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Eritrea Releases 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses From Prison

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Eritrea has released 28 members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses group after they served prison terms of up to 26 years.

In 1994 the citizenship for all members of the church was revoked by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and followers are routinely imprisoned without trial.

In its statement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said 28 of its members incarcerated in Eritrea were freed on Dec. 4 after serving sentences of ranging from five to 26 years.

Another 24 remain in prison, it said.

“Eritrea arrests and imprisons Jehovah’s Witnesses and others without trial or formal charges. Several of those jailed are male Witnesses who are conscientious objectors to military service,” the statement said.

“However, the majority – including women and the elderly – are imprisoned for religious activity or undisclosed reasons.”

Some were detained for being conscientious objectors – in a country with compulsory military service.

The organisation says 24 members are still in prison.

Eritrea is one of the most oppressive nations in the world – with no elections or parliament and a draft constitution that has never been implemented.

Only four religious denominations are allowed – Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christianity, Sunni Islam and the Lutheran church.

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3,000 CAR Nationals Flee to Cameroon to Escape Violence

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Tens of thousands of people have fled the violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) with the Gado Refugee camp in Cameroon registering about 3,000 refugees.

About 60,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries over the last few weeks since six powerful rebel groups launched an offensive a few months ago to try and prevent the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

Touadera, 63, has struggled to wrest control of vast swathes of the country from armed militias since first winning power in 2016, three years after former President Francois Bozize was ousted by another rebellion.

The presidential election went ahead despite an offensive by rebel groups who tried to disrupt the vote after Bozize’s candidacy was rejected by the country’s highest court.

Touadera won five more years in power by securing more than 53% of votes in the December 27 election that was marred by violence.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number means a two-fold rise in just one week.

The arrival of those rebels was a blow, we fled with my husband in the hope of finding some peace, said Ihindou Melina, a refugee from the CAR.

Violence has escalated recently, with security forces on Wednesday repelling rebels trying to seize the capital Bangui, after intense fighting on the city’s outskirts.

At least one Rwandan peacekeeper has been killed and another injured, said the United Nations.

On Friday, at least one peacekeeper was killed and another two were injured during an attack against the UN soldiers in Grimari, a city located 200km from the capital, the United Nations Mission in the country said in a statement.

“So far we have registered nearly 3,000 people who are seeking refuge in Cameroon from the Central African Republic. These people, most of them, are women under the age of 50, they have come with children,” said Helen Ngoh Ada, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Cameroon.

The UN refugee agency says Those who arrive at sites for the displaced have witnessed traumatic scenes of violence and that malnutrition rates have risen to serious levels.

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Rwandan Peacekeeper Killed in Bangui as Violence Escalates

The CAR has since been experiencing pockets of violence following the presidential elections that were held on December 27, last year.

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One peacekeeper from Rwanda was killed and another injured in an attack by armed rebels on the outskirts of the city of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR).

A statement by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) in the CAR condemned the attack, noting that the rebels directly targeted the peacekeepers who were deployed in several cities across the country.

“MINUSCA bows before the memory of this peacekeeper who fell in the service of peace in the country and expresses sincere condolences to his family and to the contingent and the Rwandan government,” it said.

“MINUSCA strongly condemns the attacks by coalition armed groups and their political allies including former President François Bozizé. The Mission holds them responsible for the consequences of this violence on the civilian population and stresses that attacks against peacekeepers can be considered as war crimes and prosecuted.”

Plans are underway to airlift the deceased peacekeeper back to the country for burial, said The Rwanda Defence Forces.

While speaking to the press,” Lt Col Ronald Rwivanga, Spokesperson of Rwanda Defense Forces said “The attack was repelled but unfortunately one of ours was killed and another was injured. The injured one is in stable condition and will recover.”

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased. We strongly condemn the attack, which clearly targeted peacekeepers in violation of international peacekeeping rules.”

The CAR has since been experiencing pockets of violence following the presidential elections that were held on December 27, last year.

The elections were disputed by rebels loyal to former President François Bozizé, whose candidacy was invalidated.

MINUSCA said. Wednesday’s attack was repelled by peacekeepers together with forces of The CAR with the help of military helicopters.

