Angola + 11 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 13 covering the period 25-31Mar 2000

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
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GUINEA: African states asked to review laws on refugees

During the last 31 years Africa has gone from producing fewer than one million refugees to six million today and this growing trend has forced African and its partner to take a closer look at solving the problem.

In Conakry, Guinea, African countries were asked on Monday at a three-day continental meeting on refugees, to ensure that domestic legislation complies with international conventions on the status of refugees. Resolutions adopted on Wednesday also called on governments to take appropriate measures to implement these laws.

Conference sources told IRIN on Thursday that although 45 countries had ratified the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 1969 convention on refugees, many have not brought their national laws in line with this document.

Among the numerous recommendations made, the 150 experts present - some of them lawyers - called on the international community to give timely humanitarian help to Africa's six million refugees and support countries affected by internal displacements of their people.

The meeting suggested that the OAU and the UNHCR review situations of IDP's in Africa when linked to refugee problems and then present recommendations at the "appropriate fora".

The resolution on statelessness, a condition often overlooked in Africa, proposes that the OAU and the UNHCR study the causes and extent of the problem and present its findings for further action.

Attended by specialists in refugee and humanitarian law, the meeting was organised by the OAU and the UNHCR. Finland, Norway and Sweden contributed money.

GUINEA: Opposition leader trial set for 12 April

Jailed opposition leader Alpha Conde will stand trial on 12 April charged with threatening state security, the state announced on Monday.

The administrative secretary of Conde's Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee party, Mohamed Deane, told IRIN on Tuesday that Conde was arrested on 16 December 1998 a day after presidential elections in which he came third.

Conde will be tried with 47 others, AFP reported quoting Yves Aboly, public prosecutor of the Security Court. His trial, initially set for 17 September 1999, was postponed without official explanation. International and national leaders have repeatedly demanded that he be brought to trial or released.

SIERRA LEONE: Donors pledge US $158 million

Donors at the high level conference in London pledged some US $158 million on Monday to support peace building efforts in Sierra Leone, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) reported.

During the meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette called for increased aid to Sierra Leone and said that the world could "ill afford the price of failure".

A concluding statement from the chair of the conference - jointly hosted by the UN, World Bank, and Britain's Department of International Development (DFID) - said donors agreed that the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme (DDR) and its financing, needed to be accelerated. To achieve this, they suggested shortening the time ex-combatants stayed in the DDR camps and strengthening district level reintegration.

Support for the effort was pledged by Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, the African Development Bank and the European Commission.

Britain's secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, announced an additional 17.5 million pounds sterling (about US $27.78 million) from DFID towards Sierra Leone's recovery and in support of the peace process in the run up to the elections earmarked for 2001. Her announcement brings the amount of British aid to over 65 million pounds (about $103.2 million) since March 1998.

She said Britain would also help Sierra Leone establish an accountable police service and it would send a military advisory training team to help rebuild and train the army.

SIERRA LEONE: UN forces disarm rebels

The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) have disarmed some 292 rebel fighters in the north of the country this week, an information officer with the peacekeeping force in Freetown told IRIN on Friday.

The disarmed former Sierra Leone Army (SLA) rebels arrived at Lungi, some 20 km north of Freetown, on Friday escorted by a UN rapid deployment force.

The ex-SLA had been involved in recent fighting with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in the Kabala area, some 230 km northeast of the capital. The area is still tense but UN Kenyan troops, deployed in Makeni, are monitoring the region, UNAMSIL said.

SIERRA LEONE: Traumatised children show signs of healing

Most of the 315 children who took part in a recent four-week trauma healing programme in Sierra Leone have been showing signs of "dramatic improvement" (and a reduction of traumatic stress symptoms) since witnessing rebel atrocities in Freetown in January 1999, a study shows.

The study, by the international child sponsorship organisation, Childreach, shows that 93 percent of the children aged 8-13 years, had witnessed or committed highly traumatic actions such as maiming, killings and rape.

Through storytelling, drawing, music and play, children confronted their bad memories. The findings of the report pointed to a "significant reduction in sleep disturbances, bad dreams/nightmares, intrusive images, anxiety about future well-being, and a 70-percent improvement in the ability to concentrate in school.

SIERRA LEONE: Former RUF spokesman to contest elections

The leader of the National Reconstruction Party of Sierra Leone, Omrie Golley, has registered his party to contest the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), reported on Tuesday.

