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Chad bids farewell to Deby as France and allies back his son

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Chadian soldiers carrying the coffin of late president Idriss Deby Itno

Chad began funeral ceremonies on Friday for veteran ruler Idriss Deby Itno, a key figure in the fight against the Sahel’s jihadist insurgency, as France and regional allies voiced backing for his son and successor, Mahamat Idriss Deby.

The elder Deby, who had ruled the vast semi-desert state with an iron fist for 30 years, died from wounds sustained fighting rebels at the weekend, the army said Tuesday.

His death has stunned the Sahel and its key ally France, battling a nine-year-old jihadist revolt that has claimed thousands of live s and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

His coffin, draped in the national flag and surrounded by elite troops, was driven on the back of a pickup truck to the Place de la Nation square for ceremonies attended by foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

There followed a 21-gun salute for Deby, who only last August had been declared a field marshal — the first in Chad’s history — after leading an offensive against jihadists in the west of the country.

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Just before the funeral, Macron and his counterparts from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger jointly met with Deby’s son.

The leaders, expressing a “unity of views”, said they “stood by Chad and expressed their joint support for the process of civilian-military transition, for the stability of the region”, a French presidential official said.

The 37-year-old general was named president and head of a military council immediately after Deby’s death was announced.

He will wield full powers but has promised “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period that can be extended once.

The move has been branded an “institutional coup” by the opposition.

Deby’s death was announced the day after he was declared the winner of an April 11 election — giving him a sixth mandate after three decades at the helm.

The army said the 68-year-old had died from wounds suffered while leading troops in battle against heavily armed rebels who had launched an incursion from neighbouring Libya.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has vowed to pursue its offensive after a pause for Deby’s funeral, with spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol telling AFP that the rebels were “en route to N’Djamena”.

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On Monday — the day of his reported death — the army had claimed a “great victory”, saying it had killed more than 300 FACT rebels and captured 150 others, with the loss of five soldiers.

– Unstable country –

Allies of the late leader had moved swiftly to ensure power remained in their hands, installing the younger Deby, w h ose nickname is “Kaka”, as president and head of a transitional military council while dissolving parliament and the government.

The younger Deby until now had commanded the top-notch Republican Guard.

His father seized power in a chronically unstable country in 1990 and had twice thwarted attempted coups with support from France.

He was repeatedly returned to office in elections denounced by opponents as fraudulent.

But he gained a reputation in the West for his reliability in the fight to roll back jihadists, whose campaign has shaken the vast, impoverished region.

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Chad has well-respected armed forces and hosts the headquarters of France’s 5,100-strong Barkhane anti-jihadist mission.

It also partners Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a regional anti-jihad coalition called the G5 Sahel.

– French armoured escort –

Macron was the only Western head of state to attend the funeral.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and the son of the late Chadian president Idriss Deby Itno, Mahamat Idriss Deby

French armoured vehicles escorted Macron to the embassy after his arrival at the military base used for Barkhane’s headquarters, an AFP journalist saw.

The African Union (AU) was being represented by its current chair, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the European Union by its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

The funeral was to be followed by prayers at the capital’s Grand Mosque.

Deby’s remains will be flown a thousand kilometres (600 miles) east to the village of Amdjarass near the Sudanese border, where he will be buried alongside his father close to his birthplace of Berdoba.

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Vatican urged to mediate in Cameroon

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There have been fresh calls for the Vatican to mediate the increasingly violent conflict between Cameroon’s Anglophone minority and the central government. Recent events have prompted civil society to appeal for the Church to offer its services as an impartial and respected intermediary.

Past weeks have seen an upsurge in violence between armed separatist groups and the Cameroon military. Anglophone forces fighting for an independent country are using improvised explosive devices against the Cameroon armed forces to devastating effect. Human rights groups have warned that the military is targeting villages in response, with unarmed civilians bearing the brunt of the suffering. International observers, such as the Global Campaign for Peace & Justice in Cameroon, urge that military force will not address grievances and a mediation table is necessary.

In 2019, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland offered to hold peace talks between the armed sides. Although some pro-independence groups have signed on, the Cameroon government has not attended. More than two years later, Cameroonians and the world are waiting.

