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Doctors Without Borders workers abducted in Darfur

Posted by africasjournal on March 12, 2009

By Sarah El Deeb – Associated Press

A worker walks into the offices of the Belgian branch of the aid group 'Doctors AP – A worker walks into the offices of the Belgian branch of the aid group ‘Doctors Without Borders’ known …

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Armed men abducted three international aid workers and two Sudanese guards in Darfur, a week after the government in Khartoum ordered aid groups expelled in response to an international arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, officials said Thursday.

The kidnappings — believed to be the first of Westerners in Darfur — took place late Wednesday in a rural area known as Saraf Umra about 125 miles west of the city of El Fasher, said Noureddine Mezni, a spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Khartoum.

The area is government controlled, and pro-government Arab militias known as janjaweed live and are based nearby.

The attackers stormed into the compound of the Belgian branch of the aid group Doctors Without Borders in the evening and abducted the staffers, said Susan Sandars, a Nairobi, Kenya-based spokeswoman for the group, which is also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF.

The two Sudanese guards were later released, but a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator were still being held, she said, adding there was no information on the motive or the whereabouts of the kidnapped. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction.

The kidnappings come after Sudan expelled the 13 biggest aid groups from Darfur in response to the March 4 arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 6-year-old war in the region.

Many fear the warrant would make the foreign community in Sudan a target for anger and revenge attacks.

The French and Dutch branches of MSF were among the 13 groups expelled from Darfur. Its Belgian, Swiss and Spanish branches, however, were allowed to remain, along with dozens of other smaller aid organization. MSF, which has five branches, had an extensive medical operation in Darfur and was often the only health provider in violence-stricken or rebel held areas.

Later Thursday, Christopher Stokes, director of MSF Belgium, said in Brussels that MSF decided to pull all its remaining staff from Darfur to Khartoum as a safety precaution until those abducted are freed.

“We are trying to negotiate for the moment the release of our colleagues,” Stokes said. “The only people that will stay behind are the people dealing with trying to secure the freedom of our colleagues. The remaining … MSF Belgium, Switzerland and Spain … also decided to withdraw their teams.”

The 13 expelled aid groups have all pulled out of the large western region of Sudan, although some stayed on in Khartoum. They represented about 40 percent of the humanitarian personnel in Darfur.

Authorities claimed the groups were cooperating with the ICC tribunal. Sudanese officials have warned that vigilantes could target foreigners, though they promised to try to protect them.

Hassabo Abdel-Rahman, of the government humanitarian affairs office said the three abducted workers were able to call their MSF colleagues after the kidnapping to assure they were in good health.

He said the two Sudanese guards who were released have been questioned by police but could not identify their kidnappers. “It’s an isolated and immoral act,” Abdel-Rahman said, claiming an unknown group was behind the abduction.

The ICC warrant accuses al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur, where his Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels since 2003. Up to 300,000 people have been killed, and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.

Most of those who have fled the fighting rely on U.N. agencies and international aid groups for their survival and the expulsion of the aid groups also raises fears of a humanitarian disaster.

MSF Belgium said on its Web site that the families of the kidnapped have been informed. “Doctors Without Borders is seriously concerned over their safety and is doing all that is possible to secure their safe release,” it said.

Sergio Cecchini of MSF in Rome said the group was not aware of any ransom requests and said he had no information of who was behind the kidnapping.

Aid workers or convoys are frequently attacked in Darfur by armed bandits from any of the multiple armed forces fighting in Darfur. Usually, aid workers are let go after their equipment is stolen, but some have been killed.

In February, two Sudanese working for the French Aide Medicale Internationale were killed by bandits. In 2006, a Sudanese working for Oxfam was kidnapped in the same area where the Wednesday kidnapping took place, and remained missing for at least 2 months, forcing Oxfam to shut down its offices there. The Sudanese was killed shortly after his release, when he got caught up in fighting while trying to get back to Saraf Umra.

The increased banditry has forced many aid workers to travel only by helicopters to avoid high-risk roads.

Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Ali Youssef said Sudan condemned the abductions.

“We are following this, we don’t have clues,” he said, dismissing the possibility that the aid workers were detained by authorities. “Why should we detain them? If the government of Sudan was responsible … we would say so, say that they are under investigation.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini requested the cooperation of Sudanese authorities and stressed in a statement that hostage safety must be the absolute priority and that “therefore no action must be put in place that might compromise that.”


Associated Press Writer Constant Brand in Brussels contributed to this report.


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African leaders should support al-Bashir arrest, says Tutu

Posted by africasjournal on March 4, 2009


NEW YORK, UNITED STATES Mar 03 2009 13:21

African leaders should support a bid to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on war-crimes charges, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote in a New York Times editorial on Tuesday.

The retired archbishop said it was “shameful” that so many African leaders have rallied around al-Bashir, who faces a possible arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on Wednesday over alleged war crimes in Darfur.

If the warrant is granted and an arrest carried out, al-Bashir would become the first sitting head of state to be hauled before the ICC since the court opened in 2002.

