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US demands immediate end to violence, call for talks in Cameroon

The United States demanded an immediate end to violence in Cameroon on Thursday and a speedy start to talks between the government and Anglophone separatists without preconditions.

U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the Security Council that security and humanitarian conditions in Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions “have significantly deteriorated.”

October was the most violent month on record in recent years — and November is likely to surpass it, he said.

Hundreds have been killed in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in months of fighting between the military and separatists who claim they are marginalized in the largely French-speaking country.

“The violence must stop now,” Cohen said. “The United States calls for an immediate and broad-based reconciliatory dialogue, without preconditions. … We urge all sides to foreswear violence, to restore peace, and to resolve their grievances through political dialogue.”

He said the escalating violence is obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to over 430,000 internally displaced people as well as education and health access to children in rural areas.

Reena Ghelani, director of U.N. humanitarian operations, warned that Cameroon is “one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa,” saying that in addition to those who have fled their homes and remain in the country over 30,000 Cameroonians have crossed the border into Nigeria seeking refuge.

The majority of internally displaced Cameroonians “are hiding in dense forests, without adequate shelter and lacking food, water and basic services,” Ghelani said. “Schools and markets are also disrupted and there are alarming health needs.”

“We note with great concern the deteriorating situation with respect to the protection of civilians, including reported killings, burning of homes and villages, extortion and kidnappings in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon,” she said, adding that there have been multiple attacks on schools and threats to students and teachers.

British deputy ambassador Jonathan Allen said the United Kingdom takes Ghelani’s warning very seriously and announced a $3.1 million contribution from the government to the U.N. appeal for the Anglophone regions to address immediate humanitarian and medical needs.

This represents 20 percent of the U.N. appeal, he said, urging other countries to contribute.

Both Allen and Cohen stressed Cameroon’s important role in fighting against the Boko Haram group and other Islamic State extremists.

Cohen noted Cameroon President Paul Biya expressed confidence in his inaugural address on Nov. 6 that “there is an honorable way out in everyone’s interest.”

The United States encourages Biya “to make good on his commitment to accelerate the decentralization process” and implement recommendations of a Cameroonian commission on bilingualism and multiculturalism, Cohen said.

Allen said that “words alone will not improve things” and strongly urged Cameroon’s government to take urgent action to start a dialogue, undertake confidence-building measures, allow humanitarian access throughout the country, and ensure “accountability for all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses.”

Nigerian man convicted for falsely claiming sister died in Grenfell fire disaster

A Nigerian father of five, Abolaji Onafuye who claimed he saw terrified victims of the fire burning to death when he was 12 miles away is facing jail.

Onafuye, 54, claimed Zainab Deen, 32, who perished in the blaze was his sister and he was sharing a flat with her.

He was put up at one of London’s top hotels and racked up a total bill of more than £35,000.

Onafuye later admitted he was not staying at the tower block and said he must have been ‘hallucinating’ when he claimed he was.

He then said he was still due compensation because he had seen people screaming for help in the burning building.

But his cell site evidence from his phone showed he was nowhere near he scene.

Local taxpayers in Kensington and Chelsea footed the £23,500 bill for Onafuye’s stay at the four-star Grosvenor Hotel.

Onafuye received another £13,000 in living costs after he was moved to a flat in an area of Hammersmith where two bedroom apartments can cost up to £500,000.

Abolaji Onafuye claimed Zainab Deen and her son Jeremiah, who died in the fire, were his sister and nephew

Giving evidence he claimed he was hallucinating when he told police he lived there.

‘I was temporarily insane because I was fasting when I was arrested,’ he said.

But a jury at Isleworth Crown Court convicted Onafuye of two counts of fraud by false representation between 21 June last year and 7 June this year.

Onafuye attended the Westway support centre on June 21 last year and told volunteer, Rica Smirk he was staying in Flat 84.

He filled out a Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea assessment form with the help of the volunteer.

Onafuye said Ms Deen was his sister and her two year old son Jeremiah was his nephew.

Abolaji Onafuye, 54, claimed Zainab Deen, 32, who perished in the blaze was his sister and he was sharing a Flat 84 with her

But when he was arrested for fraud he told police: ‘When I was saying I lived in Grenfell Tower in my police interview I was not in the right frame of mind. It was a hallucination.’

Onafuye said the council officers must have incorrectly filled in the forms he handed in.

In court he insisted the cell site evidence which showed he was nowhere near the flats must have been incorrect.

‘I am sorry for the families it happened but something happened to me too,’ he said.

‘I suffered mental trauma. I suffered. Why do you think that I hadn’t finished my university course. I suffered a depressive collapse.’

Asked whether he had seen a doctor about this, Onafuye replied ‘No.’

The court also heard how Onafuye had registered his NatWest bank account to the address.

But he blamed a mistake by the bank because ‘there was no motive, not rationale to do this.’

Onafuye, from Hammersmith, had denied two counts of fraud by false representation between 21 June last year and 7 June this year.

He will be sentenced on date to be fixed.

