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UN Secretary-General expresses solidarity with DR Congo during visit

The UN chief first visited Goma, the capital of North Kivu province which is trying to roll back an epidemic of Ebola

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UN Secretary-General expresses solidarity with DR Congo during visit
UN Secretary-General António Guterres. (PHOTO: WILLIAM VOLCOV/AFP)

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres started a three-day tour of the Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday, expressing “solidarity” with a region hit by the Ebola epidemic.

The UN chief first visited Goma, the capital of North Kivu province which is trying to roll back an epidemic of Ebola that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in a year.

Guterres was received by Leila Zerrougui, his special representative in the DR Congo.

The two did not shake hands, in line with protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the highly infectious and potentially fatal disease.

Guterres said he had come to express his support “with the armed forces of DRC in the fight against terrorism” which represents “a threat not only for the Congo but the whole of Africa.”

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country known by its French acronym MONUSCO comprises some 16,000 troops and has an annual budget of over $1 billion.

A total of 130 militias and armed groups roam the North and South Kivu provinces of DR Congo, a vast country the size of western continental Europe.

Guterres was due to visit a centre for demobilised former militia fighters in Goma. 

According to the Group of Experts on Congo from New York University and Human Rights Watch, armed groups killed 1,900 civilians and kidnapped more than 3,300 people in the region between June 2017 and June 2019.

Ebola toll rising –

The demobilisation of militias is a priority for MONUSCO, which has been present in the DR Congo since 1999.

On Sunday, Guterres will visit Beni, one of the epicentres of the Ebola epidemic, about 350 kilometres north of Goma.  

DR Congo health officials said late Thursday that there have been “2,006 deaths (1,901 confirmed and 105 probable)” since August 2018.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

Containment efforts have been hindered by conflict in the country’s east, as well as attacks on health workers tackling Ebola.

Guterres will visit the remote area of Mangina in the bush outside Beni, where the epidemic first broke out at the end of July 2018, visiting a treatment centre and meeting survivors and health workers.

As the battle against Ebola continues, former health minister Oly Ilunga, who stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization to introduce a second, unlicensed vaccine to the country, has been banned from leaving the country pending a probe into improper use of public funds, according to migration service documents seen by reporters on Saturday.

Ilunga has been questioned as part of an inquiry into the misuse of Ebola funds. Shortly before he stepped down, the minister had been replaced by President Felix Tshisekedi as the head of the country’s Ebola response team.

Militia attacks –

Apart from Ebola, Beni has been reeling under attacks since October 2014 with civilians and farmers bearing the brunt of the violence.

Most of the killings have been attributed to the Islamist-rooted Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia group that arose in western Uganda in 1995 and has been accused of killing hundreds of civilians.

“We are entirely by the side of the Congolese authorities in the fight against ADF,” Guterres said in Goma.

ADF fighters have also targeted UN troops, killing 15 people in an attack in December.

Under the terms of its latest mandate spanning April to December this year, the UN has closed bases in the DR Congo, reviewed intervention strategy and cut civilian staff by 764 since the beginning of July.

But in Beni, prominent locals called for the UN to beef up the capacity of its rapid intervention force.

“We want more military means to be put at their disposal to finish the ADF in Beni,” mayor Bwanakawa Masumbuko said.

Guterres will end his tour in the capital Kinshasa, where he will meet Tshisekedi, who recently unveiled a new coalition government after a delay of nearly eight months.

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia

Officials say the landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia
(File photo)

Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said. 

The landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.

“There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power,” Takele told reporters.

“So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig.”  

He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district — located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region — sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember. 

“The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous,” he said. 

Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.

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Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

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Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its arch-rival Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

President Filipe Nyusi, who cast his ballot as polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), called on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.

“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” he said, adding that more than more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.

“Let’s continue this process in a serene way. Peace means that everything must be done according to the rules.”

Nyusi, 60, is forecast to win a second five-year term despite his popularity taking a hit from chronic unrest and a financial crisis linked to alleged state corruption.

While the election is expected to see regional wins for Renamo, few think Frelimo will be unseated from government after 44 years at the helm.

“Frelimo is a machine,” said Castro Davis, a 42-year-old public servant in the capital Maputo, predicting a “straight-forward victory.” 

