- A new wave of refugees from Togo is entering Benin after government agents have started a campaign of abducting opposition activists in the country. In southern Togo, the stronghold of the opposition, politically-motivated abductions and disappearances have been causing terror among civilians.
According to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, "hundreds of Togolese refugees have arrived in the Beninese capital, Cotonou, in recent days, citing fears of politically-motivated abductions and disappearances." Some 35,000 Togolese refugees are now registered in neighbouring Benin and Ghana.
A total of 767 Togolese refugees have registered with UNHCR in Cotonou in the last two days. The new arrivals are mostly young men who are either members of opposition parties in Togo or perceived to be such because they come from southern Togo. They told UNHCR staff they were going to the Beninese capital to distance themselves from the Togolese border, some 110 kilometres to the west.
- The refugees cite abductions and disappearance in parts of the country which support the opposition as the reason for their flight, said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva today. "According to the refugees, security forces carry out searches at night in Lomé, Aneho, Atakpame and other parts of the country where there is opposition support, creating a climate of fear."
He added that other refugees in Cotonou came to join family members who had fled earlier while they had waited inside Togo to assess how the situation would evolve. "Some of these refugees said that they had jobs they did not want to leave but they felt compelled to cross the border for fear of becoming the next targets of the security forces."
Togo fell into a spiral of violence when long-time dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma died earlier this year and the armed forces put his son, Faure Gnassingbé, into power. Through a gravely rigged election last month, Mr Gnassingbé formalised his power-grab. Today, his government found the blessing of the African Union (AU), which lifted sanctions against Togo and declared that the country now had a "constitutional government".
Togo's opposition however keeps protesting last month's rigged polls, where its unity candidate is believed to have achieved far more than 50 percent of the votes. This week, the government of Mr Gnassingbé - which bases its power on military forces from the north - has intensified its crackdown on opposition supporters, in particular in the south.
Human rights activists recall that the current situation reminds of the situation before and after the rigged elections in 1998, when hundreds of opposition supporters were massacred by government security forces. Extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, rape and abductions had been the habitual answer to political unrest by Mr Gnassingbé's father. Reports of new abductions indicate that history may be repeating itself.
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