

Posted by African Press International on March 16, 2012

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Norway regrets the death sentence against US citizen Timothy Shaun Stemple, who is due to be executed in the state of Oklahoma on 15 March.

“The death penalty is incompatible with the principles of human dignity and humane treatment. We have urged the Governor of Oklahoma to reverse the death sentence,” said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

Timothy Shaun Stemple has family in Norway, and they have also become involved in this matter.

Norway raises the issue of the death penalty with the US authorities at regular intervals, both as a matter of principle and in individual cases. Most recently, Prime Minister Stoltenberg raised the question of capital punishment during his meeting with President Obama in October last year. The US authorities are therefore well aware of Norway’s strong opposition to all forms of capital punishment.

Illinois is the US state that most recently abolished the death penalty, which means that a total of 34 states have now done so.

“A growing number of countries are abolishing the death penalty, and I hope that the US will one day join the vast majority of countries that do not use capital punishment,” Mr Støre said.

The Government gives high priority to the campaign against the death penalty, and Norway has taken a leading role in global efforts to combat use of capital punishment.

“We will continue to work actively to combat the death penalty, at the bilateral, regional and multilateral level,” Mr Støre said.





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Kony of LRA a headache to many

Posted by African Press International on March 16, 2012

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SECURITY: Fighting Kony with beer, spy planes and YouTube

A UN armed convoy on the road between Faradje and Dungu in the north eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

LIMAYI,  – It is just before noon in the village of Limayi in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Half a dozen empty beer bottles lie scattered at the feet of five Congolese soldiers lounging in easy chairs beneath a mango tree. A freshly opened bottle is propped-up against an automatic assault rifle lying in the dust.

The roughly 4,500 people in Limayi, about 25km north of Dungu in the Haut-Uélé District, are increasingly anxious as they believe the dry season at this time of year prompts Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA) to head south from the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan to loot from the relative riches of isolated communities in the country’s northeast.

Villager Faustin Mihinigoyo, 56, told IRIN the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) stationed in Limayi for their protection, “complain to us they only have five bullets and their radios are broken… If the LRA come, they (FARDC) will run away. We are not feeling good.” The soldiers declined to speak to IRIN.

The first attack by the LRA on the village was on 27 August 2008 and the most recent in July 2011. Between these dates there have been many attacks on Limayi -“I can’t even remember the number,” Christophe Eda, the district’s paramount chief, told IRIN, adding that 47 villagers had been killed and 12 abducted, eight of whom had returned.

''In the beginning when the attacks came we used to run into the fields, but it was a big mistake as more people were killed. So now we stay in our homes and pray''

“In the beginning when the attacks came we used to run into the fields, but it was a big mistake as more people were killed. So now we stay in our homes and pray,” villager Roger Kuyago, 32, told IRIN.

Between 1986 and 2006 the LRA fought a lengthy war with Ugandan security forces. The government established “protected villages” in Uganda’s Acholiland, which at one time formed Kony’s support base, in an attempt to isolate the LRA from the community.

But there were allegations of gross Ugandan police and military human rights violations against the Acholi, who were forced into camps. The LRA’s senior command structure remains populated by the Acholi. Since its expulsion from Uganda, the LRA, numbering a few hundred, has roamed and looted across the DRC, South Sudan and CAR.

In July 2005 the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Kony and four of his lieutenants – Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and Vincent Otti – for suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the routine use of child soldiers and sexual enslavement.

Subsequently Otti was executed on Kony’s orders in October 2007, apparently for his willingness to seek peace and because of his popularity among the LRA rank and file; Lukwiya was killed during a clash with troops in northern Uganda in 2006.

Wanted – dead or alive

Stuck on the wall behind the desk of Lt-Col Golam Faruque, chief coordinator of MONUSCO’s (UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC) Joint Intelligence Operating Cell (JIOC), housed in a container complex at Dungu airstrip, are grainy wanted posters of Kony, Odhiambo and Ongwen.

On his last day of a year-long secondment to MONUSCO before returning to Bangladesh, Faruque told IRIN: “If anyone says MONUSCO is not doing enough to protect civilians [from the LRA], they don’t know the reality.”

He said while the UN operation in the DRC in terms of Blue Helmets was the world’s largest, only about 1,000 troops were ranged against the LRA in “an area twice the size of England,” with few roads, rugged terrain and an opponent which loots and moves on. “We are forced to be defensive, rather than offensive”.

However, in a break with normal operating procedures during the 2011 Christmas period, MONUSCO deployed “huge forces” in a 15-day operation to establish a presence to thwart any repeat of the LRA Christmas massacres of recent years.

Against such a nimble, ruthless and elusive armed group, the most effective weapon – in the absence of more boots on the ground – is coordination and intelligence. The JIOC was formed in 2010 against a “background of different forces (FARDC, MONUSCO, Ugandan People’s Defence Force [UPDF]) operating on the same battlefield against one opponent” and to share information, Faruque said.

