Angola + 17 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 32 covering the period 7-13 August 1999

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

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LIBERIA: Dissidents strike in the northwest

Armed men this week seized five localities in northwest Liberia, kidnapped aid workers, commandeered UNHCR vehicles and battled with government soldiers reinforced by extra troops rushed to the area, according to various sources.

Liberia's Deputy Information Minister Milton Teahjay told IRIN that the dissidents, on whose identity he preferred not to speculate, had taken five localities in Lofa County by Wednesday. Armed men also commandeered five UNHCR vehicles, a source told IRIN.

The government launched a counter-offensive on Thursday, according to Teahjay, who said on Friday that "the dissidents are retreating and at least two towns have been retaken."

He denied reports by news organisations and humanitarian sources that former combatants had been signing up for active duty in Monrovia to help fight the rebels who, the government said, came in from Guinea.

A state of emergency declared earlier in the week by President Charles Taylor and limited to the affected area was still in effect on Friday. Teahjay said it was helping the security forces bring the situation under control.

Liberia's Defence Minister said on Friday that there were an estimated 500 to 800 dissidents, but the rebels claimed that they numbered about 3000.

A rebel spokesman who gave his name as 'Mosquito Spray' confirmed to the BBC on Friday that dissidents were holding some 100 persons - around 50 aid workers and their families - whom they intercepted as they were trying to cross over into Guinea. 'Mosquito Spray' said they were being held in "protective custody'.

Their abduction had been reported in an update on the situation in north-western Liberia that had been sent to IRIN on Friday by UNHCR in Abidjan. Responsibility for the act was claimed by a group called the Joint Forces of Liberation for Liberia (JFFL), which demanded assistance, such as fuel, in exchange for the freedom of the 100 captives, the update said.

MERLIN reports hostages heading towards border

Other aid workers kidnapped on Wednesday were also being moved towards the border with Guinea, a spokeswoman for Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN) in London told IRIN on Friday. These abductees are three Liberians, four British, one Norwegian and one Italian.

Britain sends team to aid release

The British Foreign Office Minister announced on Thursday that a small team led by Britain's ambassador to Cote d'Ivoire was travelling from Abidjan to Monrovia "to maintain direct contact with the Liberian government and to offer any advice and assistance they need, as in similar situations."

Amnesty calls for respect for human rights

Amnesty International (AI) on Thursday called on Liberia's security forces to respect human rights in restoring law and order in Lofa County.

"Civilians, irrespective of their ethnic origin or perceived stance towards the Liberian government, must be protected from unlawful killings, torture and ill treatment or detention without charge or trial by the security forces," AI said.

Another NGO, the Centre for Law and Human Rights Education called on the government to investigate alleged harassment by security forces of Sierra Leonean refugees in Lofa, Star Radio said.

Church network appeals for funds

Action by Churches Together (ACT) has launched an appeal for US$ 1,945,472 for a project aimed at helping to speed up the resettlement and reintegration of returning refugees, IDPs ex-combatants and other persons in Liberia.

SIERRA LEONE: Hostage crisis ends

Former Sierra Leone Army (ex-SLA) rebels on Monday freed the last members of a UN-led team they had taken hostage when the group travelled last week to Occra Hills, some 70 km east of Freetown, to pick up children whom the rebels had promised to release.

The ex-SLA had demanded the release of their leader, Johnny Paul Koroma - whom they claimed was being detained by their Revolutionary United Front (RUF) allies - and more of a stake in the 7 July peace agreement that the government and the RUF signed in Lome, Togo.

The 150 children, some of whom had been held captive for years, arrived on Tuesday in Freetown. However, some 3,120 of the roughly 4,000 children registered as missing after the RUF invaded the capital in January have still not returned. The government called on Wednesday for their unconditional release.

Hot on the heels of the abduction, a new crisis threatened to erupt when RUF Commander Sam Bockarie said invaders from Guinea had attacked the rebels. Blaming Sierra Leone's government for the attacks, he threatened all-out war if they continued.

The government said on Wednesday it had investigated the complaints and that neither its troops, allied militias or Guinea's authorities knew about the alleged attacks.

The attacks occurred - according to the RUF - in Koidu, which borders on Liberia's Lofa County, invaded this week by Liberian dissidents who reportedly crossed over from Guinea.

MALI: Many made homeless by floods

Floods caused by heavy rains have left at least a thousand people homeless in the Malian capital, Bamako, news reports said at the weekend. The BBC reported on Friday that two people were killed as the floods ravaged 100 homes in this city of some 880,000 people.

The railway linking Bamako to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, has also been cut. Reuters quoted the state railway network, RCFM, as saying that it could take 30 to 45 days to repair two bridges swept away by the floods on 1 August at Kayes, 422 km northwest of Bamako.

CHAD: Floods render thousands homeless

Floods caused by heavy rains have destroyed an estimated 5,226 houses, rendering thousands of people homeless in 11 of Chad's 14 regions since the beginning of August, Information Minister Moussa Dago told IRIN on Friday.

"Globally we have about 30,000 persons who have been (directly) affected by the floods," he said. "Most of these have lost their homes while some have contracted malaria," added Dago, who led an assessment team that included representatives of UN agencies to the central region of Batha on 7 August.

Dago said Chad hoped to receive assistance from the international community to cater for all the affected regions. The country's foreign minister launched an appeal for help at a meeting he had on Thursday with ambassadors and representatives of UN and other international organisations, he said.

Government sends peace envoys to meet rebel leader

Chadian President Idriss Deby has sent peace envoys to meet rebel leader Youssouf Togoimi in the northern area of Tibesti, and find out what he wants, Dago told IRIN on Monday.

