IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup 109 covering the period 26 Jan - 01 Feb 2002
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
NIGERIA: More missing persons found, bombs still litter Lagos
Unexploded bombs still posed a threat to residents of Lagos on Friday, five days after explosions caused by a fire at a munitions depot sent military ordnance flying over the Nigerian commercial capital.
The disaster caused the death of more than 600 people. Many of the victims drowned in a canal while trying to escape the fire, which broke out on Sunday at the munitions depot of the Ikeja Military Cantonment to the north of Lagos. About 1,855 people were separated from their families in the ensuing panic, according to the Nigerian Red Cross. Red Cross Spokesman Patrick Bawa told IRIN on Friday that 535 people, including 355 children, were still missing
However, many residents of the worst hit district, Ikeja, complained that very little has been done to get rid of unexploded ordnance in their area. Angry soldiers who lived at the military base pelted the motorcade of Vice-President Atiku Abubakar with water bottles on Thursday to protest against the slow government response in clearing the explosives and providing them with emergency assistance.
"Bombs are still scattered all over the cantonment four days after the explosions," Lance Corporal Lanre Adepoju told IRIN. "And the relief assistance announced on television is yet to reach us. That is why we are angry."
A Lagos daily, Thisday, reported US Ambassador to Nigeria Howard Jeter as saying his government was responding to a request from Nigeria to help deal with unexploded munitions scattered in parts of the city. "We actually have a survey team that is coming from the US military this weekend. They will work with the Nigerian military on the whole issue of non-exploded weapons to avoid further tragedy," Thisday quoted him as saying in its Friday edition.
In response to complaints about the distribution of relief, President Olusegun Obasanjo's government ordered that the materials be given directly to the affected people instead of through third parties. "The problem we have is that relief materials get stuck with the military officers, that is why there is resentment towards the government," Ben Murray-Bruce, a representative of the Ministry of Information, told journalists on Thursday.
Relief materials have been coming from the different arms of government, local and international aid agencies and foreign governments. The UN Children's Fund and the World Health Organisation have been providing medical supplies, health personnel, clean water and sanitation facilities at camps set up for displaced people. The government of Algeria has provided 20 mt of medical supplies. The local Red Cross, which provided food daily for displaced people, planned to start distributing non-food items on Friday, Bawa said.
The Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an appeal on Thursday for 750,000 Swiss francs (US $436,000) on behalf of the Nigerian Red Cross Society. The funds would be used to assist 15,000 people who have been registered by the organisation as displaced or homeless, the Federation said in a news release.
LIBERIA: Situation calmer, UNHCR says
The situation in Liberia is reported to have "calmed down" following fighting last weekend near Sawmill, Bomi County, which sent thousands of people fleeing south towards the capital, Monrovia, UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond reported in Geneva on Friday.
Armed men on Sunday had forced at least 10,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) to leave a temporary IDP camp at Sawmill, some 100 km north of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and seek refuge at Klay Junction. UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie expressed concern at reports that the IDPs were being forcibly displaced.
The number of IDPs at Klay, about 50 km north of the capital, fell over the past two days as fighting was reported to have moved farther north, once again, towards Gbarpolu County, Redmond reported. [Fighting between pro- and anti-government forces over the past three years has been confined largely to Gbarpolu and Lofa counties, which border on Sierra Leone and Guinea.]
UN aid agencies and NGOs, which were temporarily denied access to IDPs at Klay earlier this week, have been allowed access since Wednesday but have been advised by the government not to travel beyond that point.
At least 10 NGOs - including Medecins sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children, Lutheran World Service - are now operational in Klay, Mohammed Siryon, national field officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Liberia, said on Thursday.
Redmond reported that UNHCR staff were able to travel through Klay Junction to Sinje, a camp for Sierra Leonean refugees, every day this week without incident. Sinje, which is near the border with Sierra Leone, has a population of 17,000. No mass departures were recorded from the camp, despite a temporary wave of panic when reports of the fighting at Sawmill reached refugees. By Tuesday, Redmond reported, people were reassured that the fighting would not reach the camp.
UNHCR said it was speeding up preparations for the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia. A pre-registration campaign (an initial survey to record the number of candidates for return) in Liberia's six camps ended on Thursday with a total of 6,198 pre-registered.
SIERRA LEONE: UN appeals for peace-building
The top UN official in Sierra Leone has urged people in the eastern town of Koidu to channel their energies towards full scale peace-building and reintegration following the end of disarmament earlier this month, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reported.
Speaking at a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the rebuilding of Koidu Market, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative, Oluyemi Adeniji, said he hoped the market, destroyed during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war, would be a rallying centre to unite everyone in diamond-rich Kono region, which includes Koidu. The re-building project will employ more than 400 recently disarmed former fighters on a rotational basis, UNAMSIL said.
SIERRA LEONE: UN Volunteers to help prepare polls
UN Volunteers (UNV) began arriving in Sierra Leone at the weekend to help with preparations for forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the UNV Programme reported on Monday.
