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Somalia News: Schools raided for child soldiers

Somali children are taken from schools to be used as soldiers and human shields.
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A boy stands on a vehicle with Somali soldiers in Daymarudi Camp Dec. 10 2007 on the outskirts of Mogadishu. (Jose Cendon/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Mogadishu has seen a glimmer of hope in recent weeks that has been absent for almost a decade.

The United Nations Special Envoy to Somaila, spearheaded by Augustine Mahiga, set foot on Somali soil for the first time in seventeen years. Al Shabaab has been swiftly expelled from Mogadishu, and African Union forces have achieved some tangible success in their efforts to eradicate Al Shabaab altogether. Recent optimism seems to effervesce from the sparkling blue sea overlooking Mogadishu.

More from GlobalPost: Kenyan and AMISOM forces aim to expel Al Shabaab

But according to a recent report issued by Human Rights Watch, gross violations regarding the use of child soldiers have increased exponentially. The 104-page report, entitled "No Place For Children," outlines a plethora violations of international law regarding the use of children that have occured in Somalia since 2010. Although Al Shabaab is blamed for commiting the most heinous crimes, the report states that most parties have in some way have used children in an illegal and reprehensible manner.

A plethora of atrocities

While the use of child soldiers is not new in Somalia, the scale and violent nature of these abductions has reached unprecedented levels, BBC Africa reported.

Further, the locations in which abductions take place has expanded as well; schools and playgrounds, among others, are now fair game for Al Shabaab.

"Over the course of the last two years, Al Shabaab has increasingly been forcibly abducting children — not only from their homes, but also from their schools and playing fields," said Laetitia Bader, a HRW researcher, to BBC's Network Africa program. 

"The majority of children being forced to join Al Shabab are between 14 and 17 years old, but some are as young as 10," she said.

Most that are captured spend approximately three months in a 'training camp,' where they are subjected to harsh domestic work, taught how to use weapons, and witness murders and brutal assualts carried out against "enemies" of Al Shabaab.

Once training is completed, they are tasked with a multitude of abhorrent duties, according to the report.

Some are sent into battle with the sole purpose of serving as "cannon fodder." Interviewers in the report described war zones with, "bodies of children littering the battle-fronts." Others are coerced into becoming suicide bombers.

More from GlobalPost: Car bomb explodes in Mogadishu

Today, Somali youths are targeted for purposes that are not limited to fighting. Forced marriage and rape are now commonplace for captured children, according to a press release issued by Human Rights Watch.

Most of the information from the report has been compiled by over 164 interviews with young Somalis — including 21 who had escaped from Al Shabaab forces. A 15-year-old boy, whose class was attacked by Al Shabaab, told HRW: "Out of all my classmates — about 100 boys — only two of us escaped, the rest were killed."

Targeting schools

Islamic extremists have targeted schools for a myriad of purposes other than recruitment.  The reported mentions that soldiers have used students and teachers as "human shields" against artillery fire from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and African Union (AMISOM) forces.

Teachers themselves have been recruited to spread Al Shabaab's harsh interpretation of Shariah law. English and science, among other subjects, are banned, and teachers who have resisted have been killed. 

Because schools have become such visible targets, many have shut down. Children and teachers who have not fled often fear attending school, and those that attend are reportedly provided ineffective education.

Who is to blame?

The report has called on all parties, including the TFG, allied militias, and AMISOM forces, to take a more active role in ending the use of child soldiers. Human Rights Watch criticized the TFG for not only failing to hold parties responsible regarding recruitment of the youth, but also for the TFG's use of child soldiers themselves in response to Al Shabaab, according to HRW's World Report on Somalia.

More from GlobalPost: African Union peacekeeping force gets troop boost

HRW has also stated that these forces need to reevaluate the way they treat captured child soldiers, in order to comply with international norms and laws. The report highlights that the emphasis on the treatment of captured child soldiers needs to be shifted from detention and punishment to rehabilitation and protection.

“Al Shabaab’s horrific abuses do not excuse Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government’s use of children as soldiers,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Coursen-Neff believes that international supporters of the TFG have not applied enough pressure to coerce them to comply with international standards regarding the rights of children. “The TFG should live up to its commitments to stop recruiting and using children as soldiers, and punish those who do." she said. "Governments backing the TFG should make clear that these abuses won’t be tolerated.”

