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East Libyan Forces Claim Control of Central Benghazi Area

BENGHAZI, LIBYA — 

East Libyan forces said they had gained control Saturday over one of two remaining districts of Benghazi where they faced armed resistance.

The advance in the central Souq al-Hout neighborhood was the latest step in the slow progress of the self-styled Libyan National Army commanded by Khalifa Haftar, which has been waging a campaign against Islamists and other opponents in Libya’s second city for more than three years.

In unusually heavy fighting in Benghazi over the past two days, at least 13 men from the LNA were killed and 37 wounded, a medical official said. Many of those who died were killed by land mines, a military source said.

Along with Sabri, Souq al-Hout was one of the final holdouts of the LNA’s rivals.

Since 2014, shifting alliances have been battling for power. The LNA and an eastern-based government have rejected a U.N.-backed government that has been in the capital, Tripoli, since last year.

Saturday’s advance came after the Benghazi Defense Brigades, an anti-Haftar armed group that includes fighters who retreated from Benghazi and have since tried and failed to advance again toward the city, said it was prepared to disband and be integrated into national security forces.

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Cameroon Says Attacks Increased During Ramadan

MORA, CAMEROON — 

Cameroon has dispatched its defense minister to its northern border with Nigeria following a recent series of suicide bomb attacks that has left dozens dead. Militant group Boko Haram is believed to be behind the carnage. The central African state says the bombers have infiltrated markets and mosques as end of Ramadan feast draws near.

Medical staff at the Mora hospital on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria have attended to at least 50 people injured in six suicide bomb attacks in the towns of Mora and Kolofata within 24 hours. Among the medical staff brought in from the neighboring town of Maroua is Dr. Jean Daniel Essam Sime.

He says they are struggling to save the life of a woman who was brought to them with parts of her abdomen and legs cut off, as well as a breast feeding 40-day old baby whose hands were injured.

Security stepped up

Among the wounded is 37-year old self defense group member Younoussa Ousmanou. He says he got wounds from explosives detonated by one of the bombers. He says two of his colleagues died. Ousmanou says he is going back to join other members of the self defense groups in protecting their villages.

He says they noticed that attacks had increased during Ramadan and decided to assist the military by intensifying control along the border zones with Nigeria where most of the suspects come from. He says they work round the clock in groups of ten dispatched to all road junctions and all entrances to their villages.

Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the far north region of Cameroon says the six teenage suicide bombers, including 3 females, came from Nigeria to target areas with crowds of people. He says 15 suicide bomb attacks have killed dozens in Mora and Kolofata within the past 10 days.

He says while waiting for Cameroon’s defense headquarters in Yaounde to take more drastic measures to stop suicide bombing, he has instructed the military in his region to create security belts around border zones and in affected villages to assure the security of all. He says the military should double vigilance, be very rigorous in control and seal all border zones used by suicide bombers.

Clerics instructed to be watchful

Moussa Oumarou, president of the Cameroon Association of Muslim Dignitaries and Imams says they have sent members to the area to educate the population and instruct local Muslim clerics to be watchful. He says the attacks are increasing because terrorists use the holy month of fasting to deceive young Muslims that if they die fighting for Allah they will go straight to paradise.

Oumarou says it is imperative for Muslim leaders to teach all of their faithful, especially the youths that terrorists are using Islam to kill and destroy. He says the population should be made to understand that Islam is synonymous to peace and tolerance and has nothing to do with radicalization.

Saturday Cameroon dispatched its minister of defense, Joseph Beti Assomo, and its top military leadership to the northern border with Nigeria to reinstate peace and security as Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

The UNHCR reports that the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and its spill over to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger has caused the displacement of more than 2.7 million people and killed 25,000.