“Because the victims in Sudan are African, African leaders should be the staunchest supporters of efforts to see perpetrators brought to account,” wrote Tutu.

“Yet rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.”

Tutu chastised the African Union for calling on the United Nations Security Council to suspend the court’s proceedings.

“I regret that the charges against President al-Bashir are being used to stir up the sentiment that the justice system — and in particular, the international court — is biased against Africa. Justice is in the interest of victims, and the victims of these crimes are African.

“To imply that the prosecution is a plot by the West is demeaning to Africans and understates the commitment to justice we have seen across the continent.”

An arrest warrant for al-Bashir “would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan”, Tutu wrote.

“African leaders should support this historic occasion, not work to subvert it.” — AFP

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Gunmen assassinate prominent Somali journalist

Posted by africasjournal on February 4, 2009

Journalist Tahlil Ahmed

From Mohammed Amiin Adow

A prominent Somali journalist was shot and killed by suspected Islamist gunmen in broad daylight on Wednesday, as one of his colleagues watched in horror. Journalist Said Tahlil Ahmed was killed by gunmen in Somalia, according to a colleague who was with him. Journalist Said Tahlil Ahmed was killed by gunmen in Somalia, according to a colleague who was with him.

The journalist who witnessed the assassination of Said Tahlil Ahmed in Mogadishu said the two gunmen also intended to kill others. “First, they shot him in the back and then one of the armed men came over him and fired more shots into his head to finish him off,” he said. “One of the gunmen was shouting, ‘Kill the other one,’ which they meant another one of us.” The journalist did not want his name released for security reasons. Tahlil, the director of independent HornAfrik Radio and host of a popular radio talk show, was on his way to a meeting that had been called by the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab, when gunmen from the group attacked him, his colleague said.

The National Union of Somali Journalists issued a statement strongly condemning Tahlil’s assassination, which it blamed on Al-Shabaab — a radical Islamist militia that controls parts of Mogadishu and four regions in southern Somalia. “This is an outrageous and appalling assassination,” said NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman, in a prepared statement. “Said Tahlil Ahmed was assassinated because of his strong and professional commitment for independent journalism.” The surviving journalist — who suffered injuries to his legs after he fell down while fleeing the attack — said Al-Shabaab had called for a meeting with Mogadishu radio station directors, but the group would not say what the meeting was about, according to the witness and NUSOJ.

“This is absolutely shocking and the journalists in Mogadishu are in a state of fear,” the journalist said. “We are extremely worried about our safety.” Local radio and television stations in the Somali capital had been broadcasting live coverage of last week’s Somali presidential election held in Djibouti, which many Islamist groups — including Al-Shabaab — have rejected. Al-Shabaab has imposed harsh Islamic law, or sharia, in the areas of Somalia that it controls. It seized the city of Baidoa, where the transitional government is based, preventing the newly elected government from returning to Somalia. Last year, the United States put Al-Shabaab on its list of terrorist organizations because of its ties to al Qaeda.

Tahlil is the second journalist to be murdered in Somalia this year. Militias shot and killed Hassan Mayow Hassan, a reporter for Shabelle Radio, on January 1 in the agricultural town of Afgoye. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists Somalia as the seventh most deadly nation in the world for journalists. Members of the news media work under duress there amid a war between a weak transitional government and insurgents, the committee said, and 10 Somali journalists have been killed in the last two years. Tahlil’s predecessor, HornAfrik chairman Ali Iman Sharke, was killed by a roadside bomb in Mogadishu in 2007, after he had returned from the funeral of another radio director who was killed on the same day by unknown gunmen in Mogadishu. Shabelle radio’s acting director, Bashir Nor Gedi, was also killed in 2007 near his home in Mogadishu by unknown gunmen.

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Africa celebrates Obama victory with pride, hope

Posted by africasjournal on January 22, 2009


NAIROBI, Kenya — For many across Africa and the world, Barack Obama’s election seals America’s reputation as a land of staggering opportunity.

“If it were possible for me to get to the United States on my bicycle, I would,” said Joseph Ochieng, a 36-year-old carpenter who lives in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera shantytown, a maze of tin-roofed shacks and dirt roads.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday Thursday in the country of Obama’s late father, allowing celebrations to continue through the night and into a second day. From Europe and Asia to the Middle East, many expressed amazement that the U.S. could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American president.

Scenes of jubilation broke out in the western Kenya village of Kogelo, where many of Obama’s Kenyan relatives still live. People sang, danced in the streets and wrapped themselves in U.S. flags. A group of exuberant residents picked up the president-elect’s half brother Malik and carried him through the village.

“Unbelievable!” Malik Obama shouted, leading the family in chanting, “Obama’s coming, make way!”

“He’s in!” said Rachel Ndimu, 23, a Kenyan business student who joined hundreds of others for an election party that began at 5 a.m. Wednesday at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger.

Obama was born in Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood raised by his white mother. He barely knew his father. But for the world’s poorest continent, the ascent of a man of African heritage to America’s highest office was a source of immeasurable pride and hope.