More from GlobalPost: London conference communique on Somalia is leaked

Delegates from around the world will gather in London on Wednesday to seek a solution to the violence in Somalia. What tangible results the conference will yield is unknown, but Human Rights Watch, and the children at risk, will certainly have a stake in its results. 

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Nigerian forces kill 8 Boko Haram members

Nigerian forces kill 8 Boko Haram members during a shoot out in Maiduguri.
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A resident inspects a police van in Kano, Nigeria, on Jan. 25, 2012. The van was burnt in an attack on a police station the previous night by about 30 members of Boko Haram, wounding a policeman and killing one woman, according to residents. (Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigerian security forces have killed eight members of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. 

According to UPI, witnesses claimed the deadly shootout also took the lives of several bystanders who were in the fish market in Maiduguri, where the shooting took place.

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US military plane crashes in Djibouti

Reconnaissance plane returning from Afganistan mission crashes in Djibouti.
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A US military plane crashed in Djibouti as it was returning to Camp Lemonnier, the only US military base in Africa. Here, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to military personnel during his visit to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on December 13, 2011. Panetta spoke with President Ismael Omar Guelleh for talks on counter-terrorism measures. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais /AFP/Getty Images)

An American reconnaissance plane crashed 6 miles from the only U.S. base in Africa, killing four service members on board, after returning from a mission in support of the war in Afghanistan, the military said Monday, reported AP.

The crash occurred at about 8 p.m. Saturday in Djibouti. U.S. personnel from Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation responded to the scene.

Initial indications are that the plane did not crash because of hostile fire, reported the military. The plane was conducting an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, he said. A statement from U.S. Africa Command called it a "routine" flight.

The single-engine, fixed-wing U-28A was returning from a mission in support of the Afghanistan war.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. Camp Lemonnier lies just a few miles from the border with Somalia.

Camp Lemonnier is the base for the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which has played a role in counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations, according to Voice of America.

The four men killed were all U.S. Air Force personnel from the Hulburt Field base in Florida. 

The four killed in the crash were: Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the 319th Special Operations Squadron; Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Georgia, with the 34th Special Operations Squadron; 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Oregon, with the 34th Special Operations Squadron; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, with the 25th Intelligence Squadron.

Hall was a U-28 pilot with more than 1,300 combat flight hours. He was assigned to the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

More from GlobalPost: Somalia News: Turkish airlines to fly to Mogadishu

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Armed gunmen carry out jailbreak in Nigeria

Assault frees 119 prisoners and leaves at least 1 guard dead
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A resident inspects a police patrol van outside Sheka police station in northern Nigerian city of Kano on January 25, 2012. The van was burnt in bomb and shooting attacks on the police station the previous night by around 30 members of Boko haram Islamists group. Although responsible for similar attacks, many have speculated that Boko haram is not responsible for yesterday's prison raid. (Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images)

About 20 gunmen on motorbikes raided a Nigerian federal prison, freeing all but one of the prisoners, the BBC reported.

At least one warden is reported to have died in the assault which took place at At 7 p.m. Nigeria time Wednesday evening, but many details still remain unclear.

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Africa: Preschool programs help families, says World Bank (PHOTOS)

Preschool in rural Africa boosts children and their families, says new study.

BOSTON — Education is seen as crucial to boosting Africa's economic and social development. And preschool programs in rural Africa stimulate children to do better in school. Early education has a positive ripple effect on their families, too.

That is the finding of a new World Bank report which evaluates a preschool program in Mozambique run by Save the Children that was funded by a donation from American Idol's charity campaign. 

“The study, rare in Africa, has thrown light on the possibilities that we in developing countries can explore to give our children a much better future," said Mozambique's Minister of Education H.E. Zeferino Martins.

The pioneering study of early child development programs in Africa was funded by the World Bank and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Save the Children's preschool program was also among the first of its kind in Mozambique, where only four percent of children under the age of 5 go to preschool, according to Mozambican government officials. 

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Here are some notable findings from the study by World Bank researchers Sophie Naudeau and Sebastian Martinez:

- Children in the preschool were 24 percent more likely to enroll in primary school and were significantly better equipped to learn than kids not enrolled in preschool.

- Children attending the preschool were much more likely to show interest in math and writing, recognize shapes and show respect for other children than those who are not.

- Preschool has a positive ripple effect on a child’s wider family; parents of enrolled kids were 26 percent likelier to work, while some older siblings were able to go to school themselves.

