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North-Africa

French Troops To Withdraw From Unwinable War In Mali

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France said it intends to withdraw troops from Mali Eight years after France sent troops to Mali to prevent jihadists from overrunning the country.

Five French soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs in Mali over the past 10 days, bringing to 50 the number of troops killed across the Sahel since France launched a campaign to clear northern Mali of jihadists in January 2013.

The latest victims included Sergeant Yvonne Huynh, the first female soldier killed since the French intervention began.

Her death Saturday, claimed by a group linked to al-Qaeda, coincided with a massacre across the border in western Niger, where unidentified gunmen killed around 100 villagers in one of the region’s worst atrocities.

These deaths — and disputed claims Tuesday from villagers in central Mali that up to 20 wedding guests were killed in an air strike — have clouded recent successes chalked up by France’s 5,100-member Barkhane counterterrorism force and its African partners.

In the past year, the French have killed the leader of the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb group, Abdelmalek Droukdel, as well as one of the military leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

Anxious to avoid becoming mired in a long Afghan-style conflict, Paris is preparing to announce a withdrawal of the 600 additional troops it deployed to the Sahel last year.

But whether the drawdown signals the beginning of the end of France’s Sahel mission is not yet clear.

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North-Africa

War Resumes In Western Sahara After 30 Years Of Ceasefire

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It is never over until it is over. Guns and bombs are blazing again in Africa’s most contested land of Western Sahara desert bringing an end to a ceasefire that has been in place for the past 29 years.

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony mostly under Morocco’s control.

The ceasefire collapsed after Morocco said Friday that it had sent troops into no man’s land to reopen a road to neighbouring Mauritania.

An Algerian-backed independence movement — which holds a fifth of the territory — has campaigned for a vote on self-determination through decades of war and deadlock.

The north African territory sits on the western edge of the Sahara desert, stretching along about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of Atlantic coastline.

At 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 square miles) it is relatively large — but its inhospitable terrain supports only around half a million people.

With Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east and Mauritania to the south and southeast, it boasts large reserves of phosphate and rich offshore fisheries.

As Spain withdrew in 1975, Morocco moved in, claiming the territory was part of the kingdom.

It was opposed by the Polisario Front, which took up arms to fight for independence.

The dispute was referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which ruled in favour of self-determination.

In November 1975, 350,000 Moroccans took part in the so-called Green March to the border to press the kingdom’s claim.

In February 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with the support of allies including Algeria and Cuba.

– Huge sand walls –

The Polisario initially gained the upper hand, before being pushed back into the interior.

During the 1980s, Morocco built a series of concentric walls in the desert, most made of sand, to keep Polisario fighters out of territory where it had established control.

The outermost defensive line runs for 2,700 kilometres, ringing the 80 percent of the Western Sahara now under Moroccan control.

It is fortified with barbed wire and trenches and forms one of the world’s largest minefields.

The SADR is a member of the African Union, but controls just 20 percent of the territory, mostly empty desert.

– Troubled region –

The United Nations has repeatedly failed to find a lasting settlement since it brokered a ceasefire on the line of control in 1991.

The UN deployed its MINURSO mission to monitor the ceasefire, and to organise a referendum on the territory’s future status.

The vote was set for 1992 but was aborted when Morocco objected to the proposed electoral register, saying it was biased.

It now refuses to accept any vote in which independence is an option, and says only autonomy is on the table.

The conflict has long poisoned Morocco’s relations with neighbouring Algeria.

Their common border has been closed since 1994, and between 100,000 and 200,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps around the Algerian desert town of Tindouf.

– Talks fail –

After years of deadlock, former German president and UN special envoy Horst Koehler gets the two sides together in Geneva, along with Algeria and Mauritania.

But two rounds of talks falter in March 2019. Koehler then retires for health reasons and has not been replaced.

In the meantime, some 20 African countries open diplomatic offices in the Moroccan-held cities of Laayoune and Dakhla.

– Rights abuses –

A 2018 UN report on Western Sahara cited accounts of “serious human rights violations” committed by Moroccan police against those pushing for self-determination.

It additionally highlighted concerns over rights abuses in the Tindouf camps run by the Polisario.

wirestory

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Algerians Start To Vote In Referendum To Amended Constitution

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Algerians started to vote in a referendum on the amended constitution on Sunday, as what had been pledged by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune during his electoral campaign in late 2019.

The proposed constitution, if passed, will be the eighth one in Algeria since the North African country won independence from France in 1962.

“If approved by the Algerian people, the amended constitution would pave the way for the new Algeria that everyone is hoping for,” said Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad in a brief press statement issued after he had cast his vote.

This referendum, in which 24 million out of the 44 million population are eligible to vote, coincides with the celebrations of the War of November 1, the day when the Algerian War of Independence broke out in 1954 and ran until 1962.

To counter the increasing number of infections with COVID-19 in Algeria, the Independent National Elections Authority has developed a special health protocol to ensure a well-organized referendum, including the social distancing and wearing masks in the polling stations.

The vote comes as Tebboune has been under treatment in Germany since Wednesday for contracting COVID-19, according to a statement of the Presidency.

Late on Saturday, the Algerian President sent a message to his people, urging the voters to actively participate in this constitutional referendum “to meet their aspirations for a new, strong Algeria.” 

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Sudan & Many Rebel Groups Sign Peace Agreement

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Sudan’s power-sharing government and several key rebel groups have signed a peace agreement aimed at ending decades of conflict which has killed hundreds of thousands and left millions displaced.

Three major groups signed a preliminary deal in August – two factions from the western region of Darfur and one from the southern region – after months of talks hosted by South Sudan.

Another powerful rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, which had not participated in initial peace negotiations, agreed last month to join new talks hosted by South Sudan. Dancers from Darfur and the Nile states performed on the stage before the signing in Juba.

The U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, said, “This historic achievement addresses decades of conflicts and suffering, it will also require firm and unwavering commitment to implement the agreement fully and without delays.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed “the dawn of a new era for the people of Sudan”.

The presidents of Ethiopia and Chad and the prime ministers of Egypt and Uganda were among regional officials and politicians at the event. Tut Gatluak, the South Sudanese chief mediator, said ahead of Saturday’s ceremony that the goal was eventually to sign deals with all armed groups.

Sudan has been wracked by conflict for decades. After the oil-rich south seceded in 2011, an economic crisis fuelled protests that led to the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Sudan’s new civilian and military leaders, who have shared power since then, say ending conflicts is a top priority.

The deal sets out terms to integrate rebels into the security forces, be politically represented and have economic and land rights.

A new fund will pay $750 million a year for 10 years to the impoverished southern and western regions and the chance of return for displaced people is also guaranteed. Analysts have welcomed the agreement but questioned the prominent role given to armed groups and the military.

AP

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