French air strikes ‘repel incursion into Chad from Libya’

A French Mirage fighter aircraft at a military airbase near Bamako in this January 14, 2013. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2019

French air strikes ‘repel incursion into Chad from Libya’

PARIS: French warplanes on Sunday struck twice to halt an armed group that crossed into northern Chad from Libya in a column of 40 pickups, the French military said, adding it acted at Chad’s request.

In a statement on Monday, the military said that Mirage 2000 fighters intervened “together with the Chadian army” to “halt the hostile advance and disperse the column,” which had crossed deep into Chadian territory.

The warplanes are based near N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, as part of France’s Barkhane counter-terrorism force in the Sahel.

“The column had been spotted at least 48 hours beforehand,” armed forces spokesman Patrik Steiger said.

The Chadian airforce carried out strikes to try to repel it before asking the French to intervene, he said.

On Sunday morning, French planes made low warning passes over the column but it continued to advance, triggering a decision to scramble more fighters, which carried out two strikes at around 6 p.m. Paris time.

Steiger said the group had crossed 400 kilometers (250 miles) of Chadian territory before being halted “between Tibesti and Ennedi” in the northwest.

He did not identify which armed group they belonged to.

The Chadian military has carried out several air strikes recently in the arid north against Libya-based rebels.

It also launched an operation last year aimed at “clearing out” illegal gold miners whose arrival in the far north has fomented unrest with locals.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 50 min 10 sec ago

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.