Since then MONUSCO’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDR/RR) have joined, as well as two representatives of the about 100 US military advisers dispatched by President Barack Obama to assist in coordinating the regional fight against the LRA. (Ugandan troops left the DRC in November 2011 at the request of the country’s president Joseph Kabila.)

Living in LRA country
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Following authorization from the Africa Union Peace and Security Council in November 2011 to deal decisively with the LRA, and with UN support, it is envisaged that the JIOC will be replicated in CAR and South Sudan with representatives from all affected countries. There was also a possibility that Ugandan military liaison officers could be deployed to Dungu, “but that was a diplomatic procedure,” Faruque said.

Spy planes

Since the deployment of US military advisers to the region late last year, he said, information gathering had been boosted by the deployment of an US C-12 reconnaissance aircraft, “codenamed Tusker-Sand flying over the battlefield almost every day”.

According to a 2009 web report by Jane’s Defence Weekly, a leading authority on military technology, the manned C-12 reconnaissance variant of the Hawker Beechcraft, designated MC-12W, has been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan “to aid high-value targeting and other tactical intelligence missions”., a specialist aerospace site, says: “The MC-12W is designed to intensify data collection operations through intelligence-collection capabilities operating in-theatre, allowing real-time full-motion video and signals intelligence for battlefield decisions of military troop leaders.”

On the ground surveillance is being stepped up with the expansion of high frequency (HF) radios to report incidents of LRA violence, kidnapping and sightings with the assistance of the San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children and the Catholic Church. A more comprehensive picture of a vast battleground stretching across three fragile and undeveloped countries is gradually being built up.

However, information can lead to fear: Reported LRA activity in the vicinity of Limayi in early March 2012 has seen the community hemmed in by fear, with only those fields a kilometre from the village being cultivated, while others stretching up to 9km away are neglected.

“Recently someone was taken by the LRA close to here [Limayi] and then released. He [the abductee] said they [the LRA] had new [FARDC] uniforms and new guns,” a villager told IRIN.

The high frequency radio system is an upgrade of a radio network established in 1974 by the Catholic Church, which was originally designed to provide a channel for remote parishes for prayer, messages from local administrators and a conduit for merchants to reach distant markets.

In 2009 and in response to increasing LRA violence, Father Abbé Benoit Kinalegu, director of the Dungu-Doruma Diocese, recalibrated the network as an early warning system and approached Invisible Children to assist in the network’s expansion.

Invisible Children

Sarah Katz-Lavigne, Invisible Children DRC project coordinator based in Dungu, told IRIN high frequency radio masts had been installed in 11 communities in Haut-Uélé District as well as seven in Bas-Uélé, with a further nine planned for the district. In CAR two pre-existing HF radios were being used and the plan was to have 11 operational HF radios in communities by October 2012.

Adam Finck, Invisible Children programme director for Central Africa, said each radio installation, including equipment and training of operators, cost about US$20,000.

At 8am and 1pm daily, community radio operators report any and all suspected LRA activity to the Invisible Children’s Dungu offices, which is then disseminated to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and made available to all humanitarian actors, including MONUSCO and JIOC.

Invisible Children only publish information on LRA, or suspected LRA, activity on their website, while other acts of violence in the region – where aid workers say the “DRC government is absent” and there are alleged human rights abuses by FARDC and Ugandan troops operating with the assistance of US forces in CAR – never get a mention.

The single-minded focus of the NGO on Kony and his capture or killing, has created something of a firestorm after an Invisible Children film, Kony2012, went viral on the Internet recently and, although endorsed by global celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie, has been widely condemned by analysts as “self-aggrandizing foreigners” creating a recipe for increased violence in the region.

Michael Deiberta, a visiting fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University in the UK, and the author of a forthcoming book entitled DRC: Between Hope and Despair, explained the problem in a Royal African Society article: “By blindly supporting Uganda’s current government and its military adventures beyond its borders, as Invisible Children suggests that people do, Invisible Children is in fact guaranteeing that there will be more violence, not less, in Central Africa.”

Invisible Children uses a scale of 1-5 to determine LRA activity, with “one being the least reliable and five being the most reliable,” according to its LRAcrisistracker website. “A verification rating of 2 through 5 is considered adequately verified to be reported publicly, and is therefore mapped.”

An international aid worker in the region who preferred anonymity told IRIN Invisible Children’s information gathering system was skewed towards increasing the incidents of LRA activity “while the truth is a bit dark and not so simple”. The final arbiter of LRA activity remains the JIOC.

The aid worker said his NGO also provided security information, but the reports it had filed using such language as “presumed LRA, or unknown persons, always end up as LRA”.

It was common for civilians to carry weapons, the aid worker said, leading to misinterpretations. There was banditry in the area and “FARDC knows exactly how to behave as the LRA.”

Invisible Children’s Katz-Lavigne, when asked by IRIN whether banditry could be misconstrued as LRA activity, said: “It is tough to say banditry or not.”



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