GENEVA (IDN-INPS) - Covered in steep hills and tropical forest, the tiny almost-island nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor) faced an uncertain future when it became independent from Indonesia in 2002.

But using its newly discovered oil for the benefit of its 1.2 million population, the fledgling democracy halved its infant and child mortality rates, boosted literacy, and saw national income rise from $810 per capita at independence to $3,940 in 2012.

The nation might have been eligible to graduate from its least developed country (LDC) status – a UN designation – by late 2021. But it depends heavily on its oil and gas exports, and tumbling oil prices have halved national income to $1,920 per capita in 2015, putting graduation into doubt.

- Photo: 2021

Extremist Groups’ Attacks on Civilians in Niger Condemned

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — “Multiple senseless attacks” on civilian populations by armed groups in the Tahoua and Tilabery regions of Niger were condemned by world leaders and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) which noted the recent killings of some 200 civilians including children in the violence.

In the last ten days alone, three attacks in Banibangou, Tahoua and Abala, near the West African nation of Mali, also destroyed productive infrastructure such as granaries, jeopardizing livelihoods in some of the most vulnerable regions of the country, the humanitarian group reported.

Chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed outrage at the attacks targeting civilians. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also strongly condemned the March 20 attack by unidentified gunmen against civilians, according to his spokesperson.

The security situation in the region is rapidly deteriorating. Terror attacks targeting civilians, as well as soldiers, have particularly risen in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger despite the presence of peacekeeping forces from France, the EU and the UN.

Teams have been mobilized by the IRC in the so-called jihadi-plagued zone where the porous borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge. Some 4,000 people across the three nations died in 2019 in violence and ethnic bloodshed stirred by Islamists, according to the UN.

“We are appalled at the continuous attack on civilians who were just going about their business, fetching water,” said Aboubakar Pefoura, IRC Niger Senior Emergency Coordinator. Not only were civilians killed in this latest attack, 22 of them were children. Civilians should never be a target, especially children, and this fundamental principle must be upheld in conflict situations by all parties.”

The attackers arrived in the villages on motorbikes on March 24, and set classrooms on fire, looted a health center and stole livestock. They reportedly surrounded the villages and those who tried to escape were chased and killed, according to an official who wished to remain anonymous.

One of the most insecure regions in the Sahel, Niger has been reeling from years of food insecurity, weather shocks, violence and extremism. In 2019, civilian deaths in the Niger region rose by a staggering 2400% compared to 2016, the IRC coordinator declared.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Recently, members of the U.S. Africa Command met with regional leaders during a brief trip to Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Niger’s commander-in-charge, Mamane Sani Rafini has promised justice. “This situation is simply horrible. Investigations will be conducted so that this crime does not go unpunished.”

The killings underscore the massive security challenges facing Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum, who was elected in February. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 March 2021]

Photo source: International Centre for Investigative Reporting

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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