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Suspected Militant Attacks in Niger Leave 70 Dead

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Suspected Islamist militants have killed at least 70 people in simultaneous attacks on villages in Niger Republic, near the border zone with Mali, .

In the village of Tchombanhou, at least 49 people were left killed in a raid, while 17 were seriously wounded.

In the village of Zamoudareye, another 30 people were suspected to have been killed by the militants.

Niger, bordered to the West by Burkina Faso and Mali and to the southeast by Nigeria, has seen multiple attacks in the last one year. Hundreds of lives have been lost and properties have been razed in the death.

Recall that Nigeriens last week trooped out to elect a new President in the very first democratic transition of the country in 60 years.

Dipped in security challenges, the new Nigerien President, when announced, is expected to plug the holes in the nation’s security architecture.

A run-off has been declared in the election, after the leading candidate and former Prime Minister, Mohammed Bahmouz failed to amass the constitutional requirements needed to win the election.

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Serious Sexual Violence, Rape Reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray – UN Envoy

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The United Nations (UN) has revealed that serious allegations of sexual violence are being reported in Tigray, northern Ethiopia.

Pramila Pattern, a Mauritian-British barrister and UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, said the reports included a high number of alleged rapes in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital.

Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) seized control of Mekelle from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on 28 November after several weeks of fighting.

“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Ms Patten said in a statement.

“Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.

“While medical centres have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict.

“In addition, there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps.”

She called on those parties involved in the hostilities “to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence”.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a ground and air offensive on 4 November to oust the region’s ruling party, after its troops captured federal military bases.

He declared victory in Tigray after a month’s conflict, but fugitive TPLF leaders vowed to continue the fight.

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Israeli Billionaire Jailed 5 Years, Fined $56.48M over Guinea’s Bribery Scandal

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A court in Switzerland has sentenced the billionaire Israeli businessman, Beny Steinmetz, to five years in prison for bribery in relation to acquiring mining rights to lucrative iron-ore deposits in Guinea.

Some of the money was said to have been transferred through Swiss banks.

A Swiss criminal court on Friday found billionaire Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz guilty of corruption and also ordered him to pay 50 million Swiss francs ($56.48 million) fine.

The judgment is a landmark verdict in one of the mining world’s most high-profile legal disputes.

Delivering judgment, the judge, Alexandra Banna, said, “It is clear from what has been presented that the rights were obtained through corruption and that Steinmetz cooperated with others to obtain them.’’

The court, she said, had therefore sentenced him “to a deprivation of liberty for five years”, in line with the prosecutors’ request.

The court also convicted and sentenced Steinmetz’s co-defendants, a French man and a Belgian woman.

They were also found guilty of corruption and were given a 3-1/2 year jail sentence each and a two-year suspended sentence, respectively.

The judgment followed a two-week trial of Steinmetz and his co-defendants variously accused of bribery and corruption.

The convicts were accused of conspiring and paying or arranging payment of $10 million in bribes.

The bribes were aimed at influencing officials so as to obtain exploration permits for the world’s richest untapped deposits of iron ore in Guinea.

They were also accused of forging documents to cover it up through a web of shell companies and bank accounts.

They had denied all the charges before the court.

Central to Steinmetz’s defence was his claim that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR).

He described himself as the owner and company ambassador but not the boss of the group that employs some 100,000 members of staff.

Steinmetz said he would appeal the judgment.

“It is a big injustice,” he told reporters outside the Geneva courthouse.

The battle for control of the iron ore, buried in the remote Simandou mountain range of West Africa’s Guinea, has triggered probes and litigation around the world.

This has also thwarted efforts to extract the lucrative commodity.

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Two Million Displaced in Sahel Violence – UN

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The Sahel has reached a ‘grim milestone’ with no fewer than two million people displaced by unrelenting violence, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

The Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria’s extreme north, is home to some of the world’s least developed countries.

The UNHCR said: “Needs are surging across a region where multiple crises converge including armed conflict, extreme poverty, food insecurity, climatic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The extreme vulnerability of the Sahel has been laid bare by the impact of forced displacement.

“This is caused by widespread and gruesome violence perpetrated by armed insurgent groups and criminal gang.”

According to the agency, internal displacement in the region has increased fourfold in just two years.

It said there were 490,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs) at the beginning of 2019, more than half of whom were from Burkina Faso.

The Sahel also hosts over 850,000 refugees, mainly from Mali, it added.

“Already this year, violence in Niger and Burkina Faso has forced more than 21,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge within their own countries.

“In Burkina Faso, since Dec. 31, a series of armed attacks on the town of Koumbri and nearby villages in the North of the country have displaced more than 11,000 people.

“Most are women and children who fled at night after attackers began shooting at their homes.

“They have reached safety and are now staying within local communities in Ouahigouya and Barga, some 35 kilometres away,” UNHCR said.

The agency warned that the communities hosting the displaced had reached a breaking point.

Many of the IDPs, it said, lack basic needs like shelter in spite of the generosity of their hosts.

UNHCR added that they were in urgent need of water and access to medical and sanitation services to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The humanitarian response is dangerously overstretched, and UNHCR is urging the international community to redouble its support for the region.

“States must act now to help Sahel countries address the root causes of this forced displacement, to boost strategic and sustainable development.

“And to strengthen institutions such as schools and hospitals, many of which have shut due to ongoing violence.The situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it noted.

The agency enumerated its interventions in the region to include provision of shelter, relief items, hygiene materials and cash.

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