At least four dead, 20 injured in Mali attack on French soldiers

A still image taken from a video shows an armored personnel carrier on fire after a car bomb attack in Gao, northern Mali July 1, 2018. (REUTERS/via Reuters TV)
Updated 01 July 2018

At least four dead, 20 injured in Mali attack on French soldiers

  • Sunday’s attacks occurred as an African Union summit opened in neighboring Mauritania, with security crises on the continent, including unrest in the vast Sahel region, high on the agenda.S
  • On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the Mali headquarters of the five-nation force known as G5 Sahel. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims claimed responsibility.

BAMAKO: French soldiers on patrol in troubled northern Mali were targeted in a bombing on Sunday in which four civilians were killed and over 20 people injured, Malian authorities said.
In a separate incident on Sunday meanwhile, a vehicle of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), an armed group of former Tuareg rebels which often operates alongside French and Malian forces in Mali’s north, also hit a land mine in Talataye village in the Gao region.
That blast killed four people and injured three, the group said in a statement.
The attacks, coming in the wake of two others on Friday and Saturday, highlighted the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to go to the polls on July 29.
Sunday’s attacks occurred as an African Union summit opened in neighboring Mauritania, with security crises on the continent, including unrest in the vast Sahel region, high on the agenda.
Following the attack on the French patrol, Malian authorities, citing hospital sources, gave a provisional death toll of four civilians and over 20 people seriously injured.
On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the Mali headquarters of the five-nation force known as G5 Sahel, adding to concerns about how it can tackle the extremist groups roaming the region.
The French military said there were no deaths among the troops whose armored vehicle was attacked near the town of Bourem in the Gao region on Sunday, but that there were civilian casualties.
“A blast of unknown origin took place and there is a large number of civilian casualties, including children,” military spokesman colonel Patrik Steiger told AFP.
Gao resident Fatouma Wangara said the French patrol was deliberately targeted by a suicide car bomb.
“An armored vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up,” she said.
Another resident told AFP that the area around the ambush had been sealed off by French troops.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day African Union summit, warned that Friday’s attack on the Sahel force HQ had exposed regional security failings.
He said the blast “hit the heart” of the region’s security and lashed out at a lack of international help, saying the doors of the United Nations were “closed.”
“It was a message sent by the terrorists at this precise moment when we are getting organized to stabilize and secure our region,” Aziz told France 24 television.
“If the headquarters was attacked, it is because there are so many failings we need to fix if we want to bring stability to the Sahel.”
The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main extremist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday’s bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar.
And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a land mine in the central Mopti region.
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — but has faced funding problems and accusations of human rights abuses.
French President Emmanuel Macron will meet G5 leaders in Nouakchott on Monday to focus on progress made by the force.
G5 operates alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
African leaders will also look at a planned cease-fire in South Sudan’s civil war and at the detente between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose relations have been poisoned for decades.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who holds the presidency of the 55-nation AU, will make a call to promote free trade.
Mali votes on July 29 in a presidential election in which incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will face more than a dozen challengers.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in banned opposition protests.
Mali’s unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by extremists in order to take over key cities in the north.
The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the extremists.
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.


Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

Updated 15 September 2019

Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

  • The program has brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city
  • The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis

BERLIN: Berlin was the last place Helga Melmed had expected to see again. She was 14 when the Nazis forced her and her family onto a train from their home in the German capital to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, in 1941.

That started a gruesome odyssey that later saw her imprisoned at Auschwitz and Neuengamme outside Hamburg before she was finally freed by British soldiers in 1945 from Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, a 46-pound walking skeleton.

For years, she never considered returning to Germany until she was invited on a trip by the city of her birth, in a reconciliation program meant to help mend ties with former Berliners who had been forced out by the Nazis.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the program has successfully brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city.

Some 35,000 people have accepted the invitation since it was first issued in 1969, and while the numbers are dwindling a few new participants still come every year.

“I thought I’d never come back,” Melmed, 91, who emigrated to the US via Sweden after the war, told The Associated Press in an interview.

The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis, or those like Melmed who survived their machinery of genocide.

On Wednesday, she and other former program participants were invited to Berlin City Hall to celebrate the half-century anniversary.

At a ceremony mayor Michael Mueller thanked them for coming back — despite all they suffered at the hands of the Germans.
“Many people followed our invitation, people who had lost everything they loved,” he said. “I want to express my strong gratitude to you for putting your trust in us.”

Despite skepticism at the time that anyone persecuted by the Nazis would want to return, in 1970 — one year after the program’s launch — there was already a waiting list of 10,000 former Berliners who wanted to come back for a visit.

More than 100 other German cities and towns have instituted similar programs but no municipality has brought back as many former residents as the capital.

Berlin, of course, also had the biggest Jewish community before the Holocaust. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, around 160,500 Jews lived in Berlin. By the end of World War II in 1945 their numbers had diminished to about 7,000 — through emigration and extermination.

All in all, some six million European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Melmed’s father was shot dead in the Lodz ghetto — where the Nazis concentrated Jews and forced them to work in factories — a few months after their arrival and her mother died of exhaustion a few months later, shortly after Melmed’s 15th birthday.

Melmed, who lives in Venice, Florida, received her invitation under the reconciliation program 42 years ago. “One day, out of the blue, I found a letter in the mailbox inviting me to come back for a visit,” the retired nurse said at the hotel where she was staying with two of her four children and a grandson.

“So, in 1977, my husband and I traveled to Berlin.” They were part of an organized group tour of dozens of other former Berliners who had been persecuted by the Nazis.

“I don’t know if the trip was a dream or a nightmare,” Melmed said. One afternoon, she went for a coffee at Berlin’s famous Kempinski Hotel — today called the Bristol Hotel — just like she used to do as a little girl with her mother and dad, a banking executive.
“It was heart-breaking,” Melmed said.

Her life story is chronicled in the exhibition “Charter Flight into the Past” about the program, which opened Thursday at Berlin’s City Hall and will run through Oct. 9.

Johannes Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, which curated the exhibition, said that many returnees had conflicting emotions.

They didn’t trust the Germans — especially in the early years of the program, when many people they saw in the streets still belonged to the Nazi generation. Often, memories of loss and pain were stirred up by the visit, but at the same time many were also able to reconnect with a city that harbored many happy childhood mementos for them.

For Melmed, closure came only at an old age. In 2018, when she turned 90, she decided to return once again to Berlin. It was then that she met the current tenants of her old family home in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood of Berlin.

They invited her back into the apartment and organized a plaque-laying ceremony last week to commemorate her parents on this year’s visit.

Last week, city officials presented her with her original birth certificate and her parents’ marriage certificate. “Now it’s all closure for me,” Melmed said with a peaceful smile as she touched her golden necklace with a Star of David pendant. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”