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In Niger, a deadly day in a deadly year

Regional conflict in the African Sahel puts displaced civilians at even more risk

Migrants travel towards Libya from Agadez, Niger Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay (file)

In Niger, a deadly day in a deadly year

Gunmen on motorcycles rode into three villages and other communities in Niger’s Tahoua region bordering Mali last Sunday afternoon and opened fire.

At least 137 people died in the attacks on the border communities, where people displaced from past violence live. The Sunday incident marks one of the single deadliest in the country’s recent history, highlighting concerns about worsening unrest across the larger Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert.

Jean-Sébastien Josset, the spokesperson for the United Nations’ refugee agency in Niger, said a delegation visited the targeted communities on Thursday. He said the attackers stole thousands of heads of livestock. People fleeing the latest fighting would likely head for the Intikane refugee camp or the regional capital of Tahoua, both already inundated by refugees. Some 204,000 refugees and internally displaced people live in Niger’s southwestern regions bordering Burkina Faso and Mali. As Islamist unrest increases in the region, more than 2 million people are displaced internally in Niger and other countries across the region, including Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali.

Niger’s government declared three days of mourning and condemned the attacks. “By systematically targeting civilians, these armed bandits are reaching a new level of horror and savagery,” the government said.

Another attack one week earlier killed at least 58 people returning from a livestock market. In January, assaults in two villages in the same region left 100 people dead.

No group has claimed responsibility, but Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates operate in the country and across the region. Ethnic militias that once supported the military’s counterinsurgency efforts have also fueled intercommunal tension. A humanitarian group led by the UN refugee agency said Sunday’s carnage was likely retaliation for recent arrests of suspected armed group members, Reuters reported.

Nadia Adam, a researcher with the Sahel team at the Institute for Security Studies, said reports of cattle rustling during the attack is common: “These groups often resort to this strategy to finance operations.”

The Sunday killings coincided with the constitutional court’s confirmation of Mohamed Bazoum as the country’s new president after elections last month. Bazoum’s inauguration on April 2 would mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power.

“The new president is definitely going to face major challenges in terms of security,” Adam said. “This is the perfect time for leaders in the region to rethink their strategies.”

Turkey reneges on rights accord

In an unexpected weekend decree, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew the country from a landmark European accord created to protect women from violence.

Some 45 countries and the European Union signed the 2011 Istanbul Convention in Turkey. It required member countries to adopt legislation to prevent and prosecute gender-based violence.

Zehra Zumrut, Turkey’s minister for family, labor, and social policies, said the country’s constitution protects women’s rights, but he failed to explain the withdrawal. The move angered rights advocacy groups, who say it will hamper efforts to end domestic violence.

Turkey’s We Will Stop Femicide Platform reported 300 femicides last year.

Some officials within Erdogan’s Islam-oriented party had pushed for a review of the agreement, arguing it encourages divorce and undermines the traditional family unit. Critics argued the treaty’s categories on gender identity and sexual orientation also promote homosexuality. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.



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