The delegation comprises respected parliamentarians and traditional authorities from the Tibesti, the mountainous desert region where Togoimi, a former cabinet minister, began his rebellion in late 1998.

CAMEROON: Start cleaning up killer lake, government urged

A team of experts has called on Cameroon's government to start cleaning up Lake Nyos, which killed 1746 people within a radius of 20 kms when it belched out millions of cubic metres of carbon dioxide in 1986.

The three Cameroonian scientists said the elimination of poisonous gas from Nyos and another volcanic lake, Lake Monoum, should begin without delay, according to a communique containing their recommendations that the government published this week.

WEST AFRICA: Making use of a resource that goes up in smoke

A pipeline that would feed Nigerian natural gas to three other West African countries is to be laid down within three years, according to a memorandum of understanding signed on Wednesday.

The agreement, signed in Cotonou by oil transnationals Chevron and Shell with representatives of the governments of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana, envisages that the pipeline will be ready by 2002 to deliver gas to power stations and industries in the recipient countries.

"Chevron is proposing the construction of the US$ 400-million, 1,000-kilometre offshore pipeline to bring a massive supply of natural gas from reserves in Nigeria," Chevron, which will manage the project, said in a statement.

BENIN: Cholera

Sixteen people have died since mid-July in a cholera epidemic in Benin's coastal department of Atlantide, health officials in Cotonou told IRIN on Thursday.

Dr Comlanvi Comlan, World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser on disease control, told IRIN the epidemic peaked in the week of 26 July to 1 August, when about 12 people died out of a total of 145 cases registered, and has been receding since then.

Quoting health ministry figures, he said there were 22 cases and one death from 19 to 25 July, and three deaths for 252 cases registered on 2-8 August.

NIGERIA: Senate absolves speaker

Nigeria's senate on Wednesday unanimously cleared its speaker, Evan Enwerem, of allegations levelled against him by a news magazine, which had claimed he had a criminal record, Nigerian TV reported.

The senate's ruling was based on the findings of three Senate committees which found the allegations to be groundless.

Gearing up for battle with environmental foes

Losing about 50 metres to the Atlantic Ocean and some two kilometres to the Sahara Desert annually, Nigeria is faced with a creeping environmental disaster that has caught the attention of its government.

President Olusegun Obasanjo was in Lagos on Monday to visit the city's beach front, where the ocean has advanced by more than a kilometre in the past two years.

Obasanjo pledged to make urgent efforts to deal with the problem in Lagos and in other areas threatened by coastal erosion.

Last week he was in the north-eastern state of Gombe to launch a tree-planting campaign which, he said, was imperative to overturn what for now appears to be a losing battle with deforestation. The government plans to plant 4,000 hectares of trees by the end of next year, he said.

Parliamentarians' furniture allowances

More than 1,000 trade unionists - some media reported up to 3,000 - demonstrated on Tuesday outside Nigeria's National Assembly against the size of allowances to be paid to parliamentarians.

Each of the 109 federal senators is to receive 3.5 million naira (US $33,600) while the 360 members of the House of Representatives are to get 2.5 million naira (US $24,000) per person. Nigeria's monthly minimum wage is 3000 naira (US $29).

NIGER: Elections postponed

Niger's government has postponed by more than a month presidential elections that were to have been held on 3 October, a media source told IRIN from Niamey.

Major Daouda Mallam Wanke, head of the ruling Conseil de Reconciliation Nationale (CRN) junta, announced the postponement on Tuesday. He said the polls would now be held in the first half of November.

The reasons given for the postponement, the source said, included insufficient funds and the fact that early October coincides with the harvest season, which would mean a low voter turnout in the countryside.

On Monday, Mallam signed a decree promulgating the country's new constitution, under which power is shared between the president and the prime minister.

TOGO: Paritary committee holds its first meeting

A paritary committee comprising representatives of Togo's government and opposition held its first meeting on Tuesday in Lome, AFP reported.

The 24-member committee, equally divided between the ruling party and the opposition, was created under the Lome Accord, an agreement signed between the two sides on 29 July at inter-party talks in the Togolese capital.

The committee's work includes ensuring the implementation of the Lome Accord, some of whose main provisions are the establishment of an independent electoral commission and the drawing up of a law on political parties.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Cabinet reshuffle

Three ministers were dropped and two added to Cote d'Ivoire's cabinet in a reshuffle that saw the number of ministerial posts reduced from 36 to 35, the government announced in a communique issued on 10 August.

Those dropped from the cabinet include Pierre Kipre (Ministry of National Education and Basic Training) and Atsain Achi, whose portfolio was Labour, Public Service and Social Security.

Also removed from the cabinet is Health Minister Maurice Kakou Guikahue, whose ministry has been in the spotlight since June, when the European Union suspended aid to Cote d'Ivoire in reaction to the misuse of 18 billion CFA francs (about US$ 30 million) in assistance to the health sector.

AFRICA: UN worried by poor response to Africa's disasters

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is "alarmed by the poor response of the international community" to the humanitarian needs of victims of war and natural disasters in many parts of Africa "which are nearing irrevocable crisis proportions," a senior UN official said on Thursday.

UN humanitarian agencies and their partners require US$ 796 million to assist over 12 million people in Africa during 1999, yet only US$ 352 million has been received, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said.

He listed Angola, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Somalia among countries with serious humanitarian needs that cannot be met due to inadequate donor response.

FAO says nearly 10 million people need emergency food aid

Nearly 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa need emergency food assistance, according to 'Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa,' a report released on Monday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Abidjan, 13 August 1999; 21:40 GMT


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