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Gunmen kill Somali army official in El Wak town

Unknown gunmen were reported to have assassinated a senior Somali army officer the town of El Wak in the country’s south-western Gedo region on Saturday afternoon. According to officials, unidentified assailants armed with pistols gunned down Abdirashid Barre Gurhan, after raiding his home in the town. Attackers escaped the scene immediately. In the aftermath of the […]

Despite Signs of Hope, Millions Across Africa Remain at Risk of Starvation

WASHINGTON — 

VOA’s Salem Solomon appeared on “The Correspondents” program hosted by Mil Arcega to discuss the ongoing food security crisis in Africa. Below are some of Arcega’s questions and Solomon’s answers, along with additional information about this crisis.

What’s the latest news about food insecurity in Africa? Where is the situation getting better, and where is it getting worse?

Answer: There has been promising news coming from Somalia and South Sudan. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) — a U.S.-funded body that tracks food insecurity around the world — releases regular reports on affected areas.

One highlight in their most recent update is the effectiveness of early detection of food insecurity and aggressive responses. Airdropping food to restricted places in South Sudan, for example, has helped decrease the death toll that would otherwise have occurred.

However, about 4 million people have been displaced because of conflict in South Sudan, and humanitarian organizations warn that 45,000 people in the two counties in Unity State where famine has been declared, Leer and Mayendit, are still in desperate need of food aid. This is an increase of 25,000 people since just last month.

If assistance doesn’t come, these areas could easily slip back into famine.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in Somalia, where rainfall in May was better than the previous month. Still, the overall rainy season was 30 percent to 60 percent below a typical season, and farmers are struggling to keep crops alive.

Overall, 3.2 million people in Somalia are at risk, 350,000 children are malnourished and 70,000 children are severely malnourished. Famine has been averted for now, but FEWS NET forecasts that much of the country will remain at Phase 4, which is defined as a food security emergency, through September.

In Northeastern Nigeria, it was learned earlier this week that approximately half of the much-needed food aid never reached the victims of Boko Haram who are so badly in need. This occurred because of “diversion,” according to a government statement, which is another way of saying it was likely stolen.

As a result, many of the 8.5 million people who need food assistance after fleeing the extremist group will be unable to get food.

Food prices continue to spike, and the country is entering what’s known as the lean season, which lasts through September. That typically means food hardship increases because the country is between harvests. The good news is that Boko Haram has been severely degraded, and attacks have decreased compared to the past few years.

It’s become common to call these man-made crises. How does conflict exacerbate the food insecurity in these countries? Are terror groups taking advantage of the situation?

Answer: All four of the countries experiencing the most critical food insecurity — Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen — are either at war or under attack by an insurgent group. In this context, both large-scale and subsistence farmers have been forced to flee their land. This harms the countries’ food supplies and makes what food is available that much more expensive. For example, a VOA reporter in Somalia determined that the price of a kilo of tomatoes nearly doubled within the span of one week. In the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, staple food items, such as rice, maize, millet and sorghum, are 50 percent more expensive than they were last year.

Both terror groups and, sadly, government forces in some places have used food and access to food as a weapon of war. In northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgents have occupied farmland, burned crops and destroyed irrigation systems. In South Sudan, government forces have prevented food from reaching rebel strongholds to starve the local population into submission.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the terror group al-Shabab has, in some cases, distributed food aid to people who are living in areas it controls. They have used this assistance as a way of recruiting young people and winning the hearts and minds of the local population. They want to be seen as the protector and use access to food to bolster this image.

Is the international community doing enough? What about the U.S.? How will budget cuts to foreign aid affect these efforts in Africa and Yemen?

Answer: The short answer is no, the international community is not doing enough. That’s according to the U.N., which said earlier this year that it needs $6.1 billion to avert a hunger crisis in the four affected countries. By the beginning of June, only $2.2 billion had been pledged by international donors.

In the U.S., there has been some good news recently. Nearly $1 billion was added to the 2017 fiscal year omnibus bill in emergency relief for famine. This money will help.

But globally, there is a lot of concern about a perceived shift by the U.S. away from playing a leadership role in international aid.

