- Created on 31 October 2013
A landscape view shows the Sahara desert in southern Algeria, a country that some Niger migrants try to reach.
(CNN) -- Stranded in the unforgiving expanses of Niger's Sahara desert after their vehicles broke down, dozens of people, almost all of them women and children, slowly died of thirst.
The migrants had been trying to reach Algeria, Azaoua Mahaman of the Synergie nongovernmental organization said Thursday.
Instead, they died of dehydration, unable to escape the sandy wastes of the Sahel.
When found, many of the bodies were severely decomposed and appeared to have been partially eaten by animals.
The travelers were hoping to find a better life for themselves in Algeria, trying to escape the extreme poverty and economic hardships in Niger, said Mahaman.
Their story is the latest tragedy to befall migrants trying to leave behind a woeful existence for opportunities elsewhere.
Others who have survived the arduous journey from sub-Saharan Africa to the continent's northern shores have drowned as they tried to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats, with Europe in their sights.
For many of Niger's 16 million or so people, life is not easy.
The population is one of the fastest growing in the world, but the large, landlocked country is prone to political instability and natural disasters, according to the World Bank.
Droughts, floods and locust infestation all contribute to the country's chronic food insecurity -- and the poverty rate is one of the highest in the world.
The World Bank puts the annual per-capita income at just $360, and the country lies second from bottom in the U.N.'s Human Development Index. Less than 30% of adults are literate, and life expectancy is only 57.5 years.
'Extremely dry and difficult conditions'
Faced with these tough conditions, many decide to leave.
This has turned Niger's desert north into a major transit area for migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration, and many human smugglers operate there.
Algeria and Libya are the final destinations for some travelers, while others seek to reach Europe, said Laura Lungarotti, migrant assistance regional specialist in the IOM's west and central Africa office in Senegal. Most are from Niger, although others also come from central and western Africa.
Once they embark on their journeys, they face "extremely dry and difficult conditions," she said. Those who get stranded in the desert face a challenge to survive.
Part of the problem is that many would-be migrants are stopped by Algerian or Libyan authorities and are expelled back over the border into Niger's desert, Lungarotti said.
Some of those kicked out are transported directly to two transit centers run by the IOM -- outposts in the desert where the migrants can receive food, water and first aid. Others manage to make their own way there.
Despite the dangers, the migrants' numbers have been increasing since the beginning of this year, Lungarotti said.
Over the past 10 months, more than 15,000 from Niger and 1,300 from other countries have reached the two transit centers -- one in Arlit, closer to Algeria, and the other in Dirkou, nearer to the Libyan border.
Some who've made their way back from Libya have told of being held in detention where they suffered harsh treatment, Lungarotti said.
Before Libya's revolution overthrew the regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi two years ago, many migrants from Niger worked in its construction and agricultural sectors. But the instability forced many out.
The recent conflict in northern Mali also sent about 60,000 refugees over the border into Niger, according to the European Community Humanitarian Office, adding to the pressure on its meager resources.
- Created on 30 October 2013
Congolese army soldiers march into Kibumba town after recapturing it from M23 rebels over the weekend, around 25km from the provincial capital Goma, in eastern Congo Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. The Congolese army, who just one year ago abandoned their posts and fled in the face of an advancing rebel army, succeeded on Monday in taking back a fifth rebel-held town, the city of Rumangabo, in what appears to be a turning point in the conflict. (AP Photo / Joseph Kay)
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congolese officials said the army has seized one of the M23 rebels' last remaining strongholds on Wednesday as more than 10,000 refugees poured into neighboring Uganda.
The fall of Bunagana came as the political chief of M23, Bertrand Bisimwa, also crossed into Uganda and was believed to be heading toward the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende called on Ugandan authorities to turn over Bisimwa.
But Bisimwa does not face arrest in Uganda, said Uganda Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda. Uganda has been hosting peace talks between the Congolese government and M23 since December. Those talks stalled earlier this month, right before clashes resumed between United Nations-backed Congolese forces and the rebels.
The Congolese military has been battling the M23 rebels, who are allegedly backed by Rwanda, for 18 months. The rebels' high-water mark perhaps came in November when they briefly held the city of Goma, which lies along the Rwandan border.
M23's setbacks on the battlefield don't necessarily spell the end of the group, nor of violence in mineral-rich eastern Congo where myriad insurgent groups have operated, fighting for the spoils from the mining of copper, cobalt, tungsten and other minerals and metals which lie under the ground.
Julien Paluku, the governor of Congo's North Kivu province, said that Bunagana is back in the hands of the military after the rebels retreated from the town on the Ugandan border. Mende also confirmed the fall of Bunagana, hours after humanitarian workers in Uganda had reported hearing heavy gunfire. The Associated Press could not immediately independently verify the claim.
Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Uganda, said the Congolese crossing the border are now "too many to count." The number of Congolese seeking refuge in Uganda rose from 5,000 to more than 10,000 within hours Wednesday, she said.
The M23 movement emerged in April 2012, the latest incarnation of an ethnic Tutsi rebel group dissatisfied with the Congolese government. Neighboring Rwanda, whose president is also an ethnic Tutsi, is widely believed to have provided weapons, recruits and training to M23. Rwanda's government denies the allegations, saying Congo's government has failed to police its vast territory.
M23 briefly overtook Goma — a city of 1 million people — last November but has been substantially weakened in the past year by internal divisions and waning Rwandan support, according to a United Nations group of experts.