Michael Phillips, of the CPS, said: ‘Abolaji Onafuye had no connections to the Grenfell Tower tragedy but saw an opportunity to benefit himself, both financially and with accommodation.

‘Our prosecution was able to prove he had repeatedly and intentionally lied and that his post-arrest story that it had all been an innocent mistake was just an attempt to escape the consequences of his cruel deception.’

UK students on Ghana trip raped at gunpoint

Authorities in Ghana are investigating the sexual assault of four British girls and their teacher at gunpoint. 

The Sixth Form students, aged between 16 and 17, were part of an organised trip by a school in southern England.

Reports say the four girls and their teacher were attacked on Saturday night at the hostel where they were staying in the Greater Accra region. 

The attackers shot and wounded a security guard who attempted to stop them. 

The students and their teacher have been flown back to the UK for medical attention and are responding to treatment. 

The UK Foreign Office says around 90,000 Britons visit Ghana every year. Attacks like this on foreign nationals are not common in Ghana and the authorities are searching for the attackers.Article share tools

Fire destroys thousands of voting machines for Congo presidential election

An overnight fire at a warehouse in Congo’s capital destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes that were due to be used in the country’s long-delayed Dec. 23 presidential election, authorities said on Thursday.

Democratic Republic of Congo’s national electoral commission (CENI) said in a statement the blaze had destroyed 8,000 of 10,368 voting machines due to be used in the capital Kinshasa, but said the election would go ahead as scheduled. 

CENI did not say who it believed to be responsible for the fire – which broke out about 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) in the Gombe riverside area of Kinshasa that is also home to President Joseph Kabila’s residence – but the ruling coalition and leading opposition candidates immediately traded accusations of blame. 

Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), which is backing former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the presidential race, accused opposition candidate Martin Fayulu of inciting violence earlier this month. 

“Over the course of this electoral campaign, (Fayulu) called on his supporters and sympathisers to destroy electoral materials,” the FCC said in a statement. 

Fayulu rejected the charge and suggested that state security forces might have been behind the blaze. 

“The fire erupted in a building guarded by the Republican Guard,” Fayulu told Reuters. “You understand today that the Kabila people do not want to organise elections.” 

Felix Tshisekedi, the other leading opposition candidate, also suggested on local radio that the government was responsible. “How is it that what should be the best protected place in the republic at this time can burn so easily?” he said. 

Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, a Kabila adviser, said police guarding the warehouse had been arrested and that forensic police had launched an investigation. 

Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is due to step down because of constitutional term limits. The vote has already been delayed by two years due to what authorities said were logistical challenges but the opposition said stemmed from Kabila’s reluctance to relinquish power. 

This month’s highly anticipated vote could mark Congo’s first peaceful transition of power after decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups d’etat and civil wars in which around five million people are estimated to have died. 

Election date maintained

CENI president Corneille Nangaa told a news conference the destroyed equipment represented the materials for 19 of 24 voting districts in Kinshasa. 

“Without minimising the gravity of this damaging situation for the electoral process, CENI is working to pursue the process in conformity with its calendar,” Nangaa said. 

Kikaya said voting machines from elsewhere in Congo would be recalled for use in Kinshasa, which is home to more than 15 percent of the Congolese population. 

The introduction of the untested tablet-like voting machines for the election has been widely opposed by opposition candidates competing against Shadary. 

They say the machines are more vulnerable to vote-rigging than paper and ink and could be compromised by the unreliability of Congo’s power supply. 

The delay in the elections has coincided with a breakdown in security across much of the vast mineral-rich country. Militants fight over land and resources in the east near the border with Uganda and Rwanda. 

Campaigning over the past three weeks has been mostly peaceful, though deadly clashes erupted between police and opposition supporters this week in the southeast.

Morocco not interested hosting in 2019 AFCON

Morocco will not be a candidate to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after Cameroon was stripped of the tournament, the country’s sports minister Rachid Talbi Alami said on Wednesday, while Egypt expressed an interest in hosting the finals.

“Morocco does not intend to run for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and will not do so,” he told AFP.

Morocco and South Africa had been seen as the frontline contenders to host the competition, which is due to start on June 15.

Cameroon had originally beaten bids from Algeria and the Ivory Coast to win the right to host the tournament, but saw it taken away by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) last month due to delays in preparation.

Morocco, which lost out to a United States/Mexico/Canada bid to host the 2026 World Cup, has regularly been reported as a possible replacement.

But Egypt made a move to host the contintental showpiece for a fifth time, just hours after Alami’s comments.

“Egypt is able to organise the competition and we would be proud to do so,” said Egyptian sports minister Ashraf Sobhi.

“The Egyptian people are always ready for such things, we have infrastructure of the highest level.”

Congo Brazzaville has also emerged as a surprise candidate, while CAF has offered the 2021 finals to Cameroon despite having previously awarded the tournament to the Ivory Coast.

The 2019 Cup of Nations will be the first to feature 24 teams since CAF expanded the format from 16 countries.

Congo police fire in the air to disperse opposition supporters

Police in Democratic Republic of Congo fired teargas and live bullets for a second day on Wednesday to disperse supporters of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, killing at least one person, local activists said. 