Golley, the former spokesman for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), said that the party wanted reconciliation, reconstruction and community rebuilding of Sierra Leone through hard work.

SIERRA LEONE: Protestors march against slow disarmament

Hundreds of people marched through Freetown on Monday in protest at the slow pace of the disarmament process in Sierra Leone, news organisations reported.

Students and human rights organisations taking part in the demonstration, organised by the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS), converged on the Law Courts building, to hear speakers, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported.

In response to the protest, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN on Tuesday that some 44 percent of the ex-combatants, around 20,000, had handed in their weapons. He added that the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme needed some US $24 million.

SIERRA LEONE: Massive turnout for polio vaccination

A successful first round of polio immunisations for this year took place last weekend in regional centres throughout Sierra Leone, a social mobilisation consultant for the National Immunisation Days (NID) programme, Alfred George, told IRIN on Monday.

George, a parliamentarian, said that reports, mainly from Koinadugu District, indicate a greater sense of security on the part of civilians as they slowly come out of the bush to take part in the programme.

BURKINA FASO: HRW demands inquiry into arms affair

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday it had asked the president of Burkina Faso to hold an independent inquiry into allegations that illegal arms transfers had been made from his country to rebels in Sierra Leone and Angola.

"President (Blaise) Campaore must get to the bottom of these serious allegations," Joost Hilterman, the executive director of the Arms Division of HRW, said in his letter on 28 March to the president.

Burkina Faso opposition groups have also asked the government, which has denied its involvement, to investigate.

The recently published 'UN Report of the Panel of Experts on Violations of Security Council Sanctions Against UNITA' names Burkina Faso and other countries in connection with violations of sanctions.

Speaking at the Security Council meeting Burkina Faso's representative, Michel Kafando, said the role of his country had been misrepresented in the report and disassociated himself from the conclusions of the panel, especially those that implicated the head of the government by name.

NIGERIA: Curfew in Suleja emirate

Authorities in the northern state of Niger imposed on Sunday a 20-hour curfew on the emirate of Suleja, close to the Nigerian capital Abuja, after angry youths demanding the dethronement of the emir, Awwal Ibrahim, burned his palace.

Ibrahim, a one-time governor of Niger State, was first appointed emir in 1992 by the state government of the time, PANA reported, "but that decision was rescinded after violent protests from his opponents".

A court ruling in Ibrahim's favour failed to stop the government from installing his rival as emir. Ibrahim's reinstatement in February triggered the latest crisis, PANA said.

NIGERIA: Government will not oppose Sharia in court

While condemning the limb amputation of a man In Zamfara State for stealing a cow, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said his government will not use the courts to halt the introduction of the Sharia Islamic penal code in northern Nigeria.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on Wednesday, he said full-blown Sharia - at odds with the country's secular constitution - was an issue of fundamental human rights, but the government would not take a political position on the question.

Nigeria's independence constitution, approved by a panel of international Islamic jurists, allows states to incorporate Sharia, but only in the area of civil law. Rather than the amputations and floggings decreed by Sharia, under the current federal constitution, Islamic courts can only implement fines and prison sentences for Muslims contravening the tenants of the religion.

NIGERIA: Borno clash claims 15 dead

Fifteen people are reported to have died since clashes between Muslims and Christians began on Monday in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, 'The Guardian' reported. The dispute in the Damboa Council area arose from a disagreement between some Muslim youths and Christians over the siting of a church in a Muslim dominated area.

NIGERIA: Lagos State budgets for flood control

Lagos State government has set aside some 400 million naira (US $3.9 million) for flood control in 19 areas of the state identified as being potential danger spots, 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday.

Work is due to begin in the nominated areas on Saturday, the daily reported, quoting state Information Commissioner Dele Alake. Flood control measures include the setting up of two different groups responsible for cleaning drains in the state and working during emergencies.

NIGERIA: Bayelsa legislates end to Niger River dredging

The Bayelsa State House of Assembly has passed a motion stopping the federal government and Petroleum Trust Fund from further dredging of the lower Niger River until a proper environmental impact assessment is made.

The representative of the Sagbama Constituency and presenter of the motion, Prosper Nwaguzo, said the sole objective of the 8.3-billion-naira (US $3.9 million) dredging operation was to provide year-round navigability from the Delta port of Warri to the northern hinterland of Nigeria. However, he added that the initial environmental impact study had been done improperly.

