Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso

Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Dozens of people were feared still missing on Thursday after an ambush on workers near a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 and wounded 60 in the worst such attack in the West African nation for years.

Quebec-based gold miner Semafo <SMF.TO> said five of its buses with a military escort came under fire on the road leading to its Boungou mine in the eastern region of Est, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Boungou, on Wednesday.

The assailants’ identity was unclear, but Burkina Faso is struggling to combat surging Islamist violence in the remote eastern and northern scrubland areas. It was unclear exactly how many people were in the convoy, what their nationalities were or how many were missing. But the company has said that under new safety guidelines, Burkinabe employees travel to and from the mine with a military escort by road while international staff are flown by helicopter.

Semafo had tightened security last year following attacks that killed three workers and five security officials.

Two separate sources who have worked at the mine said that the convoy left weekly carrying about 250 local staff usually in five buses of 50 to 60 people each.

Two security sources told Reuters that dozens may still be unaccounted for.

Government and military officials declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign ministry said there were no reports so far of any of its nationals being affected.

Once a pocket of relative calm in the Sahel region, Burkina has suffered a homegrown insurgency for the past three years, amplified by a spillover of jihadist violence and criminality from its chaotic northern neighbor Mali.

Wednesday’s attack is the worst since jihadist groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda began targeting the landlocked nation with high profile attacks in January 2016.

Then, armed al Qaeda militants killed 32 people in a raid on a popular cafe and hotel in the capital Ouagadougou.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

West Africa’s historic slave sites bear witness to brutal trade

Women in procession dance outside a slavery memorial site near the Bodo river in Kanga Nianze village, in Tiassale, Ivory Coast, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

By Zohra Bensemra and Luc Gnago

KUNTA KINTEH ISLAND, Gambia (Reuters) – When Gambian boat captain Abdoulie Jabang ferries visitors to Kunta Kinteh island he tells them that the waves lapping the shores of the former slave site threaten to wash history away.

Situated at the mouth of the Gambian river, the island is home to one of the many forts that dot the West African coast – crumbling reminders of the centuries-long transatlantic slave trade that tore millions of Africans from their homes.

As Jabang steered his blue-painted wooden boat through the water, he gestured towards Kunta Kinteh, whose ruined fortress shaded by giant baobab trees is threatened by erosion.

“You see the island is very small now,” he said.

Emmanuel Mouti Dongo from Cameroon visits the “Maison Des Esclaves” slave house on Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, July 7, 2019.  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Emmanuel Mouti Dongo from Cameroon visits the “Maison Des Esclaves” slave house on Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, July 7, 2019.  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

“We have to preserve this island for the young coming generations – we need to let them know about it. We should never forget what this land has been used for.”

From Senegal’s Goree Island at Africa’s western-most point to the Nigerian port of Badagry on the Gulf of Guinea, the sites where slaves spent their final days on African soil have turned into places of pilgrimage and remembrance.

Many have seen a surge in visitors this year, which marks 400 years since the first record of African slaves arriving in North America.

Tourists can walk along the cannon-studded ramparts of slave fortresses or pass through the points of ‘No Return’, where slaves were marched in chains to waiting ships.

Some who live and work in the shadow of the landmarks see the sites as a reminder not to let history repeat itself.

Canons are seen at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts build along the Gold Coast in Ghana, July 28, 2019. Picture taken July 28,2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Canons are seen at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts build along the Gold Coast in Ghana, July 28, 2019. Picture taken July 28,2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Future generations need to know what is happening so that it does not happen again,” said Chief Seraphin Kpissi, whose village in Ivory Coast lies near a slave site on the banks of the Bodo river.

A tall stone slab wrapped in chains now stands as a memorial to the slaves who were forced to take a last bath in the Bodo’s muddy waters towards the end of their march to the coast.