The UNVs, 10 district electoral officers from Cameroon, Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, Spain and Togo, will monitor technical aspects of all phases of the polls due to be held in May. Attached to the Electoral Assistance Division of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the UNVs will work with the Nation Electoral Commission's civic education programme and registration exercise. They will also assist during the electoral campaign, help to ensure that political parties have access to the media and provide technical advice to local electoral authorities.
The registration process started on 24 January and is scheduled to end on 7 February.
[UNV, the volunteer arm of the UN system, extends hands-on assistance for peace and development in nearly 150 countries.]
SIERRA LEONE: Army deployed near border with Liberia, Guinea
Sierra Leone's army has been deployed to the eastern district of Kailahun to ensure the security of its borders, Cecil Blake, Minister of Information and Communication, said on Monday. It was on Kailahun that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched its first offensive from Liberia in 1991, marking the start of a 10-year rebel war.
Blake said the deployment of soldiers close to Sierra Leone's borders with Liberia and Guinea was part of an ongoing restructuring of the military, announced last week by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The restructured force, to be known as the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), will replace the existing separate army, navy and air force commmands by 1 April.
SIERRA LEONE: New encyclopedia on ReliefWeb
A new information resource giving a snapshot of the current situation in Sierra Leone, what has been achieved in 2001, and a starting point for further information gathering this year, is now available on ReliefWeb. The Sierra Leone Encyclopedia (SLE) brings together a large amount of information from a variety of sources including UN agencies, NGOs, government ministries, and the UN Mission in Sierra Leone. It contains maps, photographs, the latest assessments and information on humanitarian assistance.
SLE was produced by the Sierra Leone Information System (SLIS), an inter-agency project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNHCR. SLIS receives major funding support from ECHO, European Commission Humanitarian Office.
[The encyclopaedia can be accessed at http://www2.reliefweb.int/sle/index.htm
COTE D'IVOIRE: Police and authorities begin negotiations
Cote d'Ivoire's Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan said committees comprising representatives of the government and the police force were to address dissatisfaction over pay among non-commissioned officers that led to a police protest this week, state television reported on Friday.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, protesting policemen fired shots into the air and set up roadblocks in some Abidjan neighbourhoods to express dissatisfaction over a new salary scale that went into effect this month. They say their salaries are less than what they were promised by the state in addition to being lower than those of NCOs in other forces such as the gendarmerie or the military.
Meanwhile, the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO, French acronym) condemned "numerous murders committed by gendarmes or by policemen" since December 2001.
In a statement on Tuesday LIDHO called on the government, the police and the gendarmerie to conduct inquiries into the latest killings so that culprits could be brought to book. It also urged that those guilty be "weeded out" of the security forces, and that families of the victims receive compensation.
Various local and international human rights organisations have blamed members of security forces for many of the killings that occurred during military rule, which began in December 1999, and around elections that marked the return to civilian rule in October 2000.
CAMEROON: Red Cross holds regional meeting on Ebola
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) held a two-day regional meeting this week in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to review its fight against the latest outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever. The outbreak, detected in December, has so far killed 34 people in Gabon and Congo.
At the end of the meeting, participants representing six Central African countries resolved to conduct information campaigns to raise the awareness of populations, particularly those living in wooded areas in close proximity to animals. The six countries will also adopt a training curriculum for their volunteers as the group feels that they play an important role in education and prevention, David Dofara, a regional health specialist, told IRIN on Thursday.
The meeting was attended by medical experts from Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
CAMEROON: US $20 million IMF loan
The executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved on Wednesday a US $20-million disbursement to Cameroon under a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility arrangement. The new credit came as the IMF expressed "broad satisfaction" at the implementation of the first phase, run in 2001. Cameroon's three-year poverty reduction programme, which totals US $139 million, was approved on 21 December 2000. So far, the country has drawn $40 million.
MAURITANIA: WFP approves US $200,000 in emergency aid
The World Food Programme (WFP) has approved the distribution of 400 mt of wheat to 6,785 victims of adverse weather in Mauritania. The emergency aid, worth some US $200,000, will be distributed in February, WFP said on 25 January.
Mauritania has been hit by drought since last year. Then, in January, unexpected heavy rains and a cold front killed at least 25 people and 80,000 camels, cattle and sheep. Some 5,500 families were affected. WFP plans to provide more emergency aid to the affected populations in the northwest African nation. A team is due to complete an evaluation of their food needs by 4 February.
WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS, US discuss early warning system
West African representatives and a US military delegation held talks this week in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on an early warning system that would monitor threats to regional security, officials said.
A statement from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said ECOWAS officials, led by Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate were meeting with a 10-member delegation from the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. The talks, which lasted from Tuesday to Thursday, focused on the details of a regional communication system to be set up by Washington to "facilitate peacekeeping operations in West Africa by providing vital communication links for the subregional peace and security observation system," the statement said.
Under the observation system, the 15 ECOWAS states are divided into four zones coordinated from Banjul, The Gambia; Cotonou, Benin; Monrovia, Liberia; and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, with an observation and monitoring centre located at the ECOWAS secretariat in Abuja.
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