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HRW: Rebels in Congo commit widespread war crimes

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The 25-year-old lay on a hospital bed in the Congolese city of Goma, his leg wrapped in a bandage tinted by the blood still seeping from his bullet wound.

He was shot during a fight between soldiers from the Congolese army and M23, the African nation's newest rebel group. Like 21 others from his village, M23 rebels had kidnapped him and forced him to carry ammunitions in the battlefield.

"I was at home and I saw the rebels coming down the hill. They took us, we were 22 boys. When we pleaded to be let free they refused," the young man told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

According to a report published Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the newly-formed M23 rebel group is responsible for widespread war crimes in eastern Congo, including summary executions and rape. The report says the group has forcibly conscripted at least 137 youths and killed at least 33 young men and boys who tried to escape.

"The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo," says Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at the rights group.

"I was lucky," said the 25-year-old, a schoolteacher who was left for dead by M23 after being shot but managed to reach a hospital with the help of villagers.

The new M23 rebellion began in April and May when the group's senior commanders defected from the regular army. Their leaders include Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during an earlier rebellion.

Ntaganda and other rebels claimed that Congo had not met its obligations under a 2009 peace deal, an agreement that allowed former fighters to join the regular army. Before that peace deal, the fighters were in the bush of eastern Congo fighting under the banner of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, a rebel group backed by neighboring Rwanda.

The current rebellion is only five months old, but already a U.N. report provides evidence of Rwanda's military and logistical support. And Human Rights Watch, in a separate report published in June, documented that Rwanda had recruited up to 300 Rwandans who were made to travel across the border to fight on behalf of M23.

Rwanda has denied allegations that it supports M23 — and the leaders of M23 also reject the Human Rights Watch findings.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Col. Vianney Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, strongly denied the allegations.

"We invite everyone to come investigate on the ground and see the truth. These are false accusations and we regret that Human Rights Watch publishes false reports. Go to the health centers in Rutshuru, you'll see there are no women raped by our men," he said.

Besides the forced recruitment and the executions, Human Rights Watch found that M23 soldiers raped at least 46 women and girls, including one who was only eight years old.

Congo has been called "the rape capital of the world" because of the gruesome sexual torture that has been committed in eastern Congo, but the recent rapes documented by HRW stand out for their brutality.

The report quotes a 32-year-old woman who said that that M23 fighters attacked her family in the village of Chengerero on July 7.

"Before leaving, the M23 fighters gang-raped her, poured fuel between her legs and set the fuel on fire," the report said.


MALI: An imam fractures his wife leg with a blow from a pestle

Mali - To punish his wife who was unable to stop the cries of their baby who annoyed a respected imam in the city of Sikasso, a pestle was used to strike blows on the two arms and leg of the wife which broke her arm.

Mamoutou Diallo, the Imam of a respected mosque in Sanoubougou district of the city of Sikasso has been referred to the city jail by the prosecutor after the case has been brought to justice.

The domestic violence of which he is accused moved the whole city because of his position as Imam, especially since this is not the first time he beat his wife. After the assault she suffered Lala Dicko, the wife of the imam was left with multiple fractures in both hands and the leg.

Indeed, her husband annoyed by the crying of their youngest, the third of his three children, decides to punish his wife because she could not calm the child. He ordered her to put her hands down in front of the pestle. He struck her with violent blows from the pestle on her hands and legs, she owes her life to her neighbor with whom she has managed to escape, it is the latter who alerted her parents that took her to the hospital. Her life is out of danger but she will carry with her for the rest of her life the aftermath of the attack.

This fact, which is unfortunately not isolated in the country reopens the debate on violence against women.

African Diplomacy Staff

Gambia Confirms 9 Death Row Executions

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Gambian officials Monday said nine death row prisoners have been executed by firing squad, after President Yahya Jammeh said all death sentences would be carried out by mid-September.

The interior ministry issued a statement saying nine people, including one woman, were executed on Sunday. The statement also warns the general public that criminal activities which carry a death sentence will not be tolerated.

Amnesty International reported the execution of the nine prisoners on Saturday, a day before the government said it took place.

An African Union envoy urged the Gambian president last week to renounce his plans to execute all 47 death row prisoners.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned Gambia that the 27-nation bloc will "urgently" consider an appropriate response to the reported executions.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State department, Victoria Nuland, said earlier Monday that Washington has called on Gambia regularly to ensure that it fulfills its international obligations and provides for due process throughout its judicial system, expressing concern about the way the Gambian government goes about it.

The European Union has abolished the death penalty, while the United States has not.

In a televised address to mark this year's Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr earlier this month, President Jammeh said, "By the middle of next month, all the death sentences will have been carried out to the letter."

The death row executions were Gambia's first in more than 25 years.


Sudanese refugees face 'humanitarian disaster'

People are dying in large numbers in a refugee camp in South Sudan, Medecins Sans Frontieres has warned.

The medical charity says as many as four young children die at the Batil camp every day - twice the established emergency threshold.

The rainy season makes it impossible to bring food in by road, and the only way to deliver aid is by air.

Some 170,000 refugees have fled to camps in South Sudan from Sudan following fighting north of the border.

"What we are seeing here in this camp in nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe," MSF's medical co-ordinator Helen Patterson said.

The majority of those who have died in the camp are children under five, and MSF says that diarrhoea seems to be the biggest cause.

It adds that malnutrition is a contributing factor, calling for urgent help.

The medical charity says some 28% of children in Batil are malnourished, with 10% severely affected.

It says two people per 10,000 are dying each day - double the rate at which an emergency is declared. The camp houses some 34,000 people.

One man, Ibrahim, says his mother died after reaching Batil, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state, which stretches north between Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where fighting is raging between the Sudanese army and rebel groups.

Osman, another refugee, says he has already lost his nephew, and is worried that the baby boy's father will soon die too.

Refugees - many of whom walked to weeks to get to camps - say they were forced from their homes by ground and air attacks by the Sudanese military, and are being chased away because of their ethnic origin.

Officials in Khartoum deny that civilians are being targeted and blame the humanitarian situation on the rebels.

Many people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile fought with southerners against Khartoum's Islamist, Arab-dominated government for two decades. But when South Sudan gained independence in 2011, they found themselves north of the new international border.

South Sudan's government, formed by the ex-rebel movement, denies charges by Khartoum that it is backing the rebel groups on Sudanese territory.

The tension along this part of the border is one of the issues which caused Sudan and South Sudan to come to the brink of war earlier this year.


UNICEF warns of high child soldier recruitment in Mali

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday warned of reports that armed groups in northern Mali are increasingly recruiting and using children for military purposes, and called on all parties to keep them out of the way of conflict.

"While it is difficult to establish the precise figures, reliable sources have stated that numbers [of children] involved are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating," UNICEF said in a news release.

"UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict, leaders and community members to ensure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities," it added.

Last month, the agency had reported that at least 175 boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, were directly associated with armed groups in the north, where fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in January.

The insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a military coup d'état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighboring countries. Some 174,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced.

The recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 by armed groups is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity if children are recruited and used under the age of 15.

UNICEF also warned of the deteriorating conditions in northern Mali, where the malnutrition rate is among the highest in the country. Schools have been closed for much of the year and cholera has surfaced along the Niger River.

"Community coping mechanisms are being stretched to the extreme and risk failure, with negative consequences for children and women," UNICEF said, adding that it has received only 28 percent of the $58 million it seeks for an emergency appeal to help Malian children this year.