IRIN Update 727 of events in West Africa
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
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SIERRA LEONE: Lunsar falls to government forces
The Sierra Leone Army (SLA) said on Monday it had retaken the strategic town of Lunsar, news organisations reported.
A military spokesman told reporters in the capital that Lunsar, some 80 km northeast of Freetown on a major road leading to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) stronghold of Makeni, was captured early on Monday.
Meanwhile the UN spokesman in Freetown David Wimhurst told reporters on Tuesday that 224 Indian UN peacekeepers and 11 military observers of various nationalities, were unable to move out of the eastern region of Kailahun, territory controlled by RUF rebels. UN sources said they are in addition to the 23 UN peacekeepers still surrounded near Kuiva, Kailahun District.
Following the release of the remaining UN peacekeepers at the weekend, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Sunday he was "delighted" by the development and grateful to the West African leaders who helped realise this, "in particular to President Charles Taylor of Liberia who took the lead in arranging the peacekeeper's release".
SIERRA LEONE: Zambia welcomes release of its soldiers
President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia has welcomed the release of the last of the 432 Zambian soldiers who had been held captive by rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
Speaking briefly to reporters on his return to the capital, Lusaka, after a political campaign trip, Chiluba said the release of 84 Zambian soldiers and a Gambian observer after weeks of uncertainty over their fate at the hands of their Revolutionary United Front (RUF) captors was "good" news.
'The Times of Zambia' reports Zambian army commander Lieutenant General Georjago Musengule as saying that the Zambian soldiers could not fire at the rebels to break away at the time of their capture because of the nature of the operation and the mandate they had been given.
At the time they had been ordered by the force commander to reinforce a Kenyan battalion which had been attacked by the rebels near the town of Makeni, he said.
Musengule said the RUF rebels attacked the Zambians after accusing the United Nations of forcefully disarming them. His remarks were made on his return from a visit to Sierra Leone to discuss the issue with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
He said it was not known whether four Zambian soldiers still unaccounted for had lost their lives.
"All soldiers released so far are in high spirits and in good health and will continue with the assigned task in Sierra Leone," he said.
SIERRA LEONE: Kouyate retracts, says Sankoh to remain in Freetown
The executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Lansana Kouyate, apologised on Tuesday for an error in announcing that the detained Sierra Leonean rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, would be moved to another country, the BBC reported.
West African leaders meeting at the weekend in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, were widely reported as having agreed that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader would be taken to a safer country. The reports provoked angry demonstrations in Freetown by civilians demanding that Sankoh stand trial in Sierra Leone, the BBC reported.
However, Sierra Leone's information minister, Julius Spencer, told the BBC on Tuesday that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had not signed the communique "nor has Guinea as far as I know". Spencer added that Kabbah told Kouyate on Monday that no decision had been made on Sankoh's departure.
Following Kouyate's apology, the Liberian Information Minister, Joe Mulbah, told IRIN he was disappointed "at the news". He had earlier in the day described the reported decision by ECOWAS to move Sankoh as a "welcome gesture". as a Sankoh trial in Sierra Leone would "exacerbate the war".
Before leaving Monrovia on Saturday for the ECOWAS summit in Nigeria, Liberian President Charles Taylor, a former rebel leader with historical ties to RUF, had described as "stupidity" the decision to put Sankoh on trial when his fighters had not demobilised and disarmed, the Liberian News Agency (LINA) reported.
Mulbah said Liberia wanted peace and reconciliation as "war in Sierra Leone means war in Liberia". He said government intelligence reports indicated that Liberian dissidents were fighting alongside Sierra Leone's pro-government militia forces and that this was a "danger to Liberia's security".
SIERRA LEONE-SOUTH AFRICA: Sankoh's wife given 24 hours to leave
The South African government said on Tuesday it had given the wife of Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh 24 hours to leave the country. A spokesman told IRIN she would return to the United States.
Foday's wife, Fatou Sankoh, arrived in South Africa on Saturday using an American passport issued in her maiden name, Fatou Mbayi. A South African Foreign Ministry spokesman, Dumisani Rasheleng, said Sankoh was being deported because South Africa did not want to be associated with anyone or anything hampering the peace process in Sierra Leone.