According to authorities, over 250 foreign workers fled CAR due to fears of being targeted by rebels who are disgruntled by President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s re-election.

Rwandan peacekeepers in the CAR are now totaling 750. 717 men and 33 women, who also provide security to President Touadera and government officials, on top of manning security posts and patrols in the country.

The UN mission said during the attack, the rebels suffered loss of life while some were arrested and weapons seized. 

After three Burundian peacekeepers were killed in an ambush on December 26, this is the second time that peacekeepers are being killed by rebels in election related violence.

While the government of the CAR and the international community considered the election a success, the result was rejected by opposition candidates, alleging poll irregularities and violence. They are pushing for a rerun of the general election.

Last month, Rwanda sent a contingent of soldiers to CAR to protect peacekeepers and quell election violence, following intelligence reports that there will be deliberate targeting of peacekeepers by the rebels.

These new contingent of Rwandan soldiers – sent under a bilateral agreement with CAR – are not constrained by UN rules of engagement that prevent UN troops from directly exchanging fire with rebels.

Election-related violence in CAR has revealed “major vulnerabilities that require rethinking the role MINUSCA and international stakeholders,” according to the humanitarian organisation Relief Web.

“The biggest weakness exposed by the polls is that 11,000 UN troops weren’t enough to secure the vote across the country. It took the deployment of additional Russian instructors and Rwandan soldiers to help stabilise some of the voting operations,” Relief Web said.

Some 632,000 people have reportedly fled CAR to neighbouring countries due to the violence that has been escalating.

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Foreign Workers, Mostly Chinese, Flee Post-Election Violence in C.A.R.

According to Cameroon authorities, more than 250 foreign workers in the C.A.R. had crossed over to Cameroon in the past week.

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Authorities in Cameroon say over 250 foreign workers, most of them Chinese, have fled post-election violence in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) to the border town of Garoua Boulay.  The foreign workers say they are the target of rebel groups disgruntled with the C.A.R.’s December 27 presidential election that saw Faustin-Archange Touadera reelected.

Li Yu, 43, calls himself a spokesman for Chinese workers who fled post-election violence in the CAR to Cameroon, said 152 Chinese merchants, construction engineers, and those working on mining sites escaped to Cameroon in the past week.   

According to Li, armed rebel groups began threatening Chinese mining workers after the C.A.R’s  December 27 elections. He says the situation worsened during the first week of January when groups of heavily armed men started searching their homes, looting and asking all Chinese citizens to either leave or be killed.  Li says he is happy about the hospitality they have received in Cameroon.

He says more than 60 of the Chinese were working on mining sites in the C.A.R. and some of them had to make the journey through the bushes for days, before arriving in Cameroon.   

He says the Central African Republic’s military had to assist some Chinese and other foreign workers to the border.

According to Cameroon authorities, more than 250 foreign workers in the C.A.R. had crossed over to Cameroon in the past week.

Cameroon Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji payed a visit to the fleeing workers Sunday in Garoua Boulay.

Nji says the country’s President Paul Biya dispatched him to the border to ensure their safety and to provide aid.

He says the president asked him to ensure that all foreign workers escaping the violent clashes in the C.A.R. are safe in Cameroon, particularly the Chinese.  Nji says the mattresses, food, and first aid products they are handing out are from President Biya to help the fleeing workers in Garoua Boulay.  

He says Cameroon’s military will assist to transport Chinese citizens who wish to go to their embassy in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital.

Nji says since December, 4,500 civilians have fled election-related violence in the C.A.R. to Garoua Boulay.

He says because of the violence in the Central African Republic, close to 2,000 trucks have also been blocked at Garoua Boulay trying to get from Cameroon’s coastal city of Douala to Bangui, the capital of C.A.R.

On Sunday, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, said violence was rising to an alarming extent.   

According to MINUSCA, 4,000 civilians in the C.A.R. towns of Bouar and Grimari fled heavy fighting between rebels and troops to safety in Bouar’s Roman Catholic Church. 

Due to the violence between armed groups since 2013, nearly 700,000 people have been displaced inside the Central African Republic and over 600,000 forced to flee — most to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

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