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Ebola death toll hits 4 in DR Congo as people ‘resist’ measures

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Four people have died from the hemorrhagic Ebola virus during a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said Sunday, warning that people are resisting measures to contain the highly contagious disease.

Since the epidemic’s resurgence this month, “we have already registered six Ebola cases. We have lost four infected people,” Eugene Syalita, the provincial health minister in North Kivu province in the DRC’s east, told AFP.

Syalita said one person died Friday and another on Saturday, while the two others died in early February.

Two patients are receiving care at an Ebola treatment centre in Katwa near the major city of Butembo, he added.

Syalita complained that the region’s residents were not taking the new outbreak seriously enough.

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“Some families categorically refuse to have their homes disinfected or to hold dignified and safe funerals,” the doctor said.

“People have not yet understood that Ebola has reappeared. Everything is not yet clear for them.”

A vaccination drive was launched last Monday, but as with past outbreaks, people in the region doubt the existence of Ebola and reject measures aimed at checking its spread, including not to touch sick people and not to wash the dead.

The 10th epidemic, which was declared on August 1, 2018, was finally eradicated on June 25 last year after being exacerbated by ongoing armed conflicts and resistance to anti-Ebola measures.

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With more than 2,200 deaths recorded, it is considered the most serious in the history of Ebola in the DRC since the scourge fist appeared in 1976, named after a river in the former Belgian colony, which was known as Zaire at the time.

An 11th outbreak of the virus, which is believed to reside in bats, was declared over in November after claiming 55 lives in the northwestern province of Equateur.

– Outbreak in Guinea, too –

Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.

Funeral practices often include washing, touching and kissing bodies that are still capable of transmitting Ebola, and may have particularly high levels of the live virus in excretions.

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The virus has also resurfaced in Guinea, where it has already killed five people in the first outbreak in West Africa since a 2013-16 epidemic that left more than 11,300 people dead in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The United States last week said it would work with the affected governments and the World Health Organization over the outbreaks.

“The world cannot afford to turn the other way.  We must do everything in our power to respond quickly, effectively,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Africa

Ten rebels killed in offensive in east DR Congo — Army

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Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers. Photo: AFP

The Congolese army forces on Sunday killed 10 rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the troubled east of the country, a spokesman said.

The offensive kicked off last Thursday in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, with army and police officers assigned to replace civilian authorities under a 30-day “state of siege”.

In a clash in Halungupa, in the Rwenzori area, “our troops got the better of the ADF enemy. We in fact saw 10 dead bodies of ADF elements,” Antony Mualushayi, an army spokesman in the North Kivu city of Beni, told AFP.

The death toll is provisional, he added.

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“We are determined to finish with the ADF once and for all,” he said. “This siege should give the people of the Beni region the chance to live in a place where peace rules.”

A spokesman for a monitor called the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said however that it had counted “only five bodies so far.”

Meanwhile, a delegation of Ugandan officers arrived in Beni on Sunday, according to an AFP reporter, while the army and government authorities declined to comment on the visit.

The ADF, a group of Ugandan Islamist fighters, has been based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995.

Branded a “terrorist” organization affiliated with the Islamic State group by the United States, the ADF has been accused of murdering more than 1,000 civilians since November 2019 in Beni alone.

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It is by far the most dangerous of scores of armed groups that operate in the east of DR Congo.

Mineral-rich North and South-Kivu which lie along the DRC’s eastern borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, descended into violence during the country’s two wars between 1996 and 2003, and have never regained stability.

Ituri, further to the north, has also been rocked by violence since late 2017 after 15 years of relative calm.

Under the DRC’s constitution, the president can declare a state of either siege or emergency “if severe circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of institutions”.

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South Sudan president dissolves parliament in line with peace deal

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South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, a long-awaited step to pave the way for the appointment of lawmakers from formerly warring parties in the country.

The move was in line with a peace deal signed to end a civil war that began in 2013.

The president dissolved parliament on Saturday and the new body will be formed in “a matter of time, not too long”, his spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Reuters.

According to the deal that ended the civil war, parliament must be expanded from 400 members to 550 and must include members from all parties to the peace accord.

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South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war. Violence erupted in late 2013 after Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The two men have signed many deals to end a war estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people. They repeatedly pushed back deadlines to form a government of national unity, but in 2020 finally did so.

Despite the peace deal, violence is still raging in parts of the country, according to United Nations reports.

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Chad rebels ‘fleeing’, says defence minister

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Rebels who launched an offensive in northern Chad, sparking clashes that claimed the life of veteran president Idriss Deby Itno, are in flight, the country’s new defence minister said on Thursday.

“The security forces are thoroughly sweeping the operational area. Most of the prisoners are in the hands of the gendarmerie (police) and are being well-treated. The enemy is fleeing,” Defence Minister Brahim Daoud Yaya told a news conference.

“We are never going to dialogue with terrorists.”

He was speaking after the first meeting of a transitional government appointed by a 14-member military junta, the Transitional Military Council (TMC), that took office after Deby’s death on April 19.

Opposition supporters, meanwhile, called for fresh anti-junta protests on Saturday.

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Demonstrations on April 29 that were violently repressed by the authorities claimed six lives, according to the authorities, and nine according to a local grass-roots organisation, while more than 600 people were arrested.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a large armed group with a rear base in Libya, mounted an offensive on April 11 as the country was to hold presidential elections.

Deby, a former general who had been in power for 30 years, led the fighting against the insurgents.

According to the authorities, he died from combat injuries in the Kanem desert region, about 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of the capital N’Djamena, close to the border with Niger.

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“Libya is the terrorists’ stronghold,” the minister said.

He added, however: “I cannot accuse Libya of supporting the terrorists, as there is no state in Libya.”

Deby’s death occurred on the same day that he was declared victor in the presidential results and that the army claimed to have killed 300 FACT rebels, according to official announcements.

Another 246 rebels have been captured and handed over to the judicial authorities, according to the authorities.

Fighting has been continuing in the area of Nokou, in the administrative region of North Kanem.

Last week, a Chadian military helicopter crashed there after what the army said was a breakdown, while FACT said it had downed the aircraft.

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A junta took power immediately after Deby’s shock death, headed by his 37-year-old son Mahamat, a four-star general, and parliament was suspended.

The military rulers have vowed to hold “free and democratic” elections following an 18-month transition period.

On Sunday, the junta unveiled a 40-member transitional government, the key posts of which have gone to members of the former president’s MPS party.

According to a report on Thursday’s first ministerial meeting, a copy of which was seen by AFP, Deby “instructed the government to urgently strengthen communal living, which has been seriously tested, to consolidate peace, ensure security and guarantee security.”

He also called for the holding of an “inclusive national dialogue.”

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