The decision to deport her follows widely reported confusion over which government department had allowed her into the country as a guest of a Mr M.K. Malefane, who said she had been invited to participate in a music and arts festival. Officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs said they did not know whether her name appeared on the department's "stop list" of people prohibited from entering South Africa. The confusion was reportedly compounded by the fact that the Home Affairs ministry, the intelligence services and the Customs Department use three different lists of prohibited people.
[For full text see separate titled: 'SIERRA LEONE-SOUTH AFRICA: Sankoh's wife given 24 hours to leave'.]
NIGERIA: Government reconciles with former military foes
President Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement on Monday the dismissal of all military persons who fought for the breakaway state of Biafra during Nigeria's 1967-1970 civil war, 'The Guardian' of Lagos reported.
In a state-wide broadcast to commemorate the first anniversary of the country's return to democratic rule, he said the decision was in recognition of the fact that "justice must at all times be tempered with mercy".
Obasanjo said: "After our civil war, we adopted a unique policy of reconciliation which demonstrated our maturity to the world and made it possible for our citizens, no matter where they stood in that war, to reassert their commitment to the fundamental ideal of unity."
Obasanjo, the wartime commander who received the surrender of the Biafran forces three decades ago, said more acts of national reconciliation would follow.
Since the end of military rule on 29 May 1999, when Obasanjo was inaugurated, there has been a public resurgence of pro-Biafra sentiment among a section of the Igbo, who claim they have been marginalised in the Nigerian federation.
NIGERIA: UN Secretary-General sends congratulations
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan congratulated Nigeria on Monday on the first anniversary of its return to democracy after 15 straight years of military rule, the UN said.
"The successful return to representative democratic government in the continent's most populous country, is a significant landmark in Africa's quest for political stability and economic progress," he said.
GAMBIA: Awaiting an invitation to broker Senegal peace talks
Gambia is awaiting an invitation from Senegal's new rulers before resuming its role as facilitator in discussions between Dakar and rebels seeking an independent state in Casamance, southern Senegal, a Gambian official told IRIN on Tuesday.
Until Senegal's recent change of government, Gambia had been hosting monthly discussions between Dakar and the Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC), expected to lead to full peace talks. The discussions in the Gambian capital, Banjul, led to a ceasefire, but stopped when Abdoulaye Wade was elected president of Senegal in March.
Wade's government has opted for direct talks with the MFDC and its military commanders on ending the 18-year war, putting Gambia's involvement on hold and prompting reports that it had been snubbed by the new rulers in Dakar.
However, the Gambian official told IRIN relations with Senegal "continue to be excellent".
The official, who did not wish to be named, said Gambia was still willing to take part in any peace effort in Senegal or elsewhere. Illustrating this, the official said Gambian President Yahya Jammeh had been approached to help bring peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
SENEGAL: Dakar delays troops pullback from Casamance
Although Senegal's delay in withdrawing troops from the troubled Casamance area could complicate talks to end 18-years of war in that southern part of the country the measure is popular with residents in the area, analysts say.
"The Casamance people have welcome the troops' stay because they provide them more security," Babacar Gueye, a professor of political science at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, told IRIN on Tuesday.
The Senegalese army announced on Monday that the 2,400 paratroopers and commandos that were due to leave on Wednesday and be demobilised would now serve in Casamance until December. In all, 4,500 troops are deployed to the south of the country to contain the MFDC's 18-year bid for independence, AFP said.
President Abdoulaye Wade, who took office in April, says he prefers direct talks with the MFDC as a way to achieve peace. Underlining this, AFP reported that Wade's prime minister, Moustapha Niasse, paid "a simple courtesy call" on Saturday on the MFDC leader, the Reverend Diamacoune Senghor.
Citing an interview with a private Dakar FM radio station, Wal Fadjri, AFP reported Senghor as saying that the two conditions for peace in Senegal were the withdrawal of Senegalese troops from the south and the removal of all land mines in the area.
GUINEA-BISSAU: Journalists, politician freed
Two journalists were released on Monday in Guinea-Bissau after being detained for two days for broadcasting comments by opposition politician Fernando Gomes criticising the government, news organisations reported.
Gomes, arrested on Sunday was also released on Monday, Lusa reported. Accused of corruption by Prime Minister Caetano Intchama, he had responded in kind, according to Lusa. The three were released after a court ruled that their detention was illegal.
Opposition parliamentarians walked out of parliament on Monday after parties belonging to the ruling coalition refused a request to debate the issue, Lusa said
Abidjan, 30 May 17:32 GMT
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