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Ketumile Masire, Former Botswana President, Dies at Age 91

JOHANNESBURG — 

Botswana on Friday announced three days of mourning after the death of 91-year-old Ketumile Masire, a former president who led the country for nearly two decades.

Masire died “peacefully” and surrounded by family members at a hospital in Gaborone, the capital, on Thursday night, Masire’s family said in a statement. He had been critically ill.

Botswana will officially mourn Masire until Sunday, and information about his funeral will be released in coming days, President Ian Khama said. The president’s father, Seretse Khama, was Botswana’s first president after independence from Britain in 1966.

Masire was Botswana’s second president and was in office from 1980 to 1998. He presided over the southern African country’s economic growth and record of clean governance on a continent frequently buffeted by turmoil.

The diamond trade and wildlife tourism are major sources of revenue for the country of 2 million people, which nevertheless faces poverty, a high HIV/AIDS rate and other problems.

In neighboring South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Friday cited comments by Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president, at a state banquet for Masire in 1996.

“Our country has much to learn from Botswana — both from your towering successes and your efforts to deal with the difficulties,” said Mandela, adding that Masire was “a natural and capable leader of the region’s collective efforts towards growth and development.”

After his presidency, Masire became involved in reconciliation efforts and election monitoring in other African countries. In 2007, he started a foundation that seeks to promote development in Botswana and the region.

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UN: Food Aid Dwindling in World's Fastest-growing Refugee Crisis

KAMPALA, UGANDA — 

Food aid soon will run out for nearly a million South Sudanese sheltering in Uganda in what has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, the United Nations refugee chief said Friday.

“Disturbing shortfalls are emerging in critical areas such as food, shelter and education,” Filippo Grandi told a global summit seeking $8 billion for the crisis over the next four years. “Malnutrition rates among refugees are alarming. The World Food Program told us yesterday that the food pipeline here in Uganda will dry up soon.”

The East African nation now hosts 950,000 people from South Sudan. Most have arrived in the past year. Officials say host communities are near the breaking point.

Already, food rations have been cut in half for some refugees.

Uganda last year received three times more refugees from South Sudan than the number of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said.

Guterres on Friday called the refugee influx “the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the Rwanda genocide” of 1994. He has urged South Sudan’s leaders to end the civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed since late 2013. More than 1.8 million people have fled into neighboring countries.

The U.N. chief also made a plea for protection of refugees around the world, saying some richer countries haven’t been as tolerant as some in Africa.

“I have seen the hearts of Ugandan people open, but not all doors are open in the world. Not all refugees are accepted. Some are rejected, and sometimes the country is much richer than Uganda,” the U.N. chief said. Uganda has been praised for its generous policy toward refugees, including the allocation of plots of land for growing food.

But Grandi, the refugee chief, said that “regrettably, the hospitality of host countries is not adequately matched by financial contributions” from the international community.

The U.N. children’s fund in Uganda this week said it requires nearly $50 million this year as well as $30 million each year from 2018 to 2020 to provide critical services to both refugees and host communities.

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Gunmen Kill 3 in Suspected Extremist Attack in Kenya's North

NAIROBI, KENYA — 

Officials say three people have been killed and three others wounded in a suspected Islamic extremist attack in Kenya’s Mandera County, which borders Somalia.

Northeastern Regional Security Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said Friday four gunmen shot dead two civilians and a policeman at a bank in Elwak. Saleh says three others were wounded before the gunmen drove off toward Somalia.

Kenya’s border with long-chaotic Somalia is mostly unguarded.

In a separate incident, the Kenya Red Cross says two people escaped unhurt after their car ran over a homemade bomb in Mandera.

Saleh says al-Shabab extremists from Somalia are suspected to be behind both attacks.

Al-Shabab has said its attacks in Kenya are payback for the country deploying troops to Somalia to fight the extremist group in 2011.

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People With Disabilities at Risk in Central African Republic

BANGUI — 

Simplice Lenguy told his wife to leave him behind as people fled when fighting broke out in Central African Republic’s capital.

“I said, ‘Take the children. You go to the camp. I am handicapped. I can’t flee like the others. If something happens to me, at least my family will be safe,'” Lenguy, who is disabled from polio, recounted in an interview with The Associated Press. His wife refused and forced him to come with her, even when he lost consciousness because of the pain.

For years Central African Republic has seen widespread violence that has displaced more than 500,000 people.

This week at least 100 people were killed in fighting in the town of Bria. Those with disabilities are a “forgotten people within a forgotten crisis” at high risk during attacks and forced displacement, facing neglect in an ongoing humanitarian crisis, according to Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, which released a report this week on their challenges.

The country has faced deadly violence since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

It is not known how many of the displaced are people with disabilities, but Human Rights Watch said conditions at camps are not conducive for them. Some have trouble getting food during distributions, while others have challenges using showers and toilets that lack ramps.

The new report said one man with a physical disability was killed in November 2014 while trying to crawl away from attacking Seleka fighters in the town of Bolo. And when anti-Balaka forces attacked the village of Ngbima the same month, they killed 28 civilians, including a 25-year-old woman with a bad foot who could not move quickly. She was burned alive inside her home, said the report.

With half of Central Africa Republic’s population in need of humanitarian assistance, Mudge said people with disabilities do not get the “protection and assistance they desperately need.”

Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. peacekeeping mission and other U.N. agencies to monitor and report abuses against people with disabilities and commit resources to improving humanitarian aid.

In 2015, the U.N. Security Council’s mandate for the peacekeeping mission expressed “serious concern about the dire situation of persons with disabilities in the CAR including abandonment, violence and lack of access to basic services.” However, when the mandate was renewed by the U.N. Security Council in 2016, no language on people with disabilities was included.