The memorial was erected with the participation of UNESCO, which has granted world heritage status to Kunta Kinteh island and several other West African sites due to the important testimony they provide of the slave trade.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)

West African slavery lives on, 400 years after transatlantic trade began

A woman, who says she was a victim of sexual exploitation and calls herself Claudia Osadolor to protect her identity, works as a tailor after training with the support of Nigerian charity Pathfinders Justice Initiative in Benin City, Nigeria July 20, 2019. Picture taken July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nneka Chile

By Angela Ukomadu and Nneka Chile

LAGOS (Reuters) – Blessing was only six years old when her mother arranged for her to become an unpaid housemaid for a family in the African Nigerian city of Abuja, on the promise they would put her through school.

In her home town in southwest Nigeria, her mother had trouble making enough money to feed her three children. But when Blessing arrived in Abuja, instead of going to school, the family worked her round-the-clock, beat her with an electrical wire if she forgot one of her chores and fed her rotten leftovers.

When her mother later moved to the city to be closer to her daughter, Blessing was unable to be alone with her when she came to visit.

“They would tell me that my mother was coming, that I should not tell her what was happening to me, that I should not even say anything,” she says of the family.

“If she asks me how am I doing I should say I am doing fine, they said.”

As the world marks 400 years since the first recorded African slaves arrived in North America, slavery remains a modern-day scourge. Over 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, forced marriages or other forms of sexual exploitation, according to the United Nations.

Blessing, now 11, is one such victim. She was rescued in 2016 by the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), an anti-human trafficking group, after two years of isolation and abuse. She is still under the care of WOTCLEF, which gave consent for her to be interviewed for this story.

Africa has the highest prevalence of slavery, with more than seven victims for every 1,000 people, according to a 2017 report by human rights group Walk Free Foundation and the International Labour Office. The report defines slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.”

Trafficking of sex workers, many of them tricked into thinking they will get employment doing something else, is one of the most widespread and abusive forms of modern-day slavery.

The experiences of Claudia Osadolor and Progress Omovhie show how poverty increases women’s vulnerability to exploitation.

After Osadolor’s family in Benin City in southern Nigeria hit hard times, she dropped out of university and headed to Russia after a cousin told her about someone who could help her get work there, with travel expenses paid. She left Nigeria with three other girls she did not know in June 2012. When she got to Russia a “madam” came to pick her up.

Osadolor, now 28, says she was forced into prostitution and suffered internal injuries after being made to sleep with up to 20 men a day. She was trapped for three years, with the madam coming round every two weeks to take almost all of her money.

She cries as she recounts the trauma and her relief at escaping thanks to a chance meeting with a representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at a metro station.

“I feel like I paid the ultimate price for my family,” she says. “But I thank God that I came back alive.”

Osadolor has been able to reintegrate into society after training as a tailor back in Benin with the support of Nigerian charity Pathfinders Justice Initiative.

Omovhie, 33, also found herself enslaved after leaving Nigeria in 2015 in search of work. She paid an agent 700,000 naira ($2,290) – money she had borrowed – to smuggle her on a journey across the Sahara desert to Libya, hoping eventually to go to Europe.

The intended final destination of people smuggled across Africa like this is often Europe, but few make it that far. Many are jailed or sold as indentured laborers when they get to Libya. Some are even sold on slave markets, according to aid groups – a chilling echo of the trans-Saharan slave trade of centuries past.

Once in Libya, Omovhie says she started working long hours as a cleaner for a well-off Arab family in Tripoli, often on an empty stomach.

“I worked three months and they did not pay me in that house,” she said.

Another agent promised to help Omovhie escape by sending her to Italy, but she was rounded up by police on the Libyan coast and detained there for six months. She returned to Nigeria in July under a state program to help refugees and migrants. It has helped over 14,000 Nigerians return home since 2017.

Blessing and Claudia Osadolor are pseudonyms requested to protect their anonymity.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Tim Cocks and Susan Fenton)

Congo records one-day record for confirmed Ebola cases

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare worker carry a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola during the funeral in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday confirmed 14 new cases of Ebola virus in its eastern borderlands, the largest one-day increase since the current outbreak was declared in August.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri is already the second-largest in history with 713 confirmed and probable cases and 439 deaths.

It is surpassed only by the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa, which involved over 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths and led to substantial investments in a vaccine and treatments for the virus.

Health officials have struggled to bring the current outbreak, Congo’s tenth since 1976, under control, largely due to widespread militia violence in eastern Congo which has hampered the response.