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Cameroon-watchers suggest the time is now right for another credible institution to bolster efforts to bring all sides, including civil society, to the negotiating table.

Lord Alton commented: “I have followed events in the troubled Anglophone regions of Cameroon since violence broke out, and local contacts believe that circumstances are now changing. This is the moment for the Vatican to once more offer itself as an impartial mediator, trying to get all parties to the conflict to participate in peace talks. There is a military stalemate between separatist forces and the Cameroon government, with unarmed civilians suffering intolerable conditions, caught in the middle. The Church’s renewed participation could be a game changer – bringing about a ceasefire and offering much needed hope to Cameroon’s Anglophone citizens.”

The calls from civil society have been endorsed by Dr Chris Fomunyoh from the National Democratic Institute in Washington DC. “The Vatican has moral authority worldwide, including with government leaders in Cameroon. How can it afford not to leverage those relationships to bring peace and social justice to a bleeding nation where 20 percent of its population constituted of the minority Anglophones face an existential threat now and for future generations?”

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Dr Fomunyoh continued, “I think of the very instrumental role played by the Rome-based and Vatican-connected Community of Saint Edigio in bringing peace to then war-torn Mozambique in the early 1990s, and wonder why such an effort cannot be undertaken for Cameroon where thousands have been killed, close to 400 villages burnt, and over one million dislocated either as internally displaced persons of refugees.”

Background to the Anglophone Crisis

What began in 2016 as peaceful protests against the imposition of the French language and institutions on the minority Anglophone population, degenerated into a violent struggle between separatist fighters calling for an independent country called ‘Ambazonia’ and the Cameroon government and military of President Paul Biya, in power since 1982. Thousands of civilians have been killed, hundreds of villages have been burned, the majority of schools have been closed for four years, and nearly one million people (out of a population of six million) are or were internally displaced, with seventy thousand more thought to be in exile in neighbouring Nigeria while others are scattered as refugees elsewhere.

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In January 2021, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, visited Cameroon, urging President Biya to enter peace talks to no avail. However, with changing circumstances on the ground, the moment is ripe for the Vatican’s reengagement. Catholic priests and other religious figures have been targeted during the conflict. As a key moral authority, the Church should be central to efforts to find a peaceful way forward using the negotiating table.

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Biafra: Detained leader of IPOB calls for more support and prayers

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Nnamdi Kanu, rights activist and leader of the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB)

Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) has requested more support and prayers from the prison where he is being held.

Kanu, still in prison, was seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to Nigeria where he faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.

His lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, who met with him on Thursday, said he was in good spirits but is asking for more support and prayers.

“Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is deeply thankful for your unshaken support and peaceful conduct so far. He solicited for your continued relentless prayers and support,” said the lawyer in a statement received by Gazette Africa on Thursday.

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The lawyer also revealed that efforts are being made to defend his client in court on November 21, 2021, when he will be in court to justice to stand trial.

“Since the Federal Government refused to honour the Fiat granted by the Honourable Chief Judge for Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s case to be heard during the Court’s Annual vacation, or even shortly afterwards, ostensibly because they have no case against our Client, they definitely will have no hiding place come 21st Day of October 2021, the earlier adjourned date.

“Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s erudite legal team have done all that is within our powers to assemble the best legal arsenal in Court come 21st October 2021 Hearing. Hence, we crave your co-operation and indulgence during this period. Please be assured that with God on our side, victory is certain,” said Mr Ejiofor.

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Catholics decries Nigerian President’s silence on killings of Christians

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Statistics provided at the ACN event also indicated that Fulani militia have burnt 160 Churches and 94 schools in various regions of South Eastern Nigeria. Other properties that had been destroyed by 2018 include 34 health facilities, 24 markets, 69 bridges and 7 boreholes.

Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, has blamed the persistent attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen against innocent Christians in Nigeria on the laxity by the country’s head of state to act to stop the violence.

According to ACN’s Director of Religious Freedom and Public Affairs, Mark Riedemann, there is mounting suspicion that Nigeria’s President is not acting to stop the armed herdsmen from terrorizing Christian farmers because he is Fulani.

