Africa Theater

Repression in Mauritania

Police in Mauritania fired tear gas and beat union members Oct. 7 in the second protest this week against the new military regime. Workers threw rocks at police in running skirmishes around the streets of the capital Nouakchott. Police reportedly forced their way into private homes in their pursuit of protesters. Unions organized the protest in defiance of a police ban, two days after a similar protest by political parties opposed to the coup that was also banned and led to clashes. "They have orders to neutralize us," said union leader Abderahmane Ould Boubou. "They beat me severely just to stop these demonstrations, but we've decided to carry on to the end. We will never allow them to take away our freedom of expression." (Reuters, Oct. 8)

Pirate-seized arms were bound for SPLA?

The France-based Sudanese opposition website Sudan Tribune reports that the huge arms shipment seized by pirates off Somalia was not ultimately bound for the Kenyan government, as widespread reports had it—but for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). If true, this has grim implications for Sudan's already shaky peace process. Adding to the mystery, the usually relibale Sudan Tribune website seems to be down at the moment. Fred Mukinda of Kenya's Daily News offers this Oct. 6 report:

Ethiopia must release rendition victims: HRW

Human Rights Watch Oct. 1 called on the Ethiopian government to release rendition victims in custody or prosecute them in an open court. The renditions were the result of the US-backed Ethiopian military intervention in neighboring Somalia in late 2006. The fighting caused thousands to flee across the border into Kenya, which detained at least 150 people from more than 18 countries. In early 2007, Kenyan authorities "renditioned" dozens of these individuals back to Somalia, where they were handed over to the Ethiopian military and interrogated by US and Ethiopian agents.

Italian commando in Sudan hostage rescue

Helicopter-borne Egyptian and Sudanese troops, backed by Italian commandos, rescued the 19-member tour group kidnapped in Egypt and taken by their abductors on a 10-day trek through the Sahara to the border with Chad. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his country's special forces were involved, ANSA reported. The freed tourists returned to Cairo Sept. 29 unharmed. Details of the operation were sketchy. Some Egyptian officials spoke of a gun-battle with the kidnappers, in which several of them were killed, but there was no official confirmation of these reports. One of the freed Egyptian hostages, Sherif Abdel Moneim, said the kidnappers abandoned the group at dawn "and moments later security forces came and rescued us." The raid presumably took place on Sudanese territory. The kidnappers, who officials said were Sudanese and Chadian tribesmen, reportedly demanded a $15 million ransom. (Gulf Daily News, LAT, Sept. 30)

Somalia: pirate show-down overshadows refugee crisis

Russia has dispatched the warship Neustrashimy to intercept a Ukrainian freighter, the Faina, carrying 33 Russian-built tanks and other war material seized by pirates off Somalia while en route to Kenya for an arms delivery. US naval ships are also in the area and "monitoring the situation," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "I think we're looking at the full range of options here." With worldwide pirate attacks surging this year, the hijacking could help rally international support behind France, which is pushing aggressively for decisive action against Somali pirates. The crew of the Faina are being held, and the pirates have warned against any effort to re-take the ship. (AP, BBC World Service, Sept. 26)

Somalia: murderous mayhem in Mogadishu market

At least 30 people were killed in fierce fighting between Islamist rebels and Somali government forces in capital Mogadishu's main market Sept. 23. Rebels reportedly attacked two African Union peacekeeping bases in Mogadishu and shelled the city's main airport as well as hitting government buildings in the bustling Bakara market area.

EU, Russia, China in race to build Trans-Saharan Pipeline

Reports in the Nigerian press indicate that the European Union, Russia and China are all wooing the government for rights to build the proposed $21 billion Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline project, which would export gas from the Niger Delta to Europe through Niger and Algeria. The sources claimed that the EU, which had previously displayed skepticism on the project, renewed its interest following fears that Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, has approached Nigeria over the contract—and could thereby tighten its grip on European energy supplies. The pipeline project was first proposed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, but has met with skepticism due to ongoing unrest in the Niger Delta, Sahel and Maghreb. (BBC World Service; Punch, Nigeria, Sept. 18)

Niger Delta rebels declare "oil war"

Nigeria's main militant group in the Niger Delta declared an "oil war" against foreign-owned companies working in the region in a Sept. 14 statement. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had launched an operation dubbed "Hurricane Barbarossa." The opening attacks of the operation destroyed flow stations and oil pipelines, killing 22 Nigerian soldiers. MEND said it launched the operation after government troops attacked one of its positions a day earlier with aerial and marine forces. Chevron confirmed one of its oil platforms was attacked by rebels. Violence in the Niger Delta has halted a fifth of the country's oil production since 2006. (AlJazeera, Sept. 14)

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