Benin + 6 more

IRIN Update 676 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 22-40-4440
Fax: +225 22-40-4435
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Hundreds of militiamen down arms

A large number of former pro-government militiamen, arrived over the weekend at disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) centres in Kenema District in eastern Sierra Leone, a DDR public relations officer in Freetown told IRIN on Wednesday.

The official said he did not know exactly how many members of the former Civil Defence Forces (CDF) went to the centres to disarm, but the BBC reported on Tuesday that they amounted to some 3,500.

[See separate item titled 'SIERRA LEONE: Kamajors rush to disarm']

LIBERIA: Two-way radio owners to carry ID cards

Users of two-way radios, such as walkie-talkies, are now required to carry identity cards or "face embarrassment", Star radio reported, quoting the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.

Star said on Monday that the new handset-carrier ID card would contain the name of the country of manufacture, serial number, date of manufacture and the minister's signature.

The measure is being introduced because of the proliferation of two-way radios, Star quoted the ministry as saying. Walkie-talkies gained popularity in the early stages of the regime of late president Samuel Doe.

Liberia's telephone infrastructure was battered during its civil war and two-way radios have offered an alternative mode of communications for NGOs and other bodies.

LIBERIA: Independent radio closed down

Police moved in on Wednesday and closed down independent Star Radio, but Liberia's government has not given the broadcaster's parent company, the Swiss NGO Fondation Hirondelle, the reasons for its action.

"We haven't the slightest idea why," an official at Hirondelle, who requested anonymity, told IRIN.

Hirondelle, based in the Swiss lakeside town of Lausanne, told IRIN it only learnt of the closure a few minutes after the police action on Wednesday morning.

However, citing a government statement read on President Charles Taylor's Kiss FM radio, AFP reported that the closure was ordered because of a "security threat created by agents provocateurs using the news media to abuse the unprecedented freedom of speech and press now prevailing in the country".

[See separate item titled 'LIBERIA: Government closes independent radio station']

GUINEA: Serious environmental impact from refugees

The influx of refugees from neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia has had a serious environmental impact in southern Guinea, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday in a news release.

The release was based on a UNEP report titled 'Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea' which says that in the rural areas where the refugee camps are based, the use of the surrounding natural resources is "highly unsustainable". The ongoing demand for food crops has led to the transformation of natural forest areas into arable lands and this has had a severe impact on biodiversity and water systems, it says.

"In addition to the refugee camps, many displaced persons have sought refuge in urban centres, where populations have increased sharply with resulting waste removal and water problems," Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director, said. He added that the authorities had not been able to cope with such a large population increase and in a number of areas sanitation management systems had collapsed completely.

The report says more international help is urgently required in the affected areas to support the government, international organisations and the people of Guinea already operating there. It recommends that the UN develop an action plan to incorporate sustainable use and management of the natural resources in the rural areas and also develop a programme to improve the capacities for urban environmental management.

The UNEP report, produced in cooperation with the UN Centre for Human Settlements and UNHCR at the request of the government of Guinea, is based upon a desk study followed by a field mission to southern Guinea. It was sent to the UN Secretary-General on Friday, the news release said. [The full report is available on the Internet at http://www.grid.unep.ch/guinea]

WEST AFRICA: Ghana, Nigeria want speedy power-grid connection

Ghana and Nigeria recommended on Monday a speedy connection of West Africa's power supply grids, beginning with a 330 kv link between four countries.

The four are Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.

The recommendation was made on Monday by the energy ministers of Ghana and Nigeria at a meeting in Abuja, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said.

The interconnection between the four countries is part of an ECOWAS energy master plan that calls for a common exploitation of energy resources among the 16-member states, the establishment of a mechanism to guarantee regular supplies of hydrocarbons to members and the development of new and renewable energy resources.

The ministers asked ECOWAS to set up a technical working group by 15 April to coordinate the link between the four countries. They also called for coordination in seeking funds for energy infrastructure in the subregion.

The two ministers decided that partnership programmes between utilities and the private sector should be promoted vigorously by Ghana and Nigeria and should be strengthened in the subregion, with ECOWAS coordinating the effort.

"It was also decided that the ministers should meet, at least quarterly, to review the implementation of the decisions of West African heads of state and government on energy matters," ECOWAS said.

NIGERIA: Sharia crisis threatens to divide country

Just 10 months after its return to civilian rule, Nigeria is facing a political crisis that threatens to dismember the West African nation. In the wake of last month's bloody sectarian clashes that left hundreds dead, some regional leaders have been calling for a rethink of the basis of the country's unity.

Some members of Nigeria's political class baulk at the idea of regional separation. One communication specialist told IRIN: "We're at the brink but we have not jumped yet." On the streets of Nigeria's commercial capital, however, that does not appear such a radical solution to the problems of coexistence in such a diverse country. Several times this week, IRIN was told that if peace demanded the breakup of the 36-state federation, people were willing to pay that price.

[See separate item titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on Sharia crisis']

NIGERIA: President fires power company heads after blackout

President Olusegun Obasanjo fired the management of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) on Tuesday after a prolonged nationwide blackout and placed the utility directly under his supervision, media organisations reported.

He appointed a handpicked nine-man technical board to help him run the utility, reviled for its gross inefficiency and corruption.

"The development came just as Power and Steel Minister Bola Ige, while in Lagos, held a meeting with major consumers, apologising to them and Nigerians over incessant outages," 'The Guardian' newspaper of Lagos said on Wednesday.

Obasanjo said the new board would get the company into suitable shape for privatisation. He said the government had reached agreement with Exxon-Mobil for a 350-megawatt power station to come on stream in two years, AFP reported.

Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Abuja and other parts of the country have been without electricity since Friday, when the vital sectors of the company's generation and distribution system broke down in what company officials called a "systems collapse".

Ridiculing the utility for years of erratic power supply, Nigerians frequently referred to NEPA as "Never Expect Power Always".

ABIDJAN, 15 March 2000; 17:30 GMT

[ENDS]

[IRIN-WA: Tel: +225 2-40-4440 Fax: +225 22-40-4435 e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci]

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