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Armed Attackers Kill 132 Civilians in Burkina Faso Village Raid

OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO - The death toll from the worst militant attack in Burkina Faso in recent years has risen to 132, the government said Saturday, after armed assailants laid siege overnight to a village in the Islamist extremist-plagued northeast.

The attackers struck during the night Friday, killing residents of the village of Solhan in Yagha province, bordering Niger. They also burned homes and the market, the government said in a statement.

It declared a 72-hour period of national mourning, describing the attackers as terrorists, although no group has claimed responsibility. Another 40 residents were wounded, government spokesperson Ousseni Tamboura later told reporters.

Attacks by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State in West Africa's Sahel region have risen sharply since the start of the year, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, with civilians bearing the brunt.

The violence in Burkina Faso has displaced more than 1.14 million people in just more than two years, while the poor, arid country is hosting 20,000 refugees from neighboring Mali.

The latest attack pushed the number killed by armed Islamists in the Sahel region to more than 500 since January, according to Human Rights Watch's West Africa director, Corinne Dufka.

"The dynamic is the jihadists come in, they overpower the civil defense post and engage in collective punishment against the rest of the village — it's a pattern we've seen everywhere this year," Dufka said.

In March, attackers killed 137 people in coordinated raids on villages in southwestern Niger.

Source: Voice of America

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More Than 20% in Sudan Face Acute Hunger, WFP Says

GENEVA - The World Food Program is warning that 21% of Sudan’s 40 million population faces acute hunger and will need emergency assistance between June and September, when food stocks are lowest.

Several factors have contributed to this situation. For example, over the past year, Sudan has faced hyperinflation, the worst floods in years, a locust infestation, and COVID-19 restrictions, which have caused massive job losses.

A nutritional survey by the Sudanese government, the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program finds 9.8 million people cannot feed themselves, putting many of their lives at risk.

The WFP says it will provide food assistance for 9.3 million of the most vulnerable people during the next six months, but it is $48 million short of what it needs for this operation and is appealing for support.

Marianne Ward is the WFP’s deputy country director operations in Sudan. Speaking by video link from the capital, Khartoum, she says the WFP has been expanding its school feeding programs to provide children with nutritional biscuits.

"I recently was very far north of Khartoum where we were opening and inaugurating a new school to be part of our school feeding program," Ward said. "The school was literally mobbed by children whose families were sending them there so they could at least get one meal a day covered from somewhere else so the family could feed them.”

Sudan’s global acute malnutrition rate — including young children with both moderate and severe acute malnutrition — is 14%, at the edge of the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold. This is a condition that in some cases can lead to death.

Ward says United Nations agencies are expanding nutrition centers across the country.

"For the first time ever, this last year, WFP began opening nutrition centers, emergency nutrition centers in Khartoum itself," Ward said. "Traditionally, WFP has not had to intervene in the capital because it is the heartbeat of the country and the richest place. But the situation, particularly with hyperinflation, has been so difficult for so many families that, indeed, it is on a crisis footing right now.”

WFP says the cost of hunger to the Sudanese economy is estimated at $2 billion per year, or about 2.6% of its gross domestic product.

Source: Voice of America

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‘It Was A War’: Ethnic Killings Cloud Ethiopia’s Election Buildup

As gunfire crackled outside, Genet Webea huddled with her husband and seven-year-old daughter, praying they would be spared in the latest bout of ethnic strife to rock central Ethiopia.

But that morning in April, around a dozen gunmen broke down the front door and, ignoring Genet’s pleas for mercy, fatally shot her husband in the chest and stomach.

He was one of more than 100 civilians to die in a recent flare-up of violence in the town of Ataye that also saw the assailants torch more than 1,500 buildings, leaving once-bustling streets lined with charred and twisted metal.

The destruction continues a pattern of unrest that has blighted the tenure of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and now threatens to disrupt elections in which he will seek a new term.

Ethiopia’s polls are scheduled for June 21, but officials say insecurity and logistical challenges make voting impossible — at least for now — in at least 26 constituencies across the country.

That includes Ataye, where Abiy’s vision of unity for Ethiopia’s diverse population of 110 million can seem like a distant dream.

Since Abiy became prime minister in 2018, the town has endured at least six rounds of ethnic killings, and ties between members of the country’s two largest groups, the Oromos and Amharas, have visibly frayed, said mayor Agagenew Mekete.

Genet, an ethnic Amhara, told AFP that since the April attack she blanches when she hears the language of her husband’s ethnic Oromo killers, saying it conjures the painful image of him bleeding out on their kitchen floor.

