Mali Police March on Prison, Free Commander Held in Protest Deaths Inquiry

A special forces commander in Mali was freed on Friday after angry police officers marched to the prison where he was detained for allegedly using brute force to quash deadly protests last year. The head of the police counterterrorism unit, Oumar Samak…

A special forces commander in Mali was freed on Friday after angry police officers marched to the prison where he was detained for allegedly using brute force to quash deadly protests last year.

The head of the police counterterrorism unit, Oumar Samake, had been held in the Sahel state over lethal skirmishes between security forces and opponents of ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Anti-Keita protests rocked Mali last year and eventually culminated in the president’s ouster in a military coup.

One such protest on July 10, 2020, sparked several days of deadly clashes with security forces.

Mali’s political opposition said at the time that 23 people were killed during the unrest. The United Nations reported that 14 protesters were killed, including two children.

An investigation was opened into the killings in December 2020.

Police special-forces commander Samake was detained Friday for his alleged role in the violence, a senior legal official told AFP.

But the move infuriated police officers, some of whom marched on the prison in the capital, Bamako, where he was held.

Prison guard Yacouba Toure told AFP that large numbers of well-armed policemen turned up at the jail.

“We did not resist,” he said, adding that police left with Samake “without incident.”

A justice ministry official, who requested anonymity, said the government decided to free Samake “for the sake of peace.”

“This is not a court decision,” the official said, adding that the investigation into Samake would continue.

The dramatic events underscored the sensitivity of such investigations in chronically unstable Mali.

The country’s military deposed Keita in August 2020 after weeks of protests fueled by grievances over alleged corruption and the president’s inability to stop the long-running jihadist conflict.

Army officers then installed a civilian-led interim government to steer Mali back toward democratic rule. But military strongman Colonel Assimi Goita deposed these civilian leaders in May in a second coup.

Goita has pledged to restore civilian rule and stage elections in February next year.

However, there are doubts about whether the government will be able to hold elections within such a short time frame.

Mali has been struggling to quell a brutal jihadist insurgency, which emerged in 2012 and left swaths of the vast nation outside government control.

Source: Voice of America

‘Very Brutal’: In Ethiopia, Tigray Forces Accused of Abuses

As they bring war to other parts of Ethiopia, resurgent Tigray fighters face growing allegations that they are retaliating for the abuses their people suffered back home.In interviews with The Associated Press, more than a dozen witnesses offered the …

As they bring war to other parts of Ethiopia, resurgent Tigray fighters face growing allegations that they are retaliating for the abuses their people suffered back home.

In interviews with The Associated Press, more than a dozen witnesses offered the most widespread descriptions yet of Tigray forces striking communities and a religious site with artillery, killing civilians, looting health centers and schools and sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing in the past two months.

In the town of Nefas Mewucha in the Amhara region, a hospital’s medical equipment was smashed. The fighters looted medicines and other supplies, leaving more than a dozen patients to die.

“It is a lie that they are not targeting civilians and infrastructures,” hospital manager Birhanu Mulu told the AP. He said his team had to transfer some 400 patients elsewhere for care. “Everyone can come and witness the destruction that they caused.”

The war that began last November was confined at first to Ethiopia’s sealed-off northern Tigray region. Accounts of atrocities often emerged long after they occurred: Tigrayans described gang-rapes, massacres and forced starvation by federal forces and their allies from Amhara and neighboring Eritrea.

Thousands of people died, though the opaque nature of the war — most communications and transport links have been severed — means no one knows the real toll.

The Tigray forces retook much of their home region in a stunning turn in June, and now the fighting has spilled into Amhara. Angered by the attacks on their communities and families, the fighters are being accused of targeting civilians from the other side.

The United States, which for months has been outspoken about the abuses against Tigrayans, this week turned sharp criticism on the Tigray forces.

“In Amhara now, we now know that the (Tigray forces have) … looted the warehouses, they’ve looted trucks and they have caused a great deal of destruction in all the villages they have visited,” the head of the U.S. Agency for Economic Development, Sean Jones, told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

He called the Tigray fighters “very aggressive.” USAID, which feeds millions throughout Ethiopia, has seen Tigray forces looting and emptying some of its warehouses, he said.

While the U.S., United Nations and others urge all sides to stop the fighting and sit down to talks, those on the ground believe there’s no peace to come. Many Ethiopians outside Tigray support the federal government’s war effort, and as Tigray forces advance, families heed recruiting drives and send loved ones for military training. Ethiopia’s government says “millions” have answered the call.

“Our children are living in terror. We are here to stop this,” said Mekdess Muluneh Asayehegn, a new Amhara militia recruit. Propping a gun on a full plastic sack, she lay on the ground and practiced sighting.

But the consequences of the call to war are already coming home.

“As we came here, there were lots of dead bodies (of defense forces and civilians) along the way,” said Khadija Firdu, who fled the advancing Tigray forces to a muddy camp for displaced people in Debark. “Even as we entered Debark, we stepped on a dead body. We thought it was the trunk of a tree. It was dark. We came here crying.”

