The International Police (INTERPOL) says several suspected terrorists have been arrested and weapons, ammunition and contraband fuel seized in a joint operation with the United Nations across the Sahel.
It said more than 40,000 sticks of dynamite and detonator cords – used for illegal gold mining – were also taken.
Interpol said illegal gold mining is a new source of funding for armed groups in the region, as well as a recruitment ground.
A UN statement, on Monday, said the week-long Operation KAFO II targeted smuggling hotspots in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger over a seven-day period, resulting in the arrest of a number of suspected terrorists and the seizure of illicit firearms, ammunition and explosives.
“The fight against illicit firearms trafficking requires strong international and inter-agency cooperation to identify the source of these arms and bring perpetrators to justice,” said UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly.
“After the operational phase of KAFO II, it is important that UNODC and INTERPOL continue working together and support ongoing investigations and open cases,” she added.
More than 260 officers from police, customs and other national services in the four countries participated in the joint operation, which was conducted from 30 November to 6 December and focused on airports, seaports and land borders.
The statement said they checked more than 12,000 individuals, vehicles, containers and goods against international criminal databases, and carried out physical searches, including to determine if suspects were using stolen travel documents or were known to police in any of INTERPOL’s 194 member countries.
Besides arresting several suspected terrorists, officers intercepted 50 firearms, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and over 40,000 sticks of dynamite as well as 28 detonator cords.
They also netted nearly 1,500 kilos of cannabis and the plant-based stimulant drug khat; some 60,000 litres of contraband fuel, and more than 2,000 boxes of contraband medical drugs.
“Trafficking in firearms is a lucrative business which, in turn, fuels and funds other types of serious crimes,” said INTERPOL Secretary General, Jürgen Stock.
“Operation KAFO II shows the need to connect the dots between crime cases involving firearms and terrorists across different countries.”
The joint operation also focused on disrupting the flow of illicit goods that finance criminal and terrorist activities as firearms trafficking is often associated with other forms of contraband, the partners said.
The seizure of large quantities of contraband fuel in Niger and Mali represented a new trend, they added, as it is believed the fuel came from Nigeria and was being trafficked to both finance and supply the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Additionally, the dynamite and detonator cords were destined for use in illegal gold mining: a new source of financing but also a potential recruiting ground for armed groups operating in the Sahel.
The statement said meanwhile, the scores of contraband hand sanitizer gel containers, gloves and drugs seized during the operation indicated the market for these items was flourishing, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said ahead of the operation, partners provided the officers with skills training, including how to use INTERPOL’s Illicit Arms Record and tracing Management System (iARMS).
As a result, several hundred firearms recovered in the region over the past year were identified and traced back to the countries where they were manufactured, or last legally imported, to track their history of ownership and movement.
This intelligence helped participating countries to better target firearms trafficking suspects, networks and hotspots.
UNODC said investigations are now underway in efforts to build a strong case for prosecution.
15-Day COVID-19 Lockdown: Rwanda Distributes Food to Vulnerable Families
Following its decision to lockdown Kigali, its capital, the Rwanda authorities have begun the distribution of COVID-19 palliatives to vulnerable families in affected by the restriction.
News Central reports that the Rwandan government had, on Monday, imposed a 15-day lockdown on Kigali to curb the spread coronavirus after a surge in cases in the capital.
All movements outside homes require an approved permit from the police, except for essential service providers.
However, to help some 3,000 families – identified as the most vulnerable – cope with the lockdown the government is distributing food rations to households.
Local and international reports said that as of Thursday evening households have started receiving sacks of rice, maize flour and beans.
Some 3,000 families have been identified as the most vulnerable. The city has a population of about one million people.
There have been concerns that hundreds of thousands of residents who live hand to mouth would face hunger during the lockdown.
The authorities have assured that food will reach the most vulnerable, as well as poor Covid-19 patients being treated at home.
The rations were being delivered by volunteers who had tested negative before the programme started, city officials said.
A free phone line is available for requests from “those who want and merit the food aid to be delivered at their doorsteps”.
On Thursday Rwanda reported nine Covid-19 deaths, the highest daily fatalities so far, and 310 new cases.
COVID-19: Mali Plans to Start Vaccination in April
The Malian government plans to buy over 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, the country’s council of ministers has said.
The council said it expects to roll out a vaccination campaign in April.
The vaccine is expected to cost Mali – which has a population of about 18.5 million and has so far recorded 7,911 Covid-19 cases and over 320 deaths – $58m.
The government remarks that the cost would be covered with financial assistance from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the World Bank.
GAVI and WHO co-run the COVAX scheme which helps developing countries to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.
It did not specify which vaccines it planned to buy.
Mali like other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is battling a second wave of coronavirus infections, although its infection rate has decreased from a peak in early January.
Missing Senegal’s Best Student Makes Contact, Apologises for Going AWOL
Diary Sow, the talented Senegalese student who went missing in France since 4 January 2021, has made contact with authorities in her country, explaining that she was on “a little break to regain her senses”.
Sow, who has been described as the “best student in Senegal”, has won several national academic awards and has been studying physics, chemistry and engineering at the prestigious Louis-Le-Grand school.
She is a second-year pre-university student at Louis-Le-Grand, having received a scholarship for excellence.
She also published her first novel in 2020.
Authorities in France and Senegal launched a hunt for her when she failed to show up in school after the Christmas and New year holidays.
Now Sow has written a letter to Senegal’s Water and Sanitation Minister, Serigne Mbaye Thiam, explaining her disappearance.
In a thread on Twitter, the minister shared extracts of her letter – with her permission, Sow said she was “not the victim of any kind of pressure” and apologised to those worried about her.
“I am not hiding. I’m not running away. See it as a kind of welcome respite from my life,” she wrote.
She said her failure to show up for school on 4 January was not “about overwork, or madness, or the desire for freedom”.
“I am not sorry to have left, I am sorry for the inconvenience caused by my departure and for the people I made suffer,” she said.
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