Africa Theater

What was behind Ethiopia-Eritrea border clash?

The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other in the weekend's deadly border skirmish that threatens a return to open war between the regional rivals. Ethiopia's Information Minister Getachew Reda described the clashes as "an Eritrean initiative." In a short statement, the Eritrean regime said Ethiopia had "unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear." (BBC News) The independent exile-based Gedab News, which covers Eritrea, says it has received "credible information" that the battle was triggered when a group of Eritrean conscripted soldiers crossed the border to Ethiopia in an attempt to desert, and were shot at by Eritrean troops. Members of an armed Eritrean opposition group hosted by Ethiopia returned fire before Ethiopian soldiers then entered the fray. (

AU court sentences Chad ex-ruler to life in prison

A court in Senegal convicted former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré of crimes against humanity committed during his rule from 1982 to 1990, and sentenced him to life imprisonment on May 30. He was found guilty of sex slavery, rape and the ordered killings of an estimated 40,000 people. The trial marks the first time a court with backing from the African Union has tried a former ruler for human rights violations, and also the first time a former African head of state was found guilty by an another African country. Habré has 15 days to appeal the sentence. Human Rights Watch lawyer Reed Brody, who initiated the trial, stated: "This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalize their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end. Today will be carved into history as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice."

Niger Delta militants step up pipeline attacks

Presumed militants of the Niger Delta Avengers struck four pipelines in three days, halting production at key facilities. On May 25, militants blew up a pipeline at Chevron's Escravos facility in Delya state, shutting down all the company's onshore activities in the Niger Delta. The following day, militants hit a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline at the Batan oil-field in Warri, Delta state. The day after that, pipelines operated by Shell and Agip in neighboring Bayelsa state were blown up. The NDA had days earlier warned Chevron that no repairs should be carried out on facilities previously targeted by the group, until their demands are fully met. NDA claimed on its official website May 11 that it suspected Chevron was preparing to carry out repair works at the Okan Valve platform, which was blown up by the group at the start of the month. Among its demands, NDA wants to "free the people of the Niger Delta from environmental pollution, slavery and oppression," according to a statement on the group's site. A May 31 deadline had been set for oil companies to quit the Niger Delta. (This Day, May 29; APPunch, Nigeria, May 28; Channels Television, Nigeria, Chemical Engineer, May 27; RigZone, May 26; Sahara Reports, May 25)

Somalia and Somaliland restart dialogue

Somalia has made a $1 million donation to the drought-hit breakaway northwestern region of Somaliland, ahead of controversial talks between the two sides later this month to clarify their future relations. Mogadishu, far from one of the world's flushest governments, has been quick to point out the donation was not designed to influence the talks in Turkey due on May 31. It is "not meant to gain any political sympathies, but it is brotherly responsibility to help each other in these difficult times," said Somalia's deputy prime minister, Mohamed Omar Arteh.

Nigeria: mass death in military detention

Nearly 150 individuals, including 11 children, have died this year in Nigeria's military detention barracks, Amnesty International (AI) reported May 11. According to the report, the Giwa detention barracks in Maiduguri holds around 1,200 people, many of whom were arbitrarily detained and are being held without evidence. The detainees are allegedly housed in dirty, overcrowded cells and often face with starvation and dehydration. AI claims the overcrowding is "a consequence of a system of arbitrary mass arrest and detention" in the government's fight against Boko Haram. Netsanet Belay, AI's research and advocacy director for Africa, called for an immediate closure of the Giwa barracks. Nigeria's military spokesman Rabe Abubakar rebutted the report, stating that Nigeria has made improvements to the barracks, and the reported conditions are overstated.

Niger Delta Avengers re-ignite insurgency

Three soldiers were killed when gunmen on a speedboat opened fire on a military base in Southern Ijaw district of Nigeria's Bayelsa state on May 9. The soliders were part of Operation Pulo Shield, mobilized to protect oil operations in the Niger Delta region. No group has claimed responsibility for the slayings, but a new militant organization, the Niger Delta Avengers, has claimed a string of attacks on oil infrastructure in the region in recent weeks. Targets have included a Shell facility in Forcados, a Chevron platform in Abiteye, and pipelines transporting oil to the Warri and Kaduna refineries. The Avengers have pledged to contine the attacks, prompting Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate most of its staff from its Eja OML 79 production facility, near the massive Bonga oil-field. 

Darfur: Sudan planning 'Final Solution'?

Electoral authorities in Sudan say the results are in from the April 11-13 referendum on the administrative boundaries of strife-torn Darfur, with 97% voting to maintain its current five-state status. But the vote was boycotted by the civil and armed opposition alike in Darfur. Students at El-Fasher University in North Darfur protested the vote, and similar rallies were held in at least three IDP camps in Central Darfur. The US State Department issued a statement saying the referendum was unlikely to be fair, asserting that "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation." The statement drew diplomatic protests from Sudan's regime, which supported maintaining the five-state status quo and posed the referendum as fulfilling terms of the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed with some rebel groups, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur.  But rebel factions that did not sign on remain in arms, and even as the vote was prepared violence has again escalated in Darfur.

Ethiopian troops to South Sudan after border raid

A force of Ethiopian troops crossed into South Sudan on April 20 to launch a joint offensive with the Juba government against ethnic Murle militia fighters who staged a bloody raid into Ethiopia's Gambela region a week earlier. The Murle militiamen attacked several villages and massacred over 200 civilians of the Nuer ethnicity in the raid, and abducted some 100 children as well as stealing some 2,000 cattle. News reports initially described the incursion as a cattle raid, but the militiamen were said to be armed with AK-47s and wearing uniforms. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, mainly Nuer, have fled to Gambela to escape armed conflict. The raid has heightened fears of the South Sudan war spilling into Ethiopia. (Ethiopian Herald via AllAfrica, DW, April 22; Radio Tamazuj, Sudan, April 20)

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