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Nigeria Security Stepped Up as U.S. Embassy Empties

FILE: Representative illustration of Nigeria security forces. Taken November 2, 2021

Nigeria's police force said it was beefing up security as the United States ordered diplomats' families to leave the capital Abuja due to a "heightened risk of terrorist attacks."

The Nigerian statement came as the US State Department on Thursday ordered the departure of diplomats' families and also authorized the departure of non-emergency government employees from Abuja.

"Terrorists may attack with little or no warning," targeting malls, markets, hotels, places of worship, restaurants, bars or schools, the State Department said in its country summary for Nigeria, but did not give further details.

The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada had issued warnings last weekend, although the three latter countries had not ordered any evacuation of staff or their families as of Friday morning.

The government said that Nigerians and foreigners in the country "should continue to be alert but must not panic."

"I can assure all that our military and other security agencies have continued to do everything possible to secure and protect Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria," said the Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

"Terrorists have been hard hit and put on the run," he said during a press conference on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Jabi Lake Mall, a major shopping center in Abuja was temporarily shut down for unspecified security reasons.

Some European embassies and international organisations in Abuja have not updated their risk assessments or travel advisories.

"We have no crisis to manage, we are managing the panic," a senior security manager with an international organisation based in the capital told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.

"We don't know what the motive is (behind the US evacuation). We are taking some precautionary measures/actions, but activities are normal," he added.

Nigerian troops are deployed throughout the West African nation of some 200 million people, fighting against Islamist insurgents and heavily armed criminals.

The last time one of the groups - Boko Haram - attacked the city center was in 2014.

But the Islamic State West Africa Province, linked to the Islamic State group, has claimed several attacks around the FCT in the past six months, including a mass jailbreak in July.

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DRC Violence Victims Left Suffering

FILE: Internally displaced peopleat a health centre in Kanyaruchinya on November 11, 2022 after fleeing conflict between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and M23 (March 23 Movement) in the DRC territory of Rutsuru.

In the chaotic displacement camps near the eastern DRC city of Goma, war victims speak of rape and brushes with death in their flight from advancing M23 rebels, who have surged across eastern DRC's North Kivu province, winning a string of victories against the army.

Fighting has displaced at least 262,000 people since March, according to the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA, with many of them gathering in squalid camps near Goma.

In one camp for the displaced in Kanyaruchinya, "Furaha" [ all names changed to protect identity] described in tears how rebels kidnapped her 15-year-old daughter in May, before releasing her two days later.

"She refused the advances of the militiamen," the 45-year-old mother said, inside a makeshift hut of wooden sticks and tarpaulin.

Fighters came to her home in the dead of night and snatched her daughter, then raped her, she said.

Just a few days later, Furaha too was sexually assaulted, she said.

Men in military uniform attacked her and a friend while they were harvesting potatoes in the village of Nyesisi, north of Goma.

"Three men raped me, and six raped my friend," she said.

AFP was unable to independently confirm the account, and the identity of the attackers is not clear.

Some 70,000 people live in the Kanyaruchinya camp, in ramshackle tents and makeshift dwellings built on top of mud.

Another woman, "Mwiza," who is also from Nyesisi, told AFP that two men in "Rwandan army uniform" had raped her in June.

"I ran away to go to the hospital," she said, her head bowed while she fiddled with rosary beads.

The doctors advised her not tell her husband about what happened, Mwiza said, "so that he wouldn't chase me away".

Didier Buindo, a doctor in the camp, said he'd treated about ten rape victims in November alone.

Sexual violence is also occurring in the displacement camps, according to the doctor, who pointed to a case in another camp where two girls aged five and 16 had been raped.

"Mutoni," 22, also has a scar on her face from where she was grazed by a bullet in August.

"An M23 fighter shot me at point-blank range," said the woman, who fled her village to seek refuge in the displacement camps.

Mutoni survived the attack.

But her young niece, whom she was cradling in her arms, was killed instantly by the same bullet.

DRC Clashes Continue Before Truce

FILE: M23 rebel fighters sit on a truck as they withdraw near the town of Sake, 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma in eastern DRC. Taken November 30, 2012

M23 rebels were still fighting and advancing in east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday, civilian and military sources said, barely hours before a ceasefire was to come into force.

Clashes were under way between the M23 and a Hutu militia in Bambo, 70 kilometer north of the provincial capital Goma, local sources told AFP by telephone.

"Heavy weapons fire can be heard, people are in a panic," a civil society representative said.

A security source confirmed the firing between the M23 and combatants from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu faction present in the DRC since the Tutsi genocide in 1994.

During the morning, fighting was also reported near Bwiza, close to the former stronghold of ex-Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, who operated there in the noughties.

DRC's President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta attended a mini-summit in the Angola on Wednesday, which concluded with a deal on the cessation of hostilities in eastern DRC from Friday evening.

M23 rebels were then to withdraw from "occupied zones".

But the rebels, a largely DRC Tutsi militia, said Thursday the ceasefire "doesn't really concern us", and called for "direct dialogue" with DRC's government.

The rebels have recently seized swaths of territory north of Goma, a city of one million which they briefly captured 10 years ago.