The Congolese military has capitalized on these rebel setbacks by pushing ahead with new offensives beginning in August that have been supported by the most powerful U.N. force yet. After years of only protecting civilians, the U.N. is now actively aiding Congolese soldiers in pursuing their enemy.
In the last week, Congo has scored a series of successes and taken back half a dozen towns from rebel control to the cheers of local residents waving palm leaves and running alongside their vehicles.
Mende insisted Uganda not provide a haven for the M23's political chief.
"Bisimwa crossed the border today with official vehicles that were stolen in November in Goma," Mende said. "We are counting on the cooperation of our neighbors."
- Created on 29 October 2013
(CNN) -- As a country, Turkey is often described as a bridge between Europe and Asia. On Tuesday, for the first time, the two continents will be officially connected by a multi-billion dollar underwater railway tunnel.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and numerous transport and trade ministers gathered to inaugurate the giant rail system, on the country's republic day.
The Marmaray link, named by combining the Sea of Marmara with "ray," meaning rail in Turkish, is a part of $4.5 billion, 76-kilometer mega-project launched by the government in 2004.
Erdogan, speaking at the event, said the project "connects history and future, past and the future, as well as connecting continents, Marmaray connects people, nations and countries."
Its scale, along with designs for a third airport, a parallel canal for the Bosphorus river and a third suspension bridge, are seen as overly ambitious plans by Erdogan to build his legacy and hark back to days of the Ottoman Empire.
The bold project brings the dreams of Sultan Abdul Medjid, first outlined more than a century ago, to reality as the Turkish Republic celebrates its 90th anniversary.
It is finally being completed by Erdogan after he faced intense protests for the redevelopment plans of a central Istanbul park with Ottoman-era military barracks and a mosque. The 13.6 kilometer (8.5 miles) tunnel -- the deepest of its kind -- passes under the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world.
The financial capital of Istanbul, with a population of nearly 15 million people, is often snarled with traffic, with some two million residents making the crossing between continents on a daily basis.
According to Erdogan, Marmaray "is not a project only for Istanbul Marmaray is a project for whole humanity."
The rail system, built by a Turkish-Japanese consortium, is expected to have a capacity of one and a half million people a day, connecting the two continents in about four minutes.
The Marmaray is being described as a vital link on the modern Silk Road, which will provide seamless rail transport from Turkey to China.
Turkey, under Erdogan, has looked east to tap emerging markets for growth. More than half its exports go to the European Union, and that slowdown has cut Turkey's annual growth in half after it peaked above 8% before the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Beyond the size of such an undertaking, digging for the Marmaray uncovered some 40 thousand artefacts and helped archaeologists trace Istanbul's history back 8,500 years, 2,500 more than ever believed before.
However the discoveries delayed the project for four years, which frustrated the prime minister who, analysts and businessmen say, wants to put a permanent imprint on Turkey's financial capital.
The project also had to account for Turkey's long history of violent earthquakes, and the tunnel's position parallel to a major fault line. Transport minister Binali Yildirim has outlined the precautions, including that the tunnel is designed handle a quake of 9.0 magnitude due to construction that allows movement.
With these infrastructure projects Erdogan is aiming high, striving to increase Turkey's impact as the republic heads towards its 100th anniversary.
Erdogan believes Turkey can double its gross domestic product to $2 trillion, and by doing so stake its claim as one of the top ten economies internationally.
But obtaining the financing for this activity after such fierce public resistance may stand in the way of this government's master plan.
Tuesday, however, was a day in which Erdogan could point to his pride in Marmaray. It is, he said, "an artwork that will find its place in history as an environmentalist project as well as being a project of precision and excellence."
- Created on 29 October 2013
Accused member of Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag Tom Voster, front, and co-accused Andre du Toit, left, go down to the holding cells after their sentencing at High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (AP Photo / Themba Hadebe)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A South Africa court on Tuesday sentenced members of a white extremist group to jail terms ranging from five to 35 years for high treason, plotting to kill Nelson Mandela and other charges in one of the country's biggest post-apartheid treason trials.
Twenty members of the Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag, or white farmer force, last year were found guilty of treason for a plot, in the late 1990s and early 2000, to violently overthrow the country's government. The African National Congress formed the country's government when Mandela was elected to office in 1994 to bring an end to white minority rule.
Some members were also convicted of culpable homicide and conspiring to murder for a thwarted plan to kill Mandela. The group also claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed a woman and caused damage throughout the Johannesburg township of Soweto in 2002.
Judge Eben Jordaan handed out the sentences in Pretoria to end the decade-long trial. Some sentences were suspended due to time served, according to reports by South African TV channel EnCA.
The leader of the group and four members of its bomb squad were given some of the longest sentences. They planted a bomb on a road Mandela was going to take for a visit to a school in Limpopo Province, but the plot was foiled when the anti-apartheid leader changed plans to take a helicopter to the school. Having already served 10 years, those getting the heaviest sentences will serve 25 more, according to the South Africa Press Association. Another member of the squad was given 20 years, with 10 suspended, SAPA reported.
Two of the accused died during trial and another was sentenced to 12 years in prison following a plea agreement, according to local TV reports.
This was one of South Africa's longest running trials and it was one of the most expensive costing the country about 36 million rand ($3.6 million), according to the non-governmental group, Legal Aid.
Boeremag is an extreme group of Afrikaners, the white South Africans of Dutch, French and German descent who ruled the country under the racist apartheid regime that ended in 1994. The guilty include former engineers, medical doctors and military officers.