“I don’t want to see or hear them,” she told AFP.

‘It was a war’

A lowland farming town 270 kilometers (167 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa, Ataye’s population of 70,000 is majority Amhara, but it borders Oromo settlements in three directions. For Agagenew, the mayor, the relentless violence reflects tensions over lush land used to grow wheat, sorghum and maize.

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most-populous country, with different ethnic groups living cheek by jowl in some areas, straining ties as they jostle for land and resources.

In recent years tensions have worsened in parts of the country, leading to deadly violence and displacing millions.

Abiy took office vowing to put an end to the government’s iron-fisted rule, yet this has created space for violent ethno-nationalists to wreak havoc, Agagenew said.

“There has been a looseness after Abiy came to office, in the name of widening the democracy,” he said.

“There is looseness in enforcing the rule of law.”

Like Genet, he blames the killings partly on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group that lawmakers last month designated a terrorist organization.

But the OLA denies any presence in the area and says officials falsely invoke the rebels to justify “ethnic cleansing” against ordinary Oromos.

Boru, who gave only his first name for safety reasons, is one of several Oromo residents of Ataye who said the OLA were not involved.

Instead, he said, the carnage was set off when Amhara security forces shot dead an Oromo imam outside a mosque, then prevented mourners from retrieving the body.

“It did not come out of the blue,” he said. “It was a war. Each side was attacking the other.”

This jibes with accounts from officials in nearby Oromo communities, who note that the violence extended beyond Ataye and claimed many Oromo victims.

Ethiopia’s chief ombudsman, Endale Haile, told AFP more than 400 were killed in total and more than 400,000 displaced, declining to provide an ethnic breakdown.

Election apathy

Whoever bears responsibility, there is no disputing the killings have left Ataye resembling a ghost town.

The hospital and police station were both ransacked, and demolished storefronts offer only scattered clues — burnt shoeboxes, the ripped sign of a beauty salon — to what they once contained.

Most residents have fled, with crowds gathering only when officials hand out sacks of wheat as food aid.

Ethiopia’s electoral board insists voting will take place in Ataye and other violence-wracked constituencies before a new parliamentary session opens in October.

But no preparations are under way and residents have little enthusiasm.

“Why would we vote in elections? We have no interest in elections,” said 19-year-old Hawa Seid. “We’ve lost our homes.”

‘Politicized’ deaths

The Ataye violence spurred days of protests in cities across the Amhara region, where the bloodshed could shape the election.

“For people whose basic existence is questioned and being violated, I think the security of Amharas all over Ethiopia will determine how people vote,” said Dessalegn Chanie, senior member of the National Movement for Amhara, an opposition party.

The Amhara Association of America, a Washington-based lobbying firm, says more than 2,000 Amharas have been killed in dozens of massacres going back to last July.

The regional spokesman, Gizachew Muluneh, accused rival parties of “trying to politicize the killings and get something from the deaths of others,” adding, “It is not morally good.”

Genet, whose husband was shot dead in their kitchen, participated in the protests herself.

“I was happy to be there because I wanted to show how much they are hurting us and to ask the government to stop the Amhara genocide,” she said.

But she has not given up on the idea that Amharas and Oromos could one day live together in harmony.

She noted that after her husband was killed, Oromo neighbors briefly housed her and her daughter until it was safe to leave.

It was a gesture of kindness that reminded her of a more peaceful era she would like to return to.

“Once,” she said, “we all lived together like a family.”

Source: Voice of America

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Cameroon Clears Illegal Miners from Border Village after Landslide Kills 27

Cameroonian authorities say they are deporting more than 1,000 illegal gold miners on the country’s eastern border with the Central African Republic after 27 miners died in May due to landslides. Those being expelled include 400 Central Africans and Senegalese in the village of Kambele.

At least 300 illegal miners were forced by Cameroonian police and military to sit on the floor at the Kambele market square on Tuesday night this week. Among them are Cameroonians, Central Africans and Senegalese.

Alfred Kamoun is a 31-year-old father of two from the neighboring Central African Republic. He says he was forced out of a mining site called Boukarou in Kambele village.

He says he and his two brothers will no longer be able to raise $50 each night from digging and selling gold. He says while at the mining site they could dig at least 7 grams of gold each night. Kamoun says his son will no longer be paid $4 every night for supplying water to wash gold.

Kambele is a village in Batouri, an administrative unit located about 700 kilometers from Cameroon’s eastern neighbor, CAR.

On Monday local authorities at Batouri said 27 illegal gold miners died in Kambele village in May. Auberlin Mbelessa, mayor of Batouri says an emergency crisis meeting recommended the deportation of at least 1,000 civilians from the risky mining area.

