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South Sudan students, teachers back in school after 14-month lockdown

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Primary and secondary schools across South Sudan reopened Monday, a little more than one year after they were closed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Hussain Abdelbagi, head of the South Sudan task force on COVID-19, urged teachers and students to continue social distancing and adhere to all other preventative guidelines as they return to classrooms.

At the launch of the back-to-school campaign at Juba One Primary School on Monday, Abdelbagi said the government decided to reopen schools after seeing a significant drop in COVID-19 cases across the country. She urged all teachers to get fully vaccinated, noting the government has opened more vaccination centers.

“We are going to increase the centers to ten centers across Juba and the states, so we want all our teachers to go to the vaccination centers to get COVID-19 green cards against coronavirus,” said Abdelbagi.

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Over the next few months, the government will send COVID-19 committees to various schools to assess whether teachers have been adhering to the health ministry’s preventative guidelines, according to Abdelbagi.

General education minister Awut Deng warned the government will not hesitate to close schools again if students and teachers fail to social distance and wear face masks.

But Deng called on parents across the country to send their sons and daughters back to school.

“All the children in the country must report back to school, girls and boys together.” said Deng. This is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children are encouraged and supported to report back to school.”

Deng assured teachers that the education ministry will improve working conditions for teachers, especially during the pandemic.

When the academic year ended just six weeks after it began last year, many students worried they would never be able to sit for their final exams and finish their education.

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Eighteen-year-old Randa Wani said she is excited to return to school and meet her new teachers and classmates.

“I have missed many things that I was supposed to get when I was in class,” Wani told South Sudan in Focus. “But with the schools reopening, I expect the new curriculum to be taken seriously, where it involves deep learning and is student-centered, so I expect that the new curriculum should be put in place and students have to be very serious about the curriculum for their own benefit.”

The lockdown deeply affected students and instructors, said George Kenyi, the head teacher at Juba Day Secondary School. He said many boys dropped out of online classes to try to earn an income while many girls either became pregnant or got married.

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He said teachers are happy to be back in school and are eager to help students with their work as they did recently with Senior Four students who were preparing to take leaving exams.

“We were adhering to COVID-19 ministry of health protocols where social distancing is observed and people must have face masks and washing throughout,” Kenyi told South Sudan in Focus. “Although with washing hands there are a lot of challenges because it needs continuous pouring of water, sanitizers and washing with soap, but with the major sources [of funds] that we have, we have secured all these things so that it pushes us.”

The government closed all schools including universities on March 20 last year to help prevent the spread of the virus.

South Sudan has recorded 115 COVID-19 deaths, 10,312 recoveries, and 10,604 cases overall.

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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.

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.

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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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