21 January 2013

Africa: News Round Up

In Algeria, at least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at a gas plant, as reports say that 25 bodies found at the complex on Sunday were all those of captives, the BBC reports.

It had initially been unclear whether the bodies found were those of hostage-takers or staff at the facility.

A search is continuing at the In Amenas gas plant, where as many as 20 hostages remain unaccounted for.

Five suspected Islamist attackers were reportedly arrested on Sunday.

However many questions still remain unanswered, among them exactly how many people are unaccounted for at the natural gas facility after three days of chaos that ended Saturday.

Some 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners were freed, the Algerian Interior Ministry said.

Britain's BP said Sunday four of its workers remain unaccounted for. And Norway's Statoil said five of its employees were missing, while 12 others are now home in Norway, Algeria and Canada.

"Search efforts are ongoing at the gas installation, looking for more possible victims. I fear the numbers will be updated with more victims later today when the search operation is expected to end," said Mohammed Said, Algeria's communication minister.

The attackers came from six countries -- only three were Algerian -- and included Arabs and Africans, Said told state-run Radio Algeria. Algeria's military found numerous "foreign military uniforms" in its sweep of the In Amenas facility, its Interior Ministry said.

As Western leaders condemned the kidnappings, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said Algeria would boost security at its energy installations without outside help.

"It is out of the question to allow foreign security forces to handle the security of our oil facilities," he said, quoted by Algeria's APS news agency.

During a visit to the affected plant, Mr Yousfi said it would resume production within two days.

The private TV channel Ennahar said security forces had discovered the bodies of 25 hostages as they searched the complex for booby-traps and mines.

In Mali, the military gained control of the central town of Diabaly, Mali, a key advance in the battle against Islamist militants in the north, CNN reports.

The country's forces retook the town without ground assistance from French troops, a military spokesman said. The French military confirmed that it provided only air support.

French officials later said Malian forces had managed to push the Islamists into the forest beyond Diabaly. But battles in the region continued to rage.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that France's military aim in Mali is its "total reconquest."

"We will not leave any pockets" of resistance, he told French television.

France has sent in 2,000 troops to help Malian forces fight Islamist militants who now control the northern half of the country.

Mr Le Drian said the former Islamist stronghold of Diabaly had not yet been retaken, even though the militants withdrew from the town two days ago.

Mr Le Drian also said during his interview that seven French citizens who have been taken hostage in Niger and Mali in recent years "are alive", and there have been "contacts with hostage-takers".

There had been concerns for their fate following France's decision to send troops into Mali earlier this month.

A senior Malian military figure cautioned that parts of Diabaly's population were sympathetic to the Islamists, and this made their task difficult.

Officials say Mali's army has also retaken the town of Konna, whose capture by rebels triggered the French intervention.

In South Africa, Western Cape farmworkers have been encouraged to continue striking until their demands for a higher daily wage are met, news24 reports.

The Building and Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) told workers on Sunday that a return to work may scupper their chances of farmers giving in to their R150 wage demand, the Cape Times reported.

"We are calling on all farmworkers not to go back to work. Let us rather suffer for a few days than suffer forever," Bawusa general secretary Nosey Pieterse said in Avian Park, near Worcester.

"We will win this battle soon, but we call on everyone to fight with us, because we all will benefit.

The strike, which started last year, was suspended in December, but resumed almost two weeks ago in various towns in the province.

The Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu) reportedly encouraged about 500 of its members in De Doorns on Sunday to return to work only when they were paid a higher wage.

Fawu general secretary Kathisa Masemola asked workers to protest peacefully on Monday.

The union announced last week it that it was planning to march to the De Doorns police station on Thursday to call for a strike without violence on both sides.

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