Also today: Nigerian women protest killings in Jos; Saharan states meeting to discuss threat of al-Qaeda; West African pirates hijack Chinese fishing boat; Wife of Charles Taylor gives birth to baby girl.
Mogadishu under heavy attack by Islamist rebels
Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has come under heavy attack from radical Islamist al-Shaabab militants, ahead of a long-anticipated government offensive. But months of rumours of an offensive may have pre-empted the latest conflagration, which has seen some 50 people killed in days of fierce battles. News reports say Mogadishu is witnessing the heaviest fighting since mid-2009, although in the interim the weak, moderate Islamist government and African Union peacekeepers have come under frequent attack. Officials are urging more civilians to leave the war zone, after the UN’s refugee agency estimated that about 33,000 people have been driven from their homes in Mogadishu over the past six weeks. Insurgents are fanning through the city in “technicals”, trucks mounted with machine guns, and are said to be moving towards the presidential palace, where government forces and AU peacekeepers have replied with heavy artillery. Photo: Reuters.
Nigerian women protest killings in Jos
Hundreds of Nigerian women have protested the massacre near the central city of Jos 10 days ago, demanding the government better protect women and children. They’ve taken to the streets of the capital, Abuja, and also Jos, where more than 100 people – said to include many women and children – were hacked and burnt to death in the most recent bout of attacks. Reports say mostly Muslim Fulani attackers butchered Christians from the Berom group, in apparent revenge for attacks by Christians on Muslims in villages around Jos in January, when some 300 people were said to have died. The religious and ethnic killings are fuelled by tensions over land and resources, driven by a lack of access to political power.
Saharan states meeting to discuss threat of al-Qaeda
Algeria is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to tackle a growing threat from al-Qaeda in the Sahara desert region. The hosts say there can’t be any development without peace and security. The ministers will try to hammer out a plan to fight kidnappings, suicide bombings and assassinations by militants hiding out in the desert. The insurgents’ have fought low-key wars in many of these states for decades, but by combining under the umbrella group of al-Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb, governments now fear they could turn the region into a base for deadly attacks both at home and abroad. Last year, the Algerians hosted a similar meeting between army commanders of countries in the Sahel region. Algeria provides oil and gas to Europe, and doesn’t want that income threatened.
West African pirates hijack Chinese fishing boat
Pirates hijacked a Chinese fishing boat off Cameroon with seven fishermen aboard, according to Reuters. It’s one of an increasing number of incidents in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, where, incidentally, there’s a huge amount of illegal fishing, including by Asian countries. While such attacks in West Africa are less commonly reported than those off Somalia in the east, officials say pirates pose an increasing risk in a region with numerous maritime oil blocks and related installations. In November last year, pirates attacked an oil tanker off Benin, killing a crew member and looting the ship’s safe. Somali pirates tend to hijack vessels and take hostages, and ransom them for millions of dollars, while the West African gangs more commonly seize cargoes.
Wife of Charles Taylor gives birth to baby girl
The wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has given birth to a baby girl in the Netherlands, where her husband is on trial for war crimes. Reports say the infant will soon be taken back to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, by her mother, Victoria Addison-Taylor, to meet the family. Taylor’s on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on charges of backing rebels who committed widespread atrocities during a conflict that engulfed Liberia and its neighbour, Sierra Leone, between 1991 and 2002. He denies charges of murder, rape, sexual slavery, cruelty, forced labour and recruiting child soldiers. Taylor married his current wife shortly before stepping down as president and going into exile in Nigeria in 2003. A son from another marriage, McArthur “Chuckie” Taylor, was sentenced in January to 97 years in a US prison for torture and war crimes during Liberia’s civil war.
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