Tributes rolled in from two of Africa’s groundbreaking leaders. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, said Obama gave the world the courage to dream.

“Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place,” Mandela said in a letter of congratulations.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — the first woman elected to head an African country — said she did not expect to see a black American president in her lifetime.

“All Africans now know that if you persevere, all things are possible,” she said.

In Britain, The Sun newspaper borrowed from Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing in describing Obama’s election as “one giant leap for mankind.”

Yet celebrations were often tempered by sobering concerns that Obama faces momentous global challenges — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the elusive hunt for peace in the Middle East and a financial crisis.

Europe, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular, is one region that looked eagerly to an Obama administration for a revival in warm relations after the Bush government’s chilly rift with the continent over the Iraq war.

“At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a letter to Obama.

Obama’s victory also was greeted with cheers in Mexico, where former Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda wrote in the Reforma newspaper that the presidency represents a chance for Mexico to remake its relationship with the United States.

“Obama’s win … opens to Mexico an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself in the world because it will be infinitely easier to be a neighbor, ally and friend of the United States with Obama,” he wrote.

Americans living abroad, too, basked in the glow of a victory hoped for by most of the world.

“I’m proud of being an American today,” said Jody Suden, a mother of two in London. “It’s such a shift from the way things have been.”

This report includes information from Cox News Service.

Posted in Africa, African American, Chad, congo, Economy, Election, kenya, Libya, news, Politics, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Uncategorized, Zambia, Zimbabwe | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Planner of Rwandan massacres convicted of genocide

Posted by africasjournal on December 18, 2008

Tanzania Rwanda Genocide Verdict

By SUKHDEV CHHATBAR, Associated Press Writer Sukhdev Chhatbar, Associated Press Writer 11 mins ago

ARUSHA, Tanzania – A former Rwandan Army colonel behind the 1994 slaughter of more than 500,000 people was convicted of genocide Thursday and sentenced to life in prison, the most significant verdict of a U.N. tribunal set up to bring the killers to justice.

Col. Theoneste Bagosora was found guilty of crimes against humanity, and the court said he used his position as director of Rwanda’s Ministry of Defense to direct Hutu soldiers to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The court said that Bagosora, who had authority over the Rwandan military, was responsible for the deaths of former Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers who tried to protect her as she was killed at the outset of the genocide.

Bagosora, 67, said nothing as the verdict was delivered, and there was complete silence from the scores of people who had packed into the aisles of the tiny courtroom to hear the judgment.

His conviction was welcomed by genocide survivors, who still live uneasily among perpetrators in the central African nation nearly 15 years later.

Some 63,000 people are suspected of taking part in the genocide, although many of them have been sentenced by community-based courts, where suspects were encouraged to confess and seek forgiveness in exchange for lighter sentences.

“Bagosora … is the person behind all the massacres,” said Jean Paul Rurangwa, 32, who lost his father and two sisters. “The fact that he was sentenced to the biggest punishment the court can give is a relief.”

The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by the U.N. in 1994 to try those responsible for the killings and had its first conviction in 1997. There have been 42 judgments, of which six have been acquittals. It does not have the power to impose the death sentence.

Eighteen trials remain under way but none of the defendants is as senior as Bagosora.

More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were killed in the 100-day slaughter organized by the extremist Hutu government then in power. Government troops, Hutu militia and ordinary villagers spurred on by hate messages broadcast over the radio went from village to village, butchering men, women and children.

Bagosora was captured in Cameroon in 1996 and has been in custody in Tanzania since 1997.

Reed Brody, a specialist in international justice for Human Rights Watch, said the sentence sent a clear message to other world leaders accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

“It says watch out. Justice can catch up with you,” Brody said. “The authors of genocide can and will be punished by the international community.”

According to the indictment, Bagosora had participated in international talks arranged in the early 1990s with the aim of ending Rwanda‘s long-simmering political crisis. Bagosora grew angry with government delegates he deemed soft on Tutsi-led rebels and said he was returning to Rwanda to “‘prepare the apocalypse,” the indictment quoted Bagosora as saying.

At the time of the genocide, he was the second-highest ranking official in the defense department.

The killings began on April 7, 1994, the day after a plane carrying ethnic Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by unidentified attackers on its approach to Kigali airport. Bagosora was commander of the Kanombe air base in Kigali when the president’s plane went down.

Hours after the crash, militants from the Hutu ethnic majority known as Interahamwe set up roadblocks across Kigali and the next day began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The slaughter eventually ended after Tutsi rebels invaded from neighboring Uganda and drove out the genocidal forces.

Also Thursday, former military commanders Anatole Nsegiyumva and Alloys Ntabakuze were found guilty of genocide and sentenced to life in prison. The former chief of military operations, Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, was cleared of all charges and released.

Earlier in the day, Protais Zigiranyirazo was convicted of organizing a massacre in which hundreds of Tutsis died, and was sentenced to 20 years. He has already served seven.


Associated Press Writer Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.


Bagosora’s U.N.-court indictment:

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