The health ministry said in a daily bulletin that nine of the new cases were in the health zone of Katwa, just outside Butembo, a city of several hundred thousand people near the Ugandan border that has emerged as the outbreak’s new epicenter. One other case was in Butembo.

The ministry also announced six new deaths of confirmed cases as well as the recovery of one patient.

(Reporting By Stanis Bujakera and Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Congo approves more experimental Ebola treatments as cases rise

FILE PHOTO: Congolese health workers prepare the Ebola treatment centre in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo has approved four more experimental treatments against the deadly Ebola virus, the health ministry said as it raced to contain an outbreak in its violence-torn east.

Health authorities last week started administering the U.S.-developed mAb114 treatment to Ebola patients, the first time such a treatment had been used against an active outbreak.

The health ministry said in a daily bulletin late on Tuesday that the 10 patients who received mAb114 since Aug. 11 have experienced a “positive evolution”, but the outbreak has continued to grow.

The four additional treatments approved by Congo’s ethics committee are Remdesivir, made by Israel’s Gilead Sciences; ZMapp, an intravenous treatment made by San Diego’s Mapp Pharmaceutical; Japanese drug Favipiravir; and one referred to as Regn3450 – 3471 – 3479.

Remdesivir was administered to its first patient in the town of Beni on Tuesday, who is doing well, the ministry said in its bulletin.

Six new cases and four new deaths have been confirmed from the haemmorhagic fever, which causes vomiting and severe diarrhea, the ministry said.

That brings the total number of deaths to 59 and confirmed cases to 75 since last month.

Congo, whose heavily forested interior makes its a natural home for Ebola, is at the forefront of a global campaign to combat the virus, which killed more than 11,000 people when it swept through West Africa from 2013-2016.

The Central African country has experienced ten Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered in northern Congo in 1976 – more than twice as many as any other country – and 33 people died in a flare-up in the northwest that ended last month.

In addition, a vaccine manufactured by Merck, which proved effective against the earlier outbreak in northwestern Congo, has been administered to 1,693 health workers and contacts of Ebola patients.

Insecurity in Congo’s eastern borderlands with Uganda has continued to complicate the response, with some contacts of Ebola patients located in so-called “red-zones”, which are off limits to emergency responders due to militia activity.

Instead, local health workers in those areas are monitoring the contacts and no Ebola cases have yet been confirmed there.

(Reporting By Amedee Mwarabu and Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

U.S. must step up support for operation against West Africa militants: France

French soldiers prepare their armoured vehicles at the Relay Desert Platform Camp (PfDR) in Ansongo, Mali, October 15, 2017, during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By John Irish and Yara Bayoumy

PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States must step up its support for a planned African force to fight Islamist militants in West Africa otherwise it could fail, leaving French troops to carry the burden alone, France’s defense minister said on Friday.

France intervened in Mali to ward off an offensive by Islamist militants that began in 2012 and 4,000 of its troops remain in the region as part of Operation Barkhane where they work alongside 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.

France and West African countries are pushing for the creation of a regional force known as the G5 Sahel.

Washington provides bilateral assistance, intelligence and training for regional security operations, but it is cool toward the African force and has pushed back against U.N. support for it.

“In the Sahel, France is deploying in a high-intensity environment, with tremendous support from the United States. We are immensely grateful for that support,” Parly said in a speech at a Washington think tank monitored in Paris.

“But much more needs to be done. We can’t be, and don’t want to be, the praetorian (guards) of sovereign African countries. They must be made able to defeat terror on their own,” she said during a visit for meetings with her American counterpart James Mattis and White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

“I would be happy if you could help spread the word in the Beltway,” she said in a reference to the U.S. government.

Parly said the G5 Sahel force was meant to bolster the security capacity of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania, which are all former French colonies.

French officials see the success of the G5 Sahel as a long-term exit strategy for Paris. For decades, France has mounted military operations in its former African colonies but in recent years it has looked to spread the cost.

Until now the G5 force has only received a quarter of its estimated 423 million euro budget, according to a report by the U.N. Secretary General, who said financing the operation would “remain a significant challenge” for several years.