Kinshasa has refused to engage with the M23, which it calls a "terrorist movement", as long as it occupies territory in the DRC.

The M23 is among scores of armed groups that have turned eastern DRC into one of Africa's most violent regions.

Many are legacies of two wars before the turn of the century that sucked in countries from the region and left millions dead.

Mali Junta Slams Rights Report

FILE: Malian soldiers are cheered by the population as they enter a military camp in Kati, Mali. Taken July 22, 2022.

Mali's junta has hit back at a new report accusing the army and Russian paramilitaries as well as rebels of "grave crimes" against civilians, saying it "totally rejects" the charges.

"These allegations are mostly tendentious, unconnected and deliberate, with the aim of tarnishing the image of the Malian defence and security force," the junta-controlled government said in a document published late Thursday.

"Facts are presented on the basis of... witness accounts backed by no real evidence and often made under the threat of terrorist groups."

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published the report on Thursday listing an unprecedented increase this year in the number of attacks on civilians in central Mali.

"Community self-defense groups, jihadists insurgents... the Malian armed forces and their international partners in the Russian paramilitary group Wagner continue to commit grave crimes, fueling the cycle of violence," the report said.

"Attacks, summary executions, sexual violence: in central Mali the civilian population is in a living hell," it said.

The report also highlights "the impunity of those responsible" and "slowness of judicial proceedings."

The junta-issued document said the army operated "with strict respect for human rights and international humanitarian law" and any alleged violations were always followed by "diligent treatment" and investigations.

The use of Wagner's services was explained by stating the mercenaries' presence involves "Russian trainers and advisers" who have been in Bamako since 1960, according to the document, when "certain instructors" helped build the national army.

The Wagner Group has been widely condemned for actions in a number of African and other nations where crimes against humanity have been committed.

The government said it "totally rejects" the FIDH charges of persecution against the Peul community, which is often accused of supplying men for jihadist groups.

Bamako claimed the FIDH had ignored the "remarkable progress" the government has achieved against the jihadists, as well as efforts to stop impunity for crimes with changes underway in penal and military law, and a plan to set up a special court to handle gender crime.

The Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which is a member of FIDH and worked with it on a report in 2018, issued a statement saying it "dissociates itself" with the latest report because of "serious failings" involving "impartiality, objectivity and loyalty".

Mali has since 2012 seen thousands killed and hundreds of thousands flee their homes, in an insurgency that has spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Nigerian Cops Murdered, Executive Taken

FILE: FILE - In this file photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, Nigerian security forces stand guards during Eid al-Fitr celebration in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Gunmen have killed three police escorts and abducted a local oil executive in southern Nigeria's petroleum-producing Niger delta, police said Friday, in the latest violence to hit the restive region.

"Three policemen escorting the oil executive were killed while the man was abducted and taken to an unknown destination," state police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Koko told AFP.

Dressed in military uniform, the gunmen ambushed and opened fire on the convoy of two vehicles transporting the policemen and the senior oil executive on Thursday in the Rumuokoro area of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.

The attackers posing as a military patrol in a green minivan called for the convoy to stop before opening fire, she said.

Police said the kidnapped victim was a director of Port Harcourt-based oil and gas service and maintenance company IGPES Group.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Investigations are under way and police are searching for the attackers, Iringe-Koko said.

Police could not immediately disclose a motive for the attack and no group has claimed responsibility.

Kidnapping for ransom is a huge security problem in Nigeria, targeting both wealthy businesspeople as well as poor farmers who are often snatched in mass abductions in the north.

The Niger delta is home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas resources, but residents of the region live in poverty due to decades of oil exploration, neglect and pollution.

A 2009 government-backed amnesty programme for the oil rebels has helped reduce attacks but sporadic incidents including large-scale oil theft persist in the region.

Nigeria, a member of OPEC and one of Africa's largest crude producers, is estimated to be losing as much as $2 billion to oil theft and pipeline sabotage in the region every year.

Mass Kidnapping Hits Nigeria

FILE - Security forces are seen on patrol in Nigeria's Zamfara state, March 3, 2021

Nigerian gunmen kidnapped at least 60 people in a remote community in northwestern Zamfara state who were mostly women observing Prophet Muhammad's birthday, residents said on Thursday in the latest wave of abductions to hit the state.

Two residents said gunmen on motorbikes arrived in the Magami Tandu community of the Kaura Namoda local government area on Wednesday evening and shot sporadically.

They took mostly women who were observing Mawlid - a celebration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday, which is held between the end of September to the end of November in Nigeria's mainly northern Muslim states, the residents said

"On a daily basis there is killing or abduction, which is leaving us homeless. Please (tell) the government to act and bring justice to us," said Abdulkarim Haruna, whose wife was kidnapped.

The residents said 19 people were killed on Tuesday when gunmen attacked Ryuji community in Zamfara's Zurmi local government area, which is adjacent to Kaura Namoda.

Zamfara police spokesperson Mohammed Shehu could not be reached for comment.

Armed gangs are rife across the country's northwest where they rob or kidnap for ransom, and violence has been increasing as thinly stretched security forces often fail to stop attacks.

That has raised concern about whether residents in the region will be able to vote in the February presidential poll to choose a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari, who is constitutionally barred from running again.

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