“This evaluation provides us evidence of the convincing results in preschool program thus revealing the great potential for improving the health and learning outcomes of children in Africa," said World Bank Vice President for Africa and former Nigerian Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili.

"I therefore urge leaders, policy makers, communities and parents to take advantage of such programs that help young children, because they also help break the vicious cycle of dynastic poverty in families,” Ezekwesili said

More from GlobalPost: Richer countries, poorer people in Africa

The study covered 2,000 households in 76 rural communities of Mozambique's Gaza province, which is close to the capital Maputo and has relatively higher human development indicators than the rest of the country, according to Save the Children. Mozambique's low development means there is an urgent need for preschool programs in other parts of the country, according to the organization. 

Save the Children’s program helped build preschool centers to assist orphans and vulnerable children. With the help of trained volunteers from rural communities, the preschool centers reached about 5,000 kids ranging in age from three to six years.

A large part of Save the Children's preschool program was funded by American Idol fans.

The 2007 American Idol Gives Back charity event donated $13.5 million to Save the Children, and the organization used $1 million of those funds to start preschool programs in 30 communities in the Gaza province in 2008. The donation was also used to build classrooms, latrines and playgrounds, provide school supplies and training for teachers and volunteers.

“We are delighted that our early learning program in Mozambique offers a model for low-income countries across Africa,” said Carolyn Miles, Save the Children president.

More from GlobalPost: Nigeria's "witch children" find refuge at center

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Africa divided on gay rights

Much of sub-Saharan Africa remains deeply homophobic, with the exception of South Africa.
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Members of the Ugandan gay community attend a funeral of a murdured activist David Kato, at his parental home close to the town of Mataba on January 28, 2011. (Marc Hofer/AFP/Getty Images)

Gay rights are a hot button issue across Africa, especially in Uganda where government agents raided an LGBT workshop in the capital, Kampala.  

The Minister for Ethics and Integrity of Uganda, Simon Lokodo, accompanied by police,  stormed into the hotel where the LGBT workshop was being held and ordered the participants out.

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Zambia team returns home to heroes' welcome

Zambia team gets big reward for their amazing victory at Africa Cup of Nations.
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Zambian national team coach Herve Renard is carried by players and officials of the team to celebrate their victory over Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) final football between the two teams at stade de l'Amitie in Libreville, Gabon on February 12, 2012. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Even those who aren't fans of soccer can appreciate the true underdog achievement of Zambia's national soccer team.

Their win at Sunday's Africa Cup of Nations finals with an 8-7 victory over the favored Ivory Coast team was a true stunner in the soccer world. Even after their enormous win, the team remained humble and celebrated by remembering the tragic past of the Zambia national team.

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Rwanda News: Sweden expels Rwanda diplomat for spying

Rwanda President Paul Kagame's regime is accused of silencing overseas critics.
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Rwanda President Paul Kagame is accused of sending agents to foreign countries to silence his critics who are in exile. Here Kagame speaks during a press conference in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Dec 12, 2011. (Michell Sibiloni /AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden has expelled a Rwandan diplomat for allegedly spying on Rwandan exiles there, according to Associated Press.

The diplomat, Evode Mudaheranwa, had engaged in “refugee espionage” and was sent back to Rwanda last week, according to a sources close to the Swedish government who spoke to AP.

Mudaheranwa was the Rwandan embassy’s second-highest-ranking official. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a sensitive diplomatic matter. Officials at the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Rwandan Embassy declined to comment.

The Swedish action comes as amid charges that Rwandan President Paul Kagame's government sends agents overseas to silence critics.

Sweden is home to a small community of Rwandans, some of whom run blogs and online newspapers that are critical of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The action against the Rwandan diplomat comes weeks after the disappearance of Jean Bosco Gasasira, a Rwandan journalist in exile who published numerous articles critical of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Gasasira had run a newspaper in Rwanda that was critical of Kagame before it was shut down.

The Rwanda opposition party — Forces Democratic United — confirmed that Gasasira, who resides in and runs Umuvugizi, an online newspaper published in Sweden, has been unreachable since January 23. Party officials say they believe he is safe and is being hidden by police in Sweden for his own protection.

Gasasira has been a target of the Kagame regime for many years, according to the African Dictator website. 

Gasasira’s Umuvugizi was shut down by the Kagame regime before the elections in 2010.