“It will start its first operations soon. It needs support. The U.N. wants to give support. I hope everyone can become convinced that a robust U.N. assistance is necessary,” Parly said.

French defense officials say they expect the first G5 patrols to begin this month and hope that will provide momentum ahead of a donor conference in December.

Parly said that militants could flourish if financial backing for the G5 was not forthcoming.

Her visit also aimed to ascertain the political fallout from an ambush in Niger in early October that saw four U.S. special forces soldiers killed by jihadists.

U.S. troops called in French fighter jets for air support and French helicopters to evacuate several wounded soldiers.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Man claiming to be Boko Haram leader denies 5,000 hostages freed

By Ardo Abdullahi

BAUCHI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A man purporting to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram denied in a video posted on Friday that 5,000 people held by the group had been freed by West African forces earlier in the week.

On Wednesday, Cameroon said regional forces had rescued the hostages, who were held in villages by the jihadist group, in an operation along the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

“You are telling lies that you killed 60 of our men and rescued 20 children, and that you rescued 5,000 of your people, Paul Biya,” said the man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, referring to Cameroon’s president.

He also claimed responsibility for attacks earlier this week which included suicide bombings in the city of Maiduguri and a raid on the town of Magumeri, both of which are in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno.

Nigeria’s military has said on multiple occasions in the last few years that it has killed or wounded Shekau.

Such statements have often been followed by video denials by someone who says he is Shekau, but poor footage makes it difficult to confirm if the person is the same man as in previous footage.

Boko Haram has killed around 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating a state adhering to strict Islamic laws in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation.

The jihadist group, whose attacks have increased since the end of the rainy season in late 2016, also carries out cross-border attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Kingimi; writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Taiwan loses another ally, says won’t help China ties

Taiwan diplomats

By J.R. Wu and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan accused China on Wednesday of using Sao Tome and Principe’s financial woes to push its “one China” policy after the West African state ended ties with the self-ruled island, with Taiwan saying China’s action would not help relations across the Taiwan Strait.

China’s claim to Taiwan have shot back into the spotlight since U.S. President-elect Donald Trump broke diplomatic protocol and spoke with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen this month, angering Beijing.

Trump has also questioned the “one China” policy which the United States has followed since establishing relations with Beijing in 1979, under which the United States acknowledges that Taiwan is part of China.

The election of Tsai from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party this year infuriated Beijing, which suspects she wants to push for the island’s formal independence, though she says she wants to maintain peace with China.

Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee said Taipei would not engage in “dollar diplomacy” after Sao Tome’s decision.

“We think the Beijing government should not use Sao Tome’s financing black hole … as an opportunity to push its ‘one China’ principle,” Lee told a news conference in Taipei on Wednesday.

“This behavior is not helpful to a smooth cross-Strait relationship.”

Tsai held emergency meetings with cabinet officials and security advisers on Wednesday, and told her ministers:

“Foreign diplomacy is not a zero-sum game,” according to her office spokesman, Alex Huang.

Tsai’s office said in a statement China’s use of Sao Tome’s financial woes to push its “one China” policy would harm stability across the Taiwan Strait.

“This is absolutely not beneficial to the long-term development of cross-Strait relations,” it said.

China says Taiwan has no right to diplomatic recognition as it is part of China, and the issue is an extremely sensitive one for Beijing.

In Beijing, China welcomed Sao Tome’s decision, without explicitly saying it had established formal relations with the former Portuguese colony or making any mention of a request for financial aid.

“We have noted the statement from the government of Sao Tome and Principe on the 20th to break so-called ‘diplomatic’ ties with Taiwan. China expresses appreciation of this, and welcomes Sao Tome back onto the correct path of the ‘one China’ principle,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment when asked when the two countries may exchange ambassadors, and dismissed a question on how much China may have offered Sao Tome to switch ties as being “very imaginative”.

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of a civil war in 1949 and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

In Africa, only Burkina Faso and Swaziland now maintain formal ties with Taiwan. President Tsai will visit Central American allies Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador next month.

“We now have 21 allies left. We must cherish them,” Lee said.

China and Taiwan had for years tried to poach each other’s allies, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations.

