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Ghana Surrounded by Insurgent Battlegrounds

FILE: Representative illustration of Ghanaian police. Taken Jan 1, 2023

Standing near the dried river bed that marks Ghana's northern border, Alima can see her hamlet, lying in Burkina Faso less than two kilometers away. One night last year, jihadist gunmen arrived in the settlement and killed two watchmen. The next day families packed up and crossed the border. Even though her home is just a short walk away, she says she will never go back there to live.

Ghana, along with other Gulf of states Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast, was fast becoming the new frontline in the Sahel jihadist war ravaging their northern neighbor.

So far Ghana has escaped a direct attack, but it is already tackling the economic and social fallout from the conflict to its north.

Like its neighbors, Ghana struggles with porous borders, a weaker state presence in the north, chronic smuggling and intercommunal tensions that can be a breeding ground for jihadism, say local leaders, officials and experts.

Ghana's national security minister Albert Kan Dappah told a summit in December the spread was expected.

In northern Ghana's border area of Bawku, residents are fearful. With easy access to Burkina, Mali, Togo and Niger nearby, they say their frontier is exposed.

Bawku is a trading hub for agricultural produce and livestock with Burkinabe towns like Bittou, just a 45-minute drive away and the site of a December attack which killed six people.

Violence has already curtailed cross-border commerce, said Bawku municipal chief Amadu Hamza.

"Only a few risk their lives to go," he told AFP.

Ghana's government heeded the threat early, experts and officials say, opting for a comprehensive strategy of beefed-up military presence and community outreach to ease tensions and support local populations.

A French troop withdrawal from Mali in the face of mounting hostility and disputes with the ruling junta has refocused Western partners to aid Gulf of Guinea nations battle the war's southward spillover.

Ghana's national security minister Albert Kan Dappah told a summit in December the spread was expected.

Military operations in the Sahel had prompted the Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) to shift south.

Despite avoiding an attack so far, Ghana's northern region of Bawku also has its own internal dispute some fear will distract from border security.

Heavy police and military presence around the town attest to tensions between ethnic Kusasi and Mamprusi over the right to chose a new chieftain.

Speaking to AFP from his palace, traditional ruler Bawku Naba Asigri Abugrago Azoka II said the local dispute is unlikely to benefit jihadists trying to gain leverage.

He said he had not heard of young men from his jurisdiction joining jihadists. But he said his community was in contact with chiefs across the border to share intelligence.

"If fire is burning someone close to your beard, you should dose your own beard with water because you never know when it will reach you," he said using a local saying.

Local Ghana community leader Abdullah Zakaria said the Ghanaian army is nearby and locals are constantly in touch if they see anyone suspicious. But worry grows in border settlements.

"We are fearful they are going to come over here," he said. "This is going to get worst. This is not going to stop."

Russians in CAR "Only 'Instructors'" - Moscow

FILE - A truck of the Russian private military group Wagner is seen Feb. 3, 2021, in the looted Central African Army base of Bangassou, attacked by rebels Jan. 3, 2021. Russian military contractors have been accused of human rights abuses in CAR.

The Russian ambassador to the Central African Republic said in an interview published on Friday that 1,890 "Russian instructors" were present in the country, a focus of operations for the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group mercenary outfit.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA quoted ambassador Alexander Bikantov as saying: "Today, there are 1,890 Russian instructors in the C.A.R..

The mercenary Wagner Group, founded by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, has become a major player in the Central African Republic, largely displacing former colonial power France.

The government in Bangui is interested in increasing their number, and says it has has sent the relevant application to the UN Security Council.

Wagner initially intervened on the side of the government to quell a civil war which has raged since 2012.

Wagner has previously deployed to Syria, Libya and Mali, among other countries.

Russia also has Wagner fighters in Ukraine, often in front-line positions to serve, according to some observers, as "cannon fodder" to take Kyiv's bullets instead of regular Russian forces.

The mercenary group has been accused in multiple countries of egregious human rights violations.

More Western Missiles for Ukraine

FILE: U.S. military "Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb" (GLSDB). Taken Jan. 31, 2023

Three Western nations - the United States, France, and Italy, are sending additional missile systems to Ukraine as Kyiv girds for an expected Russian spring offensive.,

A new $2.2 billion US arms package for Ukraine includes a new rocket-propelled precision bomb that could nearly double Kyiv's strike range against the Russians, the Pentagon said Friday.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the new package includes the ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), a munition that can fly up to 150 kilometers, threatening Russian positions and depots far behind the front lines.