The human rights chief for the U.N. peacekeeping mission had “no statement” on why the language wasn’t included. However, Musa Yerro Gassama said the U.N. continues to work on the issue with aid groups.

Central African Republic’s government doesn’t have the capacity to support people with disabilities, Mudge said. And U.N. officials say humanitarian funding for the country is only at 28 percent.

Once Lenguy recovered from his journey to the camp for those displaced in Bangui, he started organizing others with disabilities into a group to demand more aid. They seek support to replace lost canes and tricycles, rebuild homes and provide vocational assistance.

Despite the challenges, the 40-year-old Lenguy said he’s “very optimistic.” He said he wants people with disabilities to have a role in the government and play a role in their country’s future.

“We, people with disabilities, are ready to help the country to develop,” he said.

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Congo Rights Activist Says Army Kills 7 Attackers in Beni

KINSHASA — 

A human rights activist in eastern Congo says at least seven assailants have been killed as the army fought off attacks on a prison, police station and the town hall in and around the city of Beni.

Omar Kavota said Thursday the attackers also bombed a school and wounded some students who were taking exams.

Kavota says the death toll could rise as Congo’s military pursues other attackers.

Beni Mayor Nyonyi Bwanakawa blames the attack on Mai Mai rebels.

Kavota also says he has warned officials that a new rebel coalition may have formed for these latest attacks. Armed men also attacked a Beni prison earlier this month, killing at least 11 and freeing 900 prisoners.

Scores of armed groups fight for control in Congo’s mineral-rich east.

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Pope Pledges More than $500,000 in South Sudan Aid

VATICAN CITY — 

Pope Francis is offering 460,000 euros (more than $500,000) in aid for South Sudan to help finance two hospitals, a school and farm equipment.

Francis had hoped to visit South Sudan in October to draw attention to the plight of its people faced with starvation and civil war, but called off the trip because the conditions wouldn’t permit it.

“Since the Holy Father was unable to go to South Sudan in person, he wanted to concretely show the church’s presence and closeness with the suffering people,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, Francis’ point-man for peace and refugee issues, told a news conference Wednesday.

The money will go to help fund two hospitals run by the Combonian missionary sisters, a primary school run by a humanitarian group “Solidarity with South Sudan” and an agricultural project run by the Vatican’s Caritas foundation.

Combonian Sister Laura Gemignani, who works in one of the hospitals, said that aside from the tangible effects of new financial aid, the pope’s assistance helped alleviate the sense felt by many in South Sudan that theirs is in many ways a forgotten conflict.

“This gesture makes us feel part of the family, with the Holy Father as our father,” she said.

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Mayor: 100 Dead in Central African Republic Town

BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — 

Clashes between armed groups in the Central African Republic town of Bria have left at least 100 people dead in the wake of a peace agreement signed this week in Rome that called for an immediate cease-fire, officials said Wednesday.

Security remained so precarious that Red Cross teams could not venture into the streets to collect bodies for burial.

“For the moment, no one dares to go out as everything suggests that fighting can resume at any time,” said the Rev. Gildas Gbeni of the St. Louis Catholic mission in Bria. “Witnesses coming from different neighborhoods say they have had to climb over dozens of bodies that now litter the ground.”

Mayor Maurice Balekouzou and others put the preliminary death toll at around 100, while several dozen wounded were seeking treatment at the local hospital run by aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Witnesses said the fighting erupted early Tuesday between the anti-Balaka militia and rebels from the group known as FPRC who were once part of the Seleka movement.

The peace deal signed Monday in Rome among nearly all of the country’s armed groups had called for an immediate cease-fire. Many were skeptical, however, because previous agreements had quickly failed.

Central African Republic has faced deadly interreligious and intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The impoverished country saw a period of relative peace in late 2015 and 2016, but violence has returned in recent months, especially outside the capital. The Seleka group has splintered into factions, some of them fighting each other.

Bria has seen repeated clashes since May, leaving dozens dead. An estimated 41,000 people there have fled for their lives.

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France Softens Proposed UN Backing for Sahel Force to Appease US

UNITED NATIONS — 

The United Nations Security Council is set to vote on Wednesday on a draft resolution to back a West African force to combat terrorism and arms, drug and human trafficking in the Sahel region after France weakened the language in a bid to appease the United States.

The vast, arid region has in recent years become a breeding ground for jihadist groups – some linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State – that European nations, particularly France, fear could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

Last year, the Sahel nations – Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – proposed establishing special units, each of around 100 well-trained soldiers, which would be deployed in areas where jihadist groups are known to operate.

The United States did not believe a resolution was warranted and did not want the world body to help fund it, diplomats said.

The United States is one of five council veto powers, along with France, Britain, Russia and China.

French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters on Tuesday he was confident of “strong support” among the 15-member U.N. council after two weeks of negotiation on the French draft text, which he described as having reached a “successful conclusion.”

“The text that we have we believe is strong in itself and also stronger in terms of the political support it will bring to the force,” Delattre said.

Instead of authorizing the force to “use all necessary means” to carry out its operations, the draft resolution now “welcomes the deployment,” according to a copy seen by Reuters.

It no longer asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report back on options for U.N. support for the force and instead notes that the West African states are responsible for ensuring the troops have adequate resources.

The draft resolution also encourages countries to also provide support. The European Union has already committed $56 million to the Sahel force.

The United States is trying to cut the cost of U.N. peacekeeping and is reviewing each of the 16 missions as they come up for Security Council renewal. Washington is the largest contributor, paying 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion peacekeeping budget.

Special units proposed by the five Sahel nations would complement the efforts of regular armed forces, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and France’s Operation Barkhane, which has around 4,000 troops deployed across the region.

France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali a year earlier. However, militants continue to attack in Mali and its neighbors.

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