But they began an unofficial diplomatic truce after signing a series of landmark trade and economic agreements in 2008 following the election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan’s president.

Sao Tome and Principe’s tiny island economy is heavily dependent on cocoa exports but its position in the middle of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea has raised interest in its potential as a possible oil and gas producer.

Diplomatic sources in Beijing have previously said Sao Tome was likely high on China’s list of countries to lure away from Taiwan.

In 2013, Sao Tome said China planned to open a trade mission to promote projects there, 16 years after it broke off relations over Sao Tome’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

(Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

Famine killing tens of thousands in West Africa : biggest crisis anywhere

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people are dying of hunger in the area of west Africa where Boko Haram militants are active, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the region, told a news conference on Friday.

About 65,000 people are in a “catastrophe” or “phase 5” situation, according to a food security assessment by the IPC, the recognized classification system on declaring famines.

Phase 5 applies when, even with humanitarian assistance, “starvation, death and destitution” are evident.

“The tragedy of using the F word is that when you apply it it’s too late,” said Toby Lanzer, who has also worked in South Sudan, Darfur and Chechnya.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in a seven-year insurgency and they still launch deadly attacks despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014.

“This is the first time I’ve come across people talking about phase 5. The reason for that was simply a lack of access. We couldn’t get to places,” Lanzer said.

“Because of the insecurity sown almost exclusively by Boko Haram, people have missed three planting seasons.”

Asked if it was safe to assume that tens of thousands of people were dying, Lanzer said: “It’s not what we’re assuming, it’s what the IPC states. And I back that number.

“I can tell you from my first trip outside (the regional capital) Maiduguri, I had never gone to places that had adults who were so depleted of energy that they could barely walk.”

One aid agency reported back from the Nigerian town of Bama that its staff had counted the graves of about 430 children who had died of hunger in the past few weeks, Lanzer said.

With millions more short of food in northern Nigerian and regions of the adjoining countries, the situation could get much worse, and could turn into the “biggest crisis facing any of us anywhere”, he said.

“We’re now talking about 568,000 across the Lake Chad basin who are severely malnourished, 400,000 of them are in the northeast of Nigeria. We know that over the next 12 months, 75,000, maybe as many as 80,000, children will die in the northeast of Nigeria, unless we can reach them with specialized therapeutic food,” Lanzer said.

Across the Lake Chad region, more than 6 million people are described as “severely food insecure”, including 4.5 million in Nigeria, he said.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

NASA’s New mission; improving good security in West Africa

ourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida

By Nellie Peyton

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A drive by NASA to stream climate data to West African nations using its earth-observing satellites could boost crop production in a region hit hard by climate change, experts say.

NASA last week launched a hub in Niger’s capital Niamey that will use space-based observations to improve food security and better manage natural disasters, said Dan Irwin, manager of the SERVIR project, named after the Spanish word meaning “to serve”.

The project, which will cover Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and Niger, is one of four regional hubs worldwide, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The model is demand driven,” said Irwin, who describes SERVIR’s vision as “connecting space to village”. NASA performed a study in the region two years ago and found that governments either did not have good data, or were not using it, he added.

The Sahel is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change, where rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall are wreaking havoc on farmers, disrupting food production, and fuelling widespread hunger and malnutrition.

“The whole livelihood along the Sahel depends on a few main crops, namely millet and sorghum,” U.N. World Food Program analyst Matthieu Tockert told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“These crops are highly dependent on rainfall, so any data that allows for proper forecasts is key,” Tockert said.

Farmers in Senegal say that traditional methods of predicting the weather are no longer reliable. A program launched last month by the country’s aviation and meteorology agency aims to solve the problem by sending texts to farmers.

“There is an immediate need to connect available science and technology to development solutions in West Africa,” said Alex Deprez, director of USAID’s West Africa regional office.

In East Africa, SERVIR scientists have since 2008 built a system to track water in streams and rivers and predict when and where droughts or floods will occur, and created maps that show which land is the most fertile, and which areas risk erosion.

SERVIR could adopt similar programmes in West Africa, but the first step will be to identify the region’s most pressing needs, with a priority on improving food security, Irwin said.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katie Nguyen.)