"This gives them a longer range capability ... that will enable them to conduct operations in defense of their country and to take back their sovereign territory," Ryder said.

Ukraine had been asking the Untied States for munitions that can fly farther than the HIMARS rockets with an 80 kilometer (50 mile) range.

The GLSDB potentially gives Ukraine forces an ability to strike anywhere in the Russian-occupied Donbas, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, and the northern part of occupied Crimea.

That could threaten key Russian supply lines, arms depots and air bases.

Ryder said he did not know how Ukraine planned to use the munition.

The GLSDB, made by Boeing and Saab, is a gliding rocket with a small bomb attached.

Saab says it can hit a target from any angle within one meter.

"The precision of GLSDB is so high it can hit within the radius of a car tire," Saab said on its website.

Additionally, France and Italy have agreed to deliver mobile surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine, the French defense ministry said Friday.

The systems, called MAMBA or SAMP, contain a vehicle-mounted, medium-range battery of missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats such as missiles and aircraft.

Kyiv has pressed allies for additional and longer-range missiles, anticipating a new Russian offensive once Spring begins.

Sankara Grave at Murder Spot

FILE: Supporters of former President Thomas Sankara are seen in front of a portrait of the late president as they gather at his memorial site, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Taken April 6, 2022

The body of Burkina Faso's revered revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara is to be buried alongside 12 comrades at the spot where in 1987 they were assassinated, the country's ruling junta said on Friday.

The ceremony will take place "in February" at the site of a memorial that already marks the location, the government's spokesman, Communications Minister Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo, said in a statement, without giving a date.

Sankara came to power in August 1983 as an army captain aged just 33.

Nicknamed Africa's Che Guevara, he was a fiery Marxist-Leninist who blasted the West for neo-colonialism and hypocrisy.

He changed the country's name from the colonial-era Upper Volta to Burkina Faso -- "the land of honest men" -- and pushed through a range of reforms, including promoting vaccination and banning female genital mutilation.

Sankara was idolized by supporters of Pan-Africanism and egalitarianism, but his tenure was short-lived.

He and a dozen other leaders were gunned down by a hit squad at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council in the capital Ouagadougou on October 15, 1987.

The killings took place on the same day that Sankara's comrade-in-arms, Blaise Compaore, seized power.

He went on to rule for 27 years, during which Sankara's death was a strict taboo. He was ousted by public protests and fled to Ivory Coast.

After Compaore's downfall, the 13 bodies were exhumed from a cemetery on the outskirts of the city for an investigation.

It led to a lengthy trial that culminated in April 2022 in life terms in absentia for Compaore and the suspected hit squad leader, and a similar term for a detained general who had been army commander at the time.

In the light of this trial, the 13 should be buried "honorably," Friday's statement said.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked state in the heart of West Africa's Sahel, is battling a seven-year-old jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven more than two million people from their homes.

Anger within the military at failures to stem the bloodshed helped spark two coups last year.

Abiy Holds First Tigray Meeting

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, left, addresses the parliament in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Nov. 15, 2022.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other government officials on Friday held their first meeting with Tigrayan leaders since a November peace deal, officials and state media said.

The meeting, which took place at a resort in southern Ethiopia, is where the two sides evaluated "actions carried out on the implementation of the Pretoria and Nairobi peace agreements so far" and discussed issues that "need further attention," according to the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

Abiy's national security adviser, Redwan Hussein, said on Twitter that Abiy and other government officials "met today and held discussion with TPLF delegation regarding the progress of the peace process."

"As a result, PM Abiy passed decisions about increasing Flights, Banking & other issues that would boost trust & ease lives of civilians," he tweeted.

A peace deal between Abiy's government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) signed in South Africa's capital Pretoria in November last year silenced the guns in northern Ethiopia.

Under the terms of the agreement, the TPLF agreed to disarm and re-establish the authority of the federal government in return for the restoration of access to Tigray, which was largely cut off from the outside world during the two-year war.

Since the deal was signed, there has been a limited resumption of aid deliveries to Tigray, which has long faced dire shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines.

Basic services such as communications, banking and electricity are slowly being restored to the stricken region of six million people, with the national carrier Ethiopian Airlines resuming commercial flights between Addis Ababa and Tigray's capital Mekele last month.

While the TPLF announced it has begun disarming, local residents and aid workers say the Eritrean army and forces from the neighboring region of Amhara remain in parts of Tigray and accuse them of murder, rape and looting.

Access to Tigray is restricted, and it is impossible to independently verify the situation on the ground.

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