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.
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)
Intensified fighting since January has resulted in a rapidly worsening security situation and large-scale displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region, the top United Nations peacekeeping official warned April 6. UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said that since his last briefing to the Security Council on Jan. 25, the security situation in Darfur has been characterized by fighting between government forces and militants of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) in the Jebel Marra region. "The escalation of fighting in Jebel Marra had led to large-scale displacement, especially from mid-January to late March, and humanitarian organizations estimated that at least 138,000 people from that region were newly displaced as of 31 March," Ladsous stated. (UN News Centre, April 6)
Three people were killed and several wounded when an oil pipeline belonging to Italy's ENI exploded in Nigeria's southern Delta region March 27. There have been numerous recent pipeline accidents in the region, where residents have long complained about oil pollution, but the blast at Olugboboro, Bayelsa state, appears to have been an intentional attack. One alleged perpetrator has been arrested, and four others are said to remain at large. Militant attacks are again on the rise in the Niger Delta. In February militants staged a sophisticated underwater attack, probably using divers, on a Shell pipeline, shutting down the 250,000 barrel-a-day Forcados export terminal. President Muhammadu Buhari, elected a year ago, has extended an amnesty signed with the militants in 2009, but has ended pipeline protection contracts to former militant groups. In a period of insurgency a decade ago, groups such as the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) attacked pipelines and abducted oil workers before Buhari's predecssor Goodluck Jonathan instated the amnesty and began granting contracts to the former militants. There are fears the militants are now returning to arms, and even reviving ambitions to secede from Nigeria. (Reuters, March 30; Reuters, March 29; The Guardian, Nigeria, March 28 via AllAfrica; IBT, July 28)
Somali news site Mareeg reports March 23 that Ethiopia has for the first time actually halted the flow of water into Somalia by closing the gates on irrigation dams along the Shabelle River. The river, which flows from the Ethiopian highlands, now no longer reaches Somali territory, where banana plantations (one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange) have long depended on it. A photo with the report shows vehicles driving through the completely dry river bed. It also claims that impoundments on Ethiopia's Genale River have significantly reduced water levels in Somalia's Jubba River, into which it flows. Mareeg accuses Ethiopia of "taking advantage of its hydro-hegemony" at the expense of Somalia.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 20 declared unanimously (PDF) that Congolese ex-military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for his role in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo lasted almost eight years, following Bemba's arrest by Belgian authorities in 2008. Bemba was on trial for crimes committed during his time as the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage; the verdict condemned the widespread use of sexual violence as a means of war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the judgment, stating the ruling "sends an important message across the world that international justice will finally prevail, even in cases where civilians with supervisory, or command, responsibility are accused of crimes committed in a country other than their own."
Gunmen from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted a popular beach resort in southern Ivory Coast on March 13, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. The resort, in the city of Grand Bassam, is located only 25 miles east of Ivory Coast's largest city of Abidjan. According to the AFP, the gunmen "roamed the beach firing shots" before targeting the L'Etoile du Sud and two other nearby hotels. Ivorian security forces quickly "neutralized" the gunmen. The government's statement says that "six terrorists" were killed; however, AQIM's short claim of responsibility released online, states only three of its fighters were involved in the assault. “Three heroes from the knights of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were able to break into the tourist resort city of Grand Bassam," the jihadists said, indicating a larger statement will be released soon. Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar reports that sources within AQIM said that its "Sahara Emirate" and Katibat al-Murabitoon, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were behind the attack. (Long War Journal, March 13)
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on March 11 released a report describing a multitude of atrocious human rights violations taking place in South Sudan in the context of the civil war. This report describes "in searing detail" violations including "a [g]overnment-operated 'scorched earth policy,' and deliberate targeting of civilians for killing, rape and pillage." The report places majority blame on state actors for the crimes, stating that some allied forces have been allowed to rape women in lieu of wages. The report focuses on the shocking scale of sexual violence in the nation, where in a five-month period last year, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in just one of South Sudan's 10 states, oil-rich Unity. The report further states that the majority of casualties are the result of deliberate attacks on civilians and not actual combat operations.