It is not clear how many people in Amhara have been killed; claims by the warring sides cannot be verified immediately. Each has accused the other of lying or carrying out atrocities against supporters.

Shaken, the survivors are left to count bodies.

In the town of Debre Tabor, Getasew Anteneh said he watched as Tigray forces shelled and destroyed a home, killing six people.

Getasew helped carry away the dead. “I believe it was a deliberate revenge attack, and civilians are suffering.”

In recent interviews with the AP, the spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda said they are avoiding civilian casualties. “They shouldn’t be scared,” he said last month. “Wherever we go in Amhara, people are extending a very warm welcome.”

He did not respond to the AP about the new witness accounts, but tweeted in response to USAID that “we cannot vouch for every unacceptable behavior of off-grid fighters in such matters.”

The Tigray forces say their offensive is an attempt to break the months-long blockade of their region of some 6 million people, as an estimated 400,000 face famine conditions in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. The situation “is set to worsen dramatically,” the U.N. said Thursday.

The fighters also say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to stop the war and the ethnic targeting that has seen thousands of Tigrayans detained, evicted or harassed while the prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has used words like “cancer” and “weeds” to describe the Tigray fighters.

Ethnic Amhara, more than half a million now displaced, say innocent people have been killed as Tigray forces move in.

“I’ve witnessed with my own eyes when the (Tigray forces) killed one person during our journey,” said Mesfin Tadesse, who fled his home in Kobo town in July. “His sister was pleading with them when they killed him for no reason.”

Zewditu Tikuye, who also fled Kobo, said her 57-year-old husband was killed by Tigray fighters when he tried to stay behind to protect their home and cows. “He wasn’t armed,” she said. Now she shelters with her six children in a small house with 10 other people.

Others seek shelter in schools, sleeping in classrooms as newcomers drenched from the rainy season arrive. They squat in muddy clearings, waiting for plastic plates of the spongy flatbread injera to be handed out for the latest meal.

And as earlier in Tigray, people in Amhara now watch in horror as the war damages religious sites in one of the world’s most ancient Christian civilizations.

On Monday, the fourth-century Checheho monastery was hit by artillery fire and partially collapsed.

“This is very brutal,” said Mergeta Abraraw Meles, who works there as a cashier. He believes it was intentionally targeted by the Tigray forces. They had come peacefully, he said, but then lashed out after facing battlefield losses.

In the rubble of the monastery was a young boy, dead.

Source: Voice of America

Amnesty International: South Sudan Facing ‘New Wave of Repression’

South Sudan is witnessing a “new wave of repression”, global rights group Amnesty International warned Friday, with many activists now in hiding after a string of arrests in the conflict-wracked country.The world’s newest nation has suffered from chron…

South Sudan is witnessing a “new wave of repression”, global rights group Amnesty International warned Friday, with many activists now in hiding after a string of arrests in the conflict-wracked country.

The world’s newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, with a coalition of civil society groups urging the government to step down, saying they have “had enough”.

The authorities have taken a tough line against such demands in recent weeks, arresting eight activists as well as detaining three journalists and two employees of a pro-democracy non-profit, according to rights groups.

“We are witnessing a new wave of repression emerging in South Sudan targeting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa.

The clampdown followed a declaration last month by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) calling for a peaceful public uprising.

The PCCA had urged the public to join its protest on Monday in the capital Juba but the city fell silent as the authorities branded the demonstration “illegal” and deployed heavily-armed security forces to monitor the streets for any sign of opposition.

“Peaceful protests must be facilitated rather than cracked down upon or prevented with arrests, harassment, heavy security deployment or any other punitive measures,” Muchena said in a statement.

The rights group noted that many activists had faced harassment since the aborted demonstration, “with some suspecting they were being surveilled by security forces”.

The authorities have also shut down a radio station and a think tank in connection with the protests.

‘Undisguised hostility’

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, on Friday condemned the closure of the radio station and called for “an immediate end to the harassment of South Sudanese reporters”.

“The undisguised hostility of the authorities towards the media highlights how difficult it is for journalists to cover politics in South Sudan, where at least ten have been killed since 2014,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.

South Sudan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

In a statement released on Friday, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Norway urged the South Sudan government to protect “the rights of citizens… to express their views in a peaceful manner, without fear of arrest”.

Since achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, the young nation has been in the throes of a chronic economic and political crisis, and is struggling to recover from the aftermath of a five-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.

Although a 2018 cease-fire and power-sharing deal between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar still largely holds, it is being sorely tested, with little progress made in fulfilling the terms of the peace process.

The PCCA — a broad-based coalition of activists, academics, lawyers and former government officials — has described the current regime as “a bankrupt political system that has become so dangerous and has subjected our people to immense suffering.”

Source: Voice of America