For example, the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget calls for cutting USAID funding by 31 percent and consolidating the program within the State Department. Some published reports have suggested that the budget would eliminate FEWS NET, which is the most important tool available worldwide for monitoring and sounding the alarm when food insecurity is about to occur.

In a hearing last week, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa discussed the famine response. Humanitarian groups voiced deep concern over the proposed budget cuts. In particular, Tony P. Hall, executive director emeritus at the Alliance to End Hunger, said he was very worried about the potential cuts.

But Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, a Republican who chairs the committee, said he was confident that these cuts will not happen as proposed. He stressed that Congress writes the budget, not the president.

What are the other factors that contribute to food insecurity across the continent? What role do climate change and weather events, such as El Niño and La Niña, play?

Answer: People in each region we’re discussing do not live with a safety net. That’s in the best of times. If a crop fails or a rainy season doesn’t come as expected, they risk starvation.

The effects of climate change have particularly impacted people in the Sahel region of Africa, which stretches from Senegal and Mauritania on the west coast to Ethiopia and Eritrea on the east coast. It has been well documented that the Sahara desert is expanding southward, and bodies of water, such as Lake Chad, are drying up. Countries are witnessing some of the hottest average annual temperatures on record.

On top of this, the El Niño weather pattern event of 2015 and 2016 caused a massive drought in Eastern and Southern Africa. Following that, La Niña, another weather pattern, resulted in worsening drought in some places and flooding in others.

What we’re seeing is people who are living on the edge, as many subsistence farmers in Africa are, being pushed over the edge by these climate events.

What has VOA done so far to report about this crisis? How is the Africa Division covering this issue?

Answer: In launching the “Hunger Across Africa” project, we hoped to provide a comprehensive look at one of the most important stories facing the continent right now. Months ago, we knew we would devote a good number of reporting and editing resources to covering this story. But we wanted to make sure our audience got the big picture along with the incremental coverage that we’d provide through our daily reporting.

We have focused on explaining how food insecurity works based on the work of FEWS NET. We also wanted to provide an easy-to-access archive of coverage. So, we categorized stories by type (for example, root causes and solutions) and by country. And we created an infographic that provides “at-a-glance” details from one country to the next.

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US soon to have permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia

The United States ambassador to Somalia says the U.S. once again will have a permanent diplomatic presence in the country after it opens offices in Mogadishu later this year. The U.S. embassy was closed in 1991 as the Horn of Africa nation slid into decades of chaos. Former Secretary of State John Kerry during a […]

UNICEF warns of food shortage and disease in Somalia

UNICEF Director for Emergency Programmes, said in a statement issued in New York that continued humanitarian action was crucial in saving children’s lives. Fontaine said the welcome announcement of an end to famine conditions in South Sudan this week should not distract attention from the fact that severe food insecurity continued to put the lives […]

Somali President meets with his Ugandan counterpart in Kampala

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo met with his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni in Kampala on Friday, during his two day state visit. The Villa Somalia said in its Official Twitter account that President Farmaajo held fruitful talks with Museveni at the state house in Kampla. Uganda as a valuable ally to Somalia, it added. According to […]

Turkey’s military training camp in Somalia to open soon

The Somali foreign minister on Friday lauded a Turkish military training camp which is expected to open in Somalia in the coming months. ”This military training camp established by our Turkish friends will be the first professional training camp for the Somali army. That is why it is very important to us,” Yusuf Garaad Omar […]

Kenya blames Al shabaab for a deadly attack in Mandera County

Three people were killed and three others wounded in a suspected Islamic extremist attack in Kenya’s Mandera County, which borders Somalia, officials said Friday. Four gunmen shot dead two civilians and a policeman at a bank in Elwak, Northeastern Regional Security Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said. Saleh said three people were wounded before the gunmen drove […]

US drops terror reward for senior Al-Shabab leader

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