5 February 2013

Africa: News Round Up

In Algeria, the army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north, Aljazeera reports.

"The army has been deployed on the border for a while, but reinforcements have been sent since the beginning of the war [in Mali]. It's about preventing the infiltration of terrorist groups," Mohamed Baba Ali, a member of parliament in the garrison town told the AFP news agency on Monday.

"Without these reinforcements, there would have been terrorist incursions from northern Mali."

Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards.

On Sunday, the governor of Adrar, a town 1,400km southwest of Algiers whose region shares the longest section of border with Mali, said the authorities had registered no Malian refugees since the border closure.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the air strikes around Kidal in northern Mali were aimed at cutting off supply lines to the rebels.

"It's about destroying their rear bases and their storage facilities," he told France Inter radio.

Fabius said French troops could soon start withdrawing from the recently liberated town of Timbuktu, where French President Francois Hollande received a rapturous welcome on a visit Saturday.

"It could happen very quickly," Fabius said.

The latest air strikes have targeted the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains north of Kidal, the only major town not under government control which is held by Tuareg separatists from the MNLA movement.

In Somalia, the UN chief is asking the Security Council to consider lifting the 20-year-old international arms embargo on Somalia, so that country's fragile army can more effectively fight off al-Qaeda-linked militias, Reuters reports.

The council imposed the embargo in 1992 to cut the flow of arms to feuding warlords, who a year earlier ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged Somalia into civil war. Council diplomats said the arms embargo was "under discussion" as the delegations have not reached a final agreement.

Somalia's president and prime minister were elected last year in the country's first national vote since 1991.

"Enhanced efforts are ... urgently needed to develop the Somali National Security Forces," Ban said in the report to the 15-member council. "In this regard, the Security Council may wish to consider the repeated request by the government for lifting the arms embargo."

Somalia wants help strengthening its poorly equipped and often ill-disciplined military that is more of a loosely affiliated umbrella group of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force loyal to a single president.

There are 17,600 U.N.-mandated African Union peacekeepers helping battle the Islamist rebels in Somalia. The African Union has also appealed to the Security Council to review the arms embargo on Somalia.

"These spoilers will seize any opportunity to reverse the gains," he said. "We must continue to stay alert and deny them the space they seek. We should continue to explore the measures already identified, such as travel bans and asset freezes, as we determine when and to whom these must be applied."

Ban also recommended in the report that a new U.N. assistance mission to deliver political and peacebuilding support be established in Somalia and that the Security Council consider a U.N. or joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping mission once the combat operations against Al-Shabaab come to an end.

He said planning for the deployment of the new U.N. assistance mission should take place as soon as possible and that it be based in Somalia instead of neighboring Kenya, now that security has improved.

In South Sudan, News24 reports the army has said it is not withdrawing troops from the border with Sudan to set up a buffer zone as it pledged it was last month, in a setback to efforts to resume the oil exports vital to both economies.

The two countries came close to war last April in the worst border clashes since South Sudan seceded in 2011 under a peace deal that ended one of Africa's longest civil wars.

The African Union (AU) managed to broker a deal in September to defuse hostilities.

But the nations have failed set up a buffer border zone and resume oil exports from the landlocked South Sudan through Sudanese pipelines as agreed in Addis Ababa.

In a sign of goodwill, South Sudan said three weeks ago it had started to unilaterally withdraw its troops from the border and would set up its side of the 10km buffer zone by 4 February.

Such a buffer zone is a pre-condition for Sudan to allow oil exports to restart.

South Sudan's military spokesperson Philip Aguer told Reuters on Monday the army had not even started to pull out from the border, despite the government statement.

"There are no orders to withdraw and I don't think there will be any unless there is an agreement from both governments," Aguer said.

"We will never withdraw unless there is an agreement for a timely withdrawal for both armies."

Neither South Sudanese nor Sudanese government officials were immediately available for comment.

The AU twice brought together Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir in Ethiopia last month to end the stalemate but there has been no sign of progress.

In Egypt, the US has urged officials to investigate cases of police abuse after a man was stripped and beaten by uniformed officers near the presidential palace, the BBC reports.

The state department said it was "extremely disturbed" by the dragging of naked Hamada Saber, which was caught on camera, through the streets.

Egypt's culture minister has resigned in the aftermath of the incident.

Protests were continuing late on Monday after the funeral of another activist beaten by police, Mohammed al-Guindi.

Opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi say the death proves the police have not reformed in the two years since authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

"We urge the government of Egypt to thoroughly, credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and wrongdoing by security officials and demonstrators and to bring perpetrators to justice," said state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"Accountability is the best way to prevent recurrences of these kinds of incidents."

For his part, Mr Morsi said in a Facebook message that he had asked the public prosecutor to investigate the death of Mohammed al-Guindi.

Protesters accuse Mr Morsi of betraying the aims of the 2011 uprising - a claim he denies.

The current unrest began on 24 January in Cairo on the eve of the second anniversary of the revolution and has spread to several cities.

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