Campaigning over the past three weeks for the long-delayed Dec. 23 election has been mostly peaceful, but the flare-ups in the southeastern Katanga region have raised concerns about a repeat of the violence that plagued the 2006 and 2011 votes. 

Police in the town of Kalemie blocked the convoy of vehicles transporting Fayulu to a rally and started shooting into the air, said David Ngoy Luhaka, a priest and member of the Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace. 

One woman was hit by a bullet and later died, he said. 

“When Fayulu reached the Musalala hotel in Kalemie he was stopped by police who started shooting and firing teargas,” Ngoy said. “One woman was killed. We are still counting arrests and injuries.” 

Rogatien Kitenge, a civil society leader, confirmed police had fired live rounds and teargas and that one woman had been killed. Fayulu was eventually able to hold his rally. 

Government and police spokespeople could not be reached for comment. 

Fayulu is one of two major opposition leaders challenging the former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Shadary is representing the ruling coalition of President Joseph Kabila, who cannot stand due to term limits after 18 years in power. 

On Tuesday, police also fired teargas and live rounds to disperse Fayulu’s supporters in the Lubumbashi, Congo’s second city, rights activists said. 

“On the way from the airport to the place where Fayulu was going to address the crowd the police began to throw tear gas, hot water and another blue liquid at the population,” activist Jean-Pierre Muteba told Reuters, refering to Tuesday’s events. 

“Personally, I saw two people seriously injured by bullets.” 

The Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ) said two people were killed in the violence on Tuesday, 43 people were injured and 27 Fayulu supporters were arrested. 

Opposition coalition Lamuka, which is backing Fayulu, said the police crackdowns “show clearly that President Kabila and his team realise that … they are going to lose the elections”. 

Kabila’s supporters say they are confident Shadary will win the election and routinely accuse opposition politicians of exaggerating alleged violence by state forces. 

A spokesperson for Congo’s U.N. mission condemned the violence and called on authorities to take measures to prevent further incidents.

France arrests Central Africa Republic war crimes suspect

French authorities have arrested a man suspected of committing war crimes in the Central African Republic and he will face extradition to The Hague, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Tuesday. 

Prosecutors say Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona was the “senior leader” of the Anti-Balaka militia that carried out systematic attacks on the country’s Muslim population in 2013-2014. 

Ngaissona, who denies wrongdoing, was elected in February to the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football despite objections from groups including Human Rights Watch. It named had him as a leader of the Anti-Balaka in a report in 2016. 

The ICC said Ngaissona was suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, deportation, persecution, torture, attacking civilians, and recruiting child soldiers. 

A chamber at the court “found reasonable grounds to believe Mr. Ngaissona is liable for having committed jointly with others… the abovementioned crimes.” 

Ethnic and religious conflict has raged for years in Central African Republic. Christian Anti-Balaka militias have been fighting mainly Muslim Seleka rebels after the rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013. Thousands have died in the violence. 

A court spokesman confirmed French authorities had carried out the arrest after the warrant was issued on Dec. 7. The ICC had formally requested Ngaissona’s transfer.

Tanzania to build $3B hydro dam in wildlife park

Tanzania on Wednesday signed a $3 billion agreement with two Egyptian companies to construct a huge hydroelectric plant in a game reserve that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

President John Magufuli witnessed the signing of the agreement with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly. The companies involved are Arab Contractors and el-Sewedy Electric, an engineering services company.

Conservationists have opposed the construction of the 2,115-megawatt hydroelectric plant along the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve. The reserve is renowned for its animal populations and variety of wildlife habitats.

Conservationists say the project would destroy the environment, which also is key tourist draw and source of revenue for the East African nation. Conservation group WWF, which has openly opposed the project, was not immediately available for comment.

The plan was formulated in the 1980s but Tanzania did not have the capital to put it into effect until recently. Magufuli now says his government is financing the project itself.

Egypt’s state news agency said the dam is expected to produce 5,920 gigawatts of power annually.

Al Shabaab kills 3 men accused of spying for the army

Somalia’s militant Islamist group al Shabaab has killed execution-style three people, including an elderly man, after accusing them of spying for the army. 

The killings took place in front of a crowd in Mubarak village in southern Somalia, media linked to al Shabaab reported. 

The militants, who are affiliated to al Qaeda, control much territory in rural areas of Somalia, and are fighting to overthrow the UN-backed government. 

The militants are known for killing suspected informers, including those accused of spying for US and other foreign intelligence agencies. Article share tools

Gabon oil union calls off strike at Total facilities

Gabon’s oil workers union said on Wednesday it had called off a strike across all facilities over the layoff of several Total workers. 

The union, called ONEP, began what it said would be a three-day strike on Tuesday because only four of six fired workers had been reinstated despite demands that they all return to work. 

“Our objective was to get the attention of the government. Mission accomplished. The prime minister is in (economic capital) Port-Gentil. We believe he will address our situation after that,” Sylvain Mayabi Binet, ONEP’s secretary general, told Reuters. 

Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, but output from the OPEC member’s mature fields has plummeted from a 1997 peak of 370,000 bpd.