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IRIN Update 668 of events in West Africa

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UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 20 21 73 54
Fax: +225 20 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

NIGERIA: Red Cross aids Kaduna victims

The Nigerian Red Cross Society has been mobilising its resources to help people affected by recent violence in the northern town of Kaduna, according to a news release issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Distribution of relief supplies began on 28 February after a survey of the damage and an assessment of needs took place, the ICRC said. Relief materials include dressings and other medical material, mats, blankets, used clothing, jerry cans, cups, plates, cooking pots and rolls of plastic sheeting. The dressings and medical supplies are being delivered to hospitals in Kaduna which have admitted a total of 738 wounded following clashes last week between Muslims and Christians over the proposed introduction of Islamic Sharia law.

Daily rations of some 60 mt of food, including rice, beans, garri, vegetable oil, salt and sugar, will also be distributed to some 10,000 families. Some 80,000 people have taken refuge in 11 locations, including army camps and police barracks, the news release said.

The relief effort in Kaduna is being implemented with the support of the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

NIGERIA: Northern states divided over Sharia

Some northern states of Nigeria have have indicated that they will go ahead with plans to implement Sharia law despite a federal government announcement earlier this week to suspend it, news organisations reported on Thursday.

The governors of Zamfara, Kebbi, and Sokoto states have agreed to ignore the decision by the federal government, AFP quoted a senior official in the local government of Gusau, Zamfara State, as saying on Thursday. Kebbi State government is also reported to hold a similar view, the BBC said.

The National Council of State (NCS) decided on Tuesday at a meeting in Abuja that the implementation of the Sharia law in the northern states should be suspended. At a news conference after the meeting Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said that the decision was taken in the best interest of national security.

LIBERIA: Army sacks 400 soldiers for crime

The Liberian army has discharged more than 400 officers and enlisted men for criminal activity, AFP reported a defence ministry statement as saying on Thursday.

It said that the soldiers were sacked for crimes ranging from protracted absence without leave to armed robbery adding that the action was necessary to deter other soldiers from committing similar acts, AFP reported. Defence Minister Daniel Chea warned in November that he would not allow the army to degenerate into a criminal gang. More recently he promised that a new army will be in place before May this year.

CHAD: More clashes in the north

Fighting took place last week between rebels and government forces around Guizinti in the mountainous northern Tibesti region, according to AFP.

AFP quoted a statement issued by the rebel Mouvement pour la democratie et la justice au Tchad (MDJT) as saying that a major military offensive launched by the government on 24 February ended in defeat at the cost of the lives of 197 government soldiers.

On Wednesday the Chadian defence ministry said that fighting had taken place near Guizinti but did not comment on whether casualties had been sustained.

The MDJT led by former defence and interior minister Youssouf Togoimi has been fighting the government from its northern base since October 1998. The movement failed to enter Ndjamena by the end of December 1999 as it had predicted. In mid-February the MDJT turned down President Deby's offer of a political settlement.

NIGER: France gives 32 million FF for rural roads

The Agence francaise de developpement (AFD) has given a grant worth some FF 32 million (US $4.8 million) to Niger for unpaved road construction in rural areas, AFP reported on Thursday.

The director of the development agency, Francoise Duriez, said that construction would take place in the south, centre and north of the country to improve the transportation of agricultural produce such as sugar cane, onions and dates.

The agreement was signed in the presence of the French Minister for Cooperation and Francophonie Charles Josselin who arrived in Niger on Wednesday for a two-day visit.

CAMEROON: Anti-secessionist association reemerges

The anti-secessionist anglophone South West Elite Association (SWELA) has reemerged to oppose a group from Western Cameroon that wants independence for the former British-run territory, AFP quoted 'The Herald' newspaper as saying on Thursday.

The idea for the re-launch of SWELA came from the anglophone prime minister, Peter Mafany Musonge, AFP quoted sources close to the anglophone opposition as saying. A new secretary-general, Lyonga Efase Kanga, has been named head of the association.

Many English-speaking Cameroonians feel they have been marginalised by the French-speaking majority since independence and wish to exert more control over their own affairs.

WEST AFRICA: Initiative to eliminate blindness launched

An inititiave to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020 was launched for 18 French-speaking African countries last Friday in Mali's capital, Bamako, according to a WHO news release.

Known as "Vision 2020: the Right to Sight" the countries targeted include: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo.

These countries account for more than two million blind and six million visually impaired people.

Vision 2000 will address five major causes of blindness in francophone Africa: cataract, trachoma, glaucoma, onchocerciasis and child blinding disorders, particularly those leading to corneal scarring.

"The burden of blindness in Africa is increasing and will at least double by 2020 if urgent preventive measures are not taken," WHO Regional Director for Africa Ebrahim Samba told reporters at the launch.

"The right to sight is a basic human right," Christian Garms Chairman of the VISION 2020 Task Force said. "Nevertheless, it is an unaffordable luxury for almost 45 million people in the world, six million of whom live in Africa."

He added that the elimination of avoidable blindness by 2020 was a lofty goal and a tall target.

"VISION 2020 provides a unique opportunity for African governments, international organisations and NGOs working with WHO to jointly reach this target," Garms said.

[ENDS]

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