Gasasira’s deputy was assassinated in 2010 after publishing a story on the attempted killing of General Kayumba Nyamwasa, according to African Dictator.

Gasasira first went into exile in Uganda but then, for his safety, went further away to Sweden. Gasasira had been writing reports charging that the Rwandan government has agents in Europe to hunt down Kagame's critics.

In late 2011 Charles Ingabire, the editor of the Inyenyeri website, was gunned down in a bar in Kampala, Uganda.

There are also charges that Rwandan government agents in South Africa attempted to kill a Rwandan general who criticized Kagame.

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Piracy in Africa's Gulf of Guinea leaves 2 dead

Rise in piracy makes West Africa's coast off Nigeria dangerous.
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A ship of the Nigerian navy, one of three ships taking part in a joint counter-piracy patrol by the Nigerian and Benin navies, patrols the sea off the coast of Contonou on September 28, 2011. Benin and Nigeria launched joint sea patrols Wednesday to tackle a surge in piracy that has raised alarm in the shipping industry, with attacks seeing crews held hostage and fuel stolen. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Boston – Nigerian pirates opened fire on a cargo ship roughly 110 miles off the coast of Nigeria on Monday, killing the captain and chief engineer, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

"Armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. Vessel raised alarm and headed towards Lagos. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel," said the IMB Piracy Reporting Center.

"The captain and chief engineer died of their wounds as the pirates sprayed the ship with gunfire," said Cyrus Mody, an IMB official. 

More from GlobalPost: Pirates now hitting West African coast

The attack is one of three to have occurred in the gulf since Thursday, said the IMB, which is funded by shipowners, warning ships to steer clear of waters off Nigeria.

Agence France-Presse reported that Nigeria's navy spokesman, Kabir Aliyu, had no information regarding a rescue operation.

The IMB reported other recent attacks in the area that included a hijacked oil tanker south of Nigeria on Thursday. Nigerian vessels intercepted that ship and rescued all of its crew.

On Saturday another vessel reported being under attack, but escaped after a 25 minute pursuit.

These recent pirate attacks highlight how the Atlantic coast in the Gulf of Guinea have become dangerous from piracy. In September of 2011 the bureau warned that the seas off Benin, Nigeria's western neighbor, were becoming a "hotspot" in piracy due to the weak enforcement capabilities of regional governments. Earlier in August, London-based insurers Lloyd's Market Association listed Nigeria, Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia. 

In a fourth instance earlier on Wednesday, the Togolese Navy thwarted an attack against a petroleum tanker off its coast, according to a press release from the IMB. Togo lies west of Benin and Nigeria along the coast.

More from GlobalPost: Piracy 101: 13 things to know about African piracy

Inter Press Service (IPS) reported that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has risen dramatically, with more than 30 attacks occurring there last year compared to just one in 2010.

Map information provided by IMB Piracy Reporting Center.
View Instances of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea in a larger map

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Queen of Sheba's gold found by archaeologists

The gold mine found in Ethiopia may have been the main source of the Queen's treasures.
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A British excavation made a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the queen of Sheba derived her fabled treasures. (Jose Cendon/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — An ancient mine believed to be the source of gold that belonged to the queen of Sheba has been uncovered by British archaeologist Louise Schofield.

Schofield, an archaelogist and former British Museum curator, led the excavaction on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, reported The Guardian.

"One of the things I've always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths, Schofield told the Daily Mail. "The fact that we might have the queen of Sheba's mines is extraordinary." 

Sheba was an 8th century B.C. civilization which included the territories of modern-day Yemen and Ethiopia. At that time, Sheba was known for trading incense spices with Jerusalem and the Roman empire.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa re-opens rare earth mines

Almost 3,000 years ago, the queen of Sheba herself journeyed to Jerusalem to visit Israel's King Solomon who was known for his wisdom.

In the Old Testament books 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, the Bible describes the visit of the queen of Sheba:

"Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan — with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones — she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her (1 Kings 10:2-3)."

The Queen brought 120 talents (four-and-a-half tons) of gold to King Solomon.

The 1959 film "Solomon and Sheba" is based on the royal encounter between King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

According to The Guardian, Schofield said that "as she stood on the ancient site, in a rocky landscape of cacti and acacia trees, it was easy to imagine the queen arriving on a camel, overseeing slaves and elephants dragging rocks from the mine."

Schofield is planning a full excavation at the site once she has secured the necessary funds, reported the Daily Mail

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