GUINEA-BISSAU: UN helps consolidate peace

Guinea-Bissau today represents an example of where the United Nations can contribute meaningfully to a nation's efforts "to move from a state of war to one of peace and gradual return to constitutional order," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report released on Monday.

Writing on the latest developments in the war-scared country, he said President Kumba Yala had set about establishing post-electoral priorities. These include the consolidation of democracy, depoliticisation of the army and the relaunch of the economy.

Supporting these efforts, the UN Peace Building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau, UNOGBIS, has helped the Supreme Court train 37 new judges. UNOGBIS is also monitoring the trials of people detained over the past year to ensure their human rights are upheld.

The present mandate of UNOGBIS is due to expire on 31 March but has been extended by the Security Council to end on 31 March 2001.

GUINEA-BISSAU: US reviews ways to renew bilateral ties

US aid to Guinea-Bissau, suspended after a military uprising in May 1999, will resume after a review is complete, US Ambassador Nancy Soderberg told the UN Security Council on Wednesday. "We hope to be able to provide trade and investment promotion support once remaining legal impediments have been removed," she said.

Soderberg - who is the US representative for special political affairs at the UN - added that Washington would help on demining programmes.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Military brass gets tough with soldiers

Ivorian Army chief of staff Colonel Soumahila Diabagate has warned dissident soldiers to return all their weapons by the end of the week or face dishonourable discharge, the state daily 'Fraternite Matin' reported on Thursday.

Wednesday's warning, aired on state radio and television, follows an attempted mutiny by soldiers on Tuesday over pay at Daloa barracks, 320 km northwest Abidjan. During the unrest soldiers seized weapons from the armoury and one soldier loyal to the government was killed. Four soldiers were arrested and brought to Abidjan.

The events in Daloa came three months after an army mutiny over pay in Akouedo barracks, Abidjan, escalated into a coup d'etat that brought General Robert Guei to power.

Meanwhile, in a ceremony broadcast on national television and radio, the army discharged a soldier accused of shooting a student over the weekend. He is charged with attempted murder and is to stand trial.

LIBERIA: Opposition call for end to Star radio ban

Eleven opposition parties joined a protest on Monday against the closure of Star radio and called on the government to lift its ban against the private broadcaster, news organisations reported.

Star radio was closed on 15th March but the Roman Catholic radio, Veritas, which had its broadcasts suspended at the same time, has since been allowed to resume transmission. The opposition warned that prolonged closure of Star could discourage donors from giving aid to Liberia.

WEST AFRICA: Meningitis outbreak

A meningitis outbreak has been reported in three West African countries where scores of people have died of the disease, according to news reports.

Niger Public Health Minister Ousmane Adamou said on Monday that 132 of the 1,195 cases had died in Niamey, and the districts of Birni NKonni (some 400 km east of Niamey) and Tera (some 150 km west of the capital).

Niger, which has joined neighbouring Chad in an international appeal for help, says its needs five million doses of vaccine to overcome the epidemic.

Fear of an imminent attack of cerebrospinal meningitis, which reportedly also broke out recently in Abuja, Nigeria, has spread fear among the city's residents, 'The Guardian' of Lagos reported on Tuesday.

There is also fear that the disease, whose cause has been linked to excessive heat during the dry harmattan months from December to March in Nigeria, might linger, the newspaper said.

Cerebrospinal meningitis, caused by the bacterium meningococcus, is the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain or the spinal cord. It manifests itself in fever, vomiting and stiff necks and affects inhabitants in a swath of arid land from Somalia to Cape Verde. Experts say that numerous factors, one of which is climate change, has extended the reach of the disease beyond this belt.

"For the past ten years, it can be found in the forest zones up to the Congo (DRC)," Garba Soga, a doctor and advisor with WHO Niger on disease prevention and control, told IRIN on Wednesday.

WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS scraps checkpoints, permits

West African leaders decided on Tuesday to follow Nigeria's example and dismantle immediately all checkpoints on their international highways, and adopt other far-reaching measures aimed at ensuring greater social and economic integration among the 16 countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The ECOWAS secretariat told IRIN on Wednesday that the leaders agreed at their daylong mini-summit in Abuja that mandatory residency permits were to be abolished. The measure is aimed at creating a borderless ECOWAS region.

On infrastructure, the leaders decided to modernise and link up railways from Lagos through Cotonou (Benin) to Lome (Togo) and Accra (Ghana). A similar link from Lagos, Niamey (Niger) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) is being considered.

Abidjan, 31 March 2000; 18:30 GMT


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