He says no one can be indifferent when civilians are dying in gold mines, yet thousands of people continue to rush to mining sites which from every indication are dangerous. He says while deporting the illegal gold miners, rescue workers and Cameroon military will also search to remove corpses and save the lives of people who may still be trapped in the collapsing mines.

Cameroon said it deployed its rescue workers, military and police to Kambele to clear the area of illegal miners and make sure foreign illegal miners either obtain their residence and mining permits or leave.

The military is prohibiting miners from visiting risk zones where trenches dug to harvest gold are collapsing. Baba Bell, traditional ruler of Kambele says some civilians may have drown in trenches filled with water from heavy rains.

He says every year during the rainy season as from the months of April, so many gold mines collapse leaving many people severely wounded or dead. He says a majority of the victims are unemployed Cameroonian youths who flood his village in search of opportunities. He says several hundred foreigners from Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, China and Senegal are in his village.

Hilaire Kembe is a Cameroon illegal gold miner at Kembele village. He says it is impossible to know the exact number of dead or wounded people in May in Kambele.

He says miners do not report when they discover fresh corpses and human bones at mining sites because of fear that they will be held for several weeks at police posts for interrogations. He says several hundred villagers and foreign miners whose identities are unknown prefer digging for gold at night when Cameroon police and military retire to their barracks. He says it is difficult to know when the night miners are buried by collapsing soils.

Cameroon says some of the illegal miners are displaced persons fleeing the conflict in CAR and fleeing from Boko Haram terrorist groups on its northern border with Nigeria. Some are escaping from the Anglophone separatist fighters in the country’s English-speaking western regions.

The government has always prohibited unauthorized people from digging in the area. But many youths ignore the order saying that they are unemployed.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

350,000 Victims of Goma Volcanic Eruption Urgently Need Aid, UN Says

Aid agencies say 350,000 people affected by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo near the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo are in need of urgent assistance.

Mount Nyiragongo erupted on May 22, turning the sky a fiery red and spewing lava into nearby villages. More than 30 people were killed.

Fears of a second volcanic eruption caused a mass exodus from Goma of most of its 450,000 residents on May 27. Around a quarter of that population fled to the neighboring town of Sake in the eastern province of North Kivu.

The U.N. refugee agency left behind a team of nine people in the area to evaluate the needs of the displaced. The agency and partners immediately began distributing plastic sheeting, water and other aid.

The head of the UNHCR office in Goma, Jackie Keegan, says she and her team since have returned to Goma. Speaking on a video link, she describes the situation in the city as one of uncertainty and unease.

“Yes. I am scared of the aftershocks, of course. Less scared now than I was when the windows were shaking every minute, which was happening about four days ago. But—yeah, it is scary. We are living on an active volcano… Like everybody else who ran away from the volcano, we are trying to figure out how to be as useful as possible in a challenging time,” she said.

The International Organization for Migration reports the eruption has displaced more than 415,000 people, nearly half of them minors. Most have travelled to towns in the eastern DRC, while roughly 52,000 have crossed the border into Rwanda.

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon says about a quarter of those who have fled Goma are very vulnerable and in need of special aid. These groups, he says, include breastfeeding women, the chronically ill, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, the elderly and the disabled.

“Should the displacement last, it is essential that we consider how we are going to prevent the spread of epidemics, facilitate humanitarian assistance and get kids back to school. IOM is particularly concerned by the health hazards linked to the eruption itself, the displacement to areas with pre-existing outbreaks, the lack of access to clean water and the increased burden placed on health facilities,” he said.

Aid agencies warn that people in Goma are at increased risk of cholera, which is endemic in the region and easily spread in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation and insufficient clean water.

The World Food Program reports it has started providing emergency food rations to thousands of people displaced from Goma. Based on assessments carried out over the past week, the WFP says it aims to reach 165,000 people in three cities of refuge. It says additional emergency food assistance is being provided to Congolese who have gone to Rwanda.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

Tanzania Activists Urge Government to Begin COVID-19 Vaccinations

The president of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, has said his government will soon import COVID-19 vaccines. This puts the region at odds with the national government, which has yet to approve any COVID vaccine. Opposition parties are urging the government to allow vaccinations to begin.

Zanzibar’s President Hussein Mwinyi said Saturday that he will allow COVID-19 vaccines to be administered in the semi-autonomous region. He said the vaccinations, when they begin, will be both optional and safe.