Elena Jorge, 50, told AFP she wants Renamo to win “but people know that these elections will not be free, fair or transparent — but we have hope.”

Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote at more than 20,000 polling booths, which closes at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces for the first time following a change of law allowing voters to elect provincial governors.

“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

“For the first time, the political geography of the country may change substantially, it may even lead to confrontation.”

Renamo’s candidate Ossufo Momade, 58, heads a party of former anti-communist rebels who fought a brutal civil war with Frelimo from 1975-1992, devastating the economy and leaving almost one million people dead. 

Renamo picked up arms again in 2013 to 2016, but tension continued until Nyusi and Momade signed a peace deal in August. 

But an armed breakaway faction of Renamo has rejected Momade’s candidacy and threatened to attack campaign events, raising fears the presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls could be marred by bloodshed.

The six-week campaign was one of the most violent in the country’s turbulent history, with candidates threatened, election material destroyed, and deadly clashes breaking out between supporters.

The opposition has already accused Frelimo of tampering with the vote.

Enrolment has more than doubled in the southeastern Gaza province, a Frelimo bastion, and civil society groups have expressed concern about the size of the increase.

They also estimate that there are around 300,000 “ghost voters” on electoral rolls — names on the electoral roll not aligned with real, potential voters.

“We definitely have some irregularities that put stains on the whole process,” said Hermenegildo Mulhovo of election monitoring group Sala da Paz.

The situation escalated last week, when the head of a local election observation mission was shot dead by members of a special police unit in Gaza’s capital Xai-Xai.

Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third biggest party MDM, accused Frelimo of “using all state means, including police and secret services, to intimidate people”.

Frelimo suffered its worst result at the ballot box — 51.8 percent — in local elections last year and has been severely weakened in recent years.

In 2016 it was revealed the government secretly borrowed $2 billion, sparking the worst financial crisis in the country’s history and uncovering a vast corruption network with links to the regime.

The government is also battling to recover from two devastating cyclones in March which displaced nearly two million people. 

And a shadowy jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds in the far north has delayed development of one of the government’s biggest selling points — the discovery of vast gas reserves that is hoped to put billions in state coffers and lift millions out of poverty.

The instability has already forced the National Election Commission to close 10 polling booths, however first Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Thursday. 

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2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya

The plane, operated by domestic airline Silverstone Air, was to make a stop at port city Mombasa before heading to Lamu

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2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya
Kenyan Airports Authority fire fighters are seen next to a Silverstone Air airline aircraft, with 50 passengers and 5 crew members on board, that overran the runway on takeoff at Wilson Airport, in Nairobi, on October 11, 2019. - Silverstone Air and the Kenyan Airport Authority announced that of the 55 people on board, only two were injured. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

An aircraft flying 55 people from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi to tourist attraction Lamu island veered off the runway during takeoff, skidding into some trees and leaving two injured, authorities said Friday.

The plane, operated by domestic airline Silverstone Air, was to make a stop at port city Mombasa before heading to Lamu, home to a UNESCO world heritage site off Kenya’s northern coast.

“This morning at around 9:00 am, a Fokker 50 aircraft… veered off the runway while departing from Wilson Airport, Nairobi. The aircraft had 55 souls on board, 50 passengers, 5 crew. Two passengers were slightly injured and are receiving appropriate medical attention,” the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said in a statement.

2 passengers injured after Lamu-bound plane veers off runway in Kenya
Silverstone Air airline aircraft, heading to Lamu via Mombasa with 50 passengers and 5 crew members on board, is seen after it overran the runway on takeoff at Wilson Airport, in Nairobi, on 11 October 2019. -(Photo by Kelly AYODI / AFP)

A photographer on the scene at Wilson Airport saw emergency services surrounding the plane, which went through the fence and ploughed on several dozen metres (yards) into the brush.

Silverstone Air, a company specialised in domestic fights, confirmed in a statement that its Fokker 50 plane had had an accident at Wilson Airport. Silverstone staff were working with the authorities to assess the situation.

KAA announced an enquiry.

Wilson Airport is a small facility south of Nairobi, mostly handling domestic flights to the coast and national parks. It is located about 15 kilometres from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the largest in Kenya.

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