“The fact that Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani, has raised suspicions and even accusations of failure to condemn and prosecute the systematic attacks by Fulani militias against the mostly Christians farming communities,” Mr. Riedemann said during the September 29 ACN conference.

The ACN official echoed the sentiments of Catholic peace foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), which has made reference to sources linking President Buhari to a Fulani group terrorizing Christian in several Nigerian States.

DHPI is researching the activities of the Fulani herdsmen in Central and Southern parts of Nigeria and has warned of “a gathering storm” in the regions as the world focuses attention on the activities of Boko Haram in the North.

In an earlier report, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen told ACI Africa that the Fulani operate under the umbrella of an organization known as Miyeti Allah, originally founded to promote Fulani interests, and that President Buhari is the patron of Miyeti Allah.

The peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has been monitoring and documenting growing oppression of civilians in Ogun State, Cross River, Benue, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra States by militants that the organization links to top leadership of the country.

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DHPI has documented widely about the evolution of violence in the States that are ravaged by the Fulani herdsmen, with the latest report documenting the harrowing encounters of victims of militant attacks in Nigeria and the disgruntlement of Church leaders in the country on the failure by the government to act to stop the violence.

In a report presented at the September 29 virtual conference, Sr. Nkiru Ezedinuchi, a member of the Handmaids of the Child Jesus in the Catholic Diocese of Ekulobia said that the Church was not getting the support of State government in fighting the violence against innocent civilians.

She said, in reference to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), “The Bishops’ conference has been coming out with some opinions channeled to the Federal government that whatever is happening in our country is becoming too much. Enough is enough! Nothing has been done about it.”

“Our brother, the head of state, is not bothered about what is happening and that is why so many people are dying, there is no point,” the Catholic Nun who teaches 30 children at a secondary school in Anambra and who describes herself as a human rights activist told DHPI.

“I am at the heart of the people and I am also a human rights activist, because I don’t like injustice,” she said, and added, “We need to stand up and be direct, direct, people who were not before me, we must fight for justice, because we have them, when such souls are in the mist.”

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Sr. Nkiru has been working with others to deliver meals to hundreds of children hiding in bushes and on streets near the Diocesan premises, unable to find accommodation in the IDP centers that have been said to be full.

ACN presented a report by various state and non-state actors detailing the murders, displacements of people and destruction of property in various Nigerian States experiencing persecution. The report indicated that in Benue State alone, there are over one million Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

Sources in Nigeria say that more than 36,000 have been killed to date. Statistics provided at the ACN event also indicated that Fulani militia have burnt 160 Churches and 94 schools in various regions of South Eastern Nigeria. Other properties that had been destroyed by 2018 include 34 health facilities, 24 markets, 69 bridges and 7 boreholes.

In Anambra, for instance, Viljoen has described the security situation as “critical.”

“There is widespread destruction of houses and farms. No crops are being grown. The way the crisis presents itself differs from Benue State, in as far as there are no camps or settlements for IDPs, they have taken shelter with friends or relatives in safer areas, or are wandering the streets as homeless people,” the DHPI official said.

In the Catholic Diocese of Ekulobia, there is no camp for the IDPs. Instead, the people are scattered around the State and trying to survive on the streets, DHPI has reported, making reference to its findings from a visit in Anambra last month.

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The IDPS, DHPI reports, were forced to leave their houses unexpectedly when the armed Fulani militia raided their villages, destroyed their homes and livelihoods and murdered their loved ones in front of them.

The peace entity of SACBC reports that IDPs live in constant fear of being attacked and they are left hiding in bushes, sleeping in abandoned houses and scavenging for whatever food they can find.

“The level of trauma these people have been through is incomprehensible, as they have watched family members killed, their bodies dismembered, women and children raped; leaving them mentally deranged, starving and fighting for survival on the streets as no counselling or support is provided,” Mr. Viljoen said during the September 29 event.

He added, in reference to the Christian farmers who have been displaced, “Their farmlands were taken away from them and destroyed as the Fulani flattened the land with cattle, leaving it barren and infertile.”

“The Fulani take over an area of farmlands and establish a station with a tent so that people are unable to enter the area where their farms are. This causes desperation and major food shortages across the whole of the Southeast of Nigeria,” Mr. Viljoen said.

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