Mwinyi said there will be nobody who will be forced to get a vaccination they don’t want. He added we should not accept people’s sayings that if you get vaccinated would die; all over the world, people have been vaccinated. He said we will bring in the vaccine and those who want it will be vaccinated and those who don’t won't take the shot.

Former Tanzanian president John Magufuli, who died in March, denied the presence of COVID-19 in the country and dismissed the vaccines as unproven and risky.

The new president, Samia Hassan, accepts that the disease exists and has said she is looking to import vaccines. But still, weeks have gone by without any sign of vaccines being delivered to or administered in Tanzania.

Rights activists like Deogratias Mahinyila say it’s high time the government to follow the world’s approach in handling the infections.

He says what is being done in Zanzibar and here on the mainland should be done quickly and go with this pace. Mahinyila adds that Tanzania is not an island; whatever we are doing should match with other countries in the world how they are handling this.

Some citizens say vaccinations will reduce the fear of infections.

Dar es Salaam resident Jackline Thomas thinks the government should speed up allowing vaccination to be brought in Tanzania "because we all know that vaccination is the main weapon to avoid a person getting ill." She says if a person gets the COVID-19 vaccine, that means the infections will not spread and we won’t live under fear.

After more than a year of pandemic, Tanzania still has no figures on the numbers of COVID-19 cases or the deaths caused by the disease.

Zanzibar’s president says he’ll import the vaccines by Saturday, although the details of the plan remain unclear.

Source: Voice of America

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At least 55 Killed in Eastern Congo Massacres, UN Says

At least 55 people were killed overnight in two attacks on villages in eastern Congo, the United Nations said on Monday, in potentially the worst night of violence the area has seen in at least four years.

The army and a local civil rights group blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group, for raiding the village of Tchabi and a camp for displaced people near Boga, another village. Both are close to the border of Uganda.

Houses were burned and civilians abducted, the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs said in a statement.

Albert Basegu, the head of a civil rights group in Boga, told Reuters by telephone that he had been alerted to the attack by the sound of cries at a neighbor's house.

"When I got there I found that the attackers had already killed an Anglican pastor and his daughter was also seriously wounded," Basegu said.

The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), which has mapped unrest in restive eastern Congo since June 2017, said on Twitter the wife of a local chief was among the dead. It did not attribute blame for the killings.

"It's the deadliest day ever recorded by the KST," said Pierre Boisselet, the research group's coordinator.

The ADF is believed to have killed more than 850 people in 2020, according to the United Nations, in a spate of reprisal attacks on civilians after the army began operations against it the year before.

In March, the United States labeled the ADF a foreign terrorist organization. The group has in the past proclaimed allegiance to Islamic State, although the United Nations says evidence linking it to other Islamist militant networks is scant.

President Felix Tshisekedi declared a state of siege in Congo's North Kivu and Ituri provinces on May 1 in an attempt to curb increasing attacks by militant groups.

Uganda announced earlier this month that it had agreed to share intelligence and coordinate operations against the rebels but that it would not be deploying troops in Congo.

Source: Voice of America

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Bomb Kills 2 CAR Police Officers, 3 Russian Paramilitaries

A military convoy struck a roadside bomb in the northwest of the conflict-wracked Central African Republic, leaving two police officers and three Russian paramilitaries dead, the government said Sunday.

Tensions have been high in the country of 4.7 million since a December presidential election, although a recent surge in violence is just the latest in a civil war that has lasted since the ouster of President Francois Bozize in 2013.

"Three Russian allies and two Central African police officers were killed," government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui told AFP, while U.N. sources said the attack Thursday also wounded five members of the Central African security forces.

They said the convoy was blown up on the road between Berberati and Bouar, more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital Bangui.

A Russian helicopter was sent to the scene to recover the victims' bodies and the wounded, the sources said.

Moscow, which wields significant influence in the poor African nation, has since 2018 maintained a large contingent of "instructors" to train the Central African army.

They were joined in December by hundreds more Russian paramilitaries, along with Rwandan troops, who were key in helping President Faustin Archange Touadera's army to thwart a rebellion.

Bangui referred to the Russian "military" in a bilateral defense accord, before Moscow corrected it by referring to them as "instructors."

Numerous witnesses and NGOs say the instructors are in fact paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy private military company that is actively participating in the fight against CAR rebels, alongside Rwandan special forces and U.N. peacekeepers.

On Friday, the U.N. said 11 people were killed in less than a month by mines in the country, mainly in the northwest where some of the last bastions of rebel groups are located.

The presence of roadside bombs and mines is a rather new phenomenon in the country, despite years of conflict.

Most of the territory of the perennially unstable former French colony is divided among numerous armed bands.

Source: Voice of America