Benin + 4 more

IRIN Update 683 of events in West Africa

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 22-40-4440
Fax: +225 22-40-4435

SIERRA LEONE: UN patrol blocked again

Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels have stopped another UN military patrol from travelling from the eastern town of Kailahun to Buedu on the Liberian border, an information officer at the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN on Friday.

The local rebel commander said he had not received orders from RUF Party (RUFP) leader Foday Sankoh to allow the patrol through. The patrol was scheduled to make another attempt to reach Buedu today.

In a meeting on 9 March in Freetown, the main parties to the Lome Peace Accord agreed that UNAMSIL and humanitarian workers would have unhindered access throughout Sierra Leone, that the government was in full control of the country, and that disarmament would take place nationwide as facilities became available, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, said.

The meeting, convened by Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, was attended by Sankoh, ex-Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leader Johnny Paul Koroma, and Hinga Norman, the leader of the Civil Defence Force, which supported the government against the rebels. Also present were Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, and Major General Vijay Jetley, the UN Force Commander in Sierra Leone.

UN peacekeepers, some 107 military personnel and six military observers, were deployed two weeks ago to the RUF stronghold of Kailahun. Earlier attempts to deploy in the east failed because of rebel activity in the area.

SIERRA LEONE: Suspected link between rape and deaths

UN officials in Sierra Leone said on Thursday that there appeared to be evidence that rape was a possible contributing factor in the deaths of several women returning from RUF controlled areas in the east of the country, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, reported on Thursday in New York.

Eckhard said that a human rights officer who had gone to the town of Kenema to assess the health and social services for rape victims had reported that doctors there "strongly suspect" that injuries caused by rape and sexual abuse had contributed to the deaths of several women abductees. Sexually transmitted diseases contracted by the women, such as HIV/AIDS, were also a factor. The doctors said that in the past weeks, 12 women and children had died from complications arising from physical abuse, poor medical treatment and malnutrition they experienced in RUF areas.

SIERRA LEONE: Aid worker dies of lassa fever

British aid worker Ian Janeck, who contracted lassa fever while working in Sierra Leone, has died at a hospital in north London, the BBC reported on Thursday. He was evacuated from Freetown earlier in the month with suspected malaria or typhoid. Only 12 cases of lassa fever have been diagnosed in North America and Europe since the virus was identified some 30 years ago in Nigeria, the BBC said.

SIERRA LEONE: Ex-combatants to receive food aid

WFP signed an agreement with the Sierra Leonean government on Tuesday to provide food aid valued at US $2.7 million, to ex-combatants over a period of six months, WFP Sierra Leone Representative Patrick Buckley told IRIN on Friday.

"The food is available and we are currently working out the operational details with the NCDDR. Only those ex-combatants being demobilised in the centres will receive food aid," he said.

The NCDDR - National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Integration - is a state body.

AFRICA: Security Council debates DDR

Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) needs to be addressed comprehensively in peace talks to enable the smooth transition from peacekeeping to peace building, the UN Security Council concluded at the end of a day long debate on Wednesday.

The political commitment of the parties involved in a peace process was a precondition for the success of DDR programmes, the Council added.

In a statement by its president, the Council underscored the importance of "incorporating, as appropriate, within specific peace agreements, with the consent of the parties, and on a case-by-case basis within United Nations mandates, clear terms for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants, including the timely collection and disposal of arms and ammunition".

In his speech to the Council, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that it was essential that DDR be incorporated into any peace agreement.

"...The arrangements for the disposal of arms and ammunition should be decided as part of peace negotiations, so that the question of what to do with the collected arms and ammunitions does not subsequently become a stumbling block," he said.

Annan also called for more flexibility by the Security Council in using assessed funding for disarmament and demobilisation tasks, so that some key activities - including the destruction of weapons and the establishment of 'quick-impact' projects - could take place before voluntary funding was received.

NIGERIA: Zamfara Islamic court amputates thief's hand

Islamic legal authorities in Zamfara have amputated the hand of a Muslim man found guilty of stealing a cow, in the first such action under Sharia penal codes introduced in this northern state in January, media organisations reported on Friday.

An official statement said the convict, Bello Garki Zangebi, had failed to meet a 30-day deadline to appeal against the sentence.

AFP reported that the sentence was carried out on Wednesday in a hospital in the state capital, Gusau, in defiance of a reported undertaking by northern governors that application of Sharia was being suspended.

The introduction of Sharia law has alarmed Christians in northern Nigeria and led to recent violent unrest in the country, in which hundreds of people died.

"The people were happy that the norms of Sharia were being carried out," the BBC quoted a state government official as saying.

NIGERIA: Group accuses Obasanjo of neglecting Niger Delta

THE Ijaw National Congress has accused the federal government of neglecting problems of the Niger Delta since the crisis spurred by the introduction of the Sharia legal system by some northern states, 'The Guardian' reported.

The secretary-general of the congress, Joseph Evah, said on Thursday in Lagos that in light of this neglect, the call by governors of the southeastern states for confederation was timely.

"If that is the only option that will allow us to control our resources which God has given to us, we support the call of the southeast for confederation. The present situation is not good enough," he said.

The northern governors clamouring for Sharia had been treated gently by the government which, on the other hand, was repressing other ethnic groups' call for socio-political reforms.

NIGERIA: President tours violence-wracked southwest

President Olusegun Obasanjo has visited two communities in southwest Nigeria where recent fighting left at least 80 people dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, AFP reported.

The meeting with leaders of the Ife and Modakeke Yoruba communities was arranged late Thursday after Obasanjo toured towns where a 20-year-old feud flared again on 3 March over land rights, the agency said.

Ife, one of the traditional Yoruba homelands, is the larger, more established community. The people of Modakeke moved to the area 150 years ago, and consider their neighbours to be arrogant.

This feud is just one of many that have erupted to present levels in the country since Obasanjo's civilian administration began ruling on 29 May, 1999. In the Osun State capital Osogbo, Obasanjo called on Thursday for unity and an end to the communal fighting across the country, AFP said.

Nigeria's 120 million people are split into some 200 ethnic groups and the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Exasperated by the constant outbursts of violence, Obasanjo met on Wednesday in Abuja with security chiefs to order a tightening of security across the country. Critics accuse him of failing to deliver on police reforms seen as vital to ensuring peace, AFP said.

NIGERIA: Government begins scheme for 20,000 housing units

Nigeria's government has begun a nationwide scheme to build 20,000 homes before 2004, 'The Guardian' reported, quoting Works and Housing Minister Tony Anenih.

Opening the 30th annual Conference of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers in Lagos on Thursday, he said the Obasanjo administration recognised housing as the second most essential human need after food.

"That is why we have initiated this project," he said.

Government plans to build 5,000 homes each year over the next four years and "intends to review, strengthen and streamline where necessary, a number of institutional frameworks and policies that impact on property development and investment".

These include the National Housing Fund, the Federal Mortgage Bank, Federal Mortgage Finance Limited, the Urban Development Bank, the Federal Housing Authority, the Land Use Act and the proposed Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Commission.

He said the government would use inexpensive, locally-produced building materials to reduce costs and to keep the estimated value of a two-bedroom detached bungalow to about 500,000 naira (US $4,911).

WEST AFRICA: Donors set timetable for Togo-Benin Power Interconnection

Representatives of several donor organisations ended a two-day meeting in Lome on Tuesday with a timetable for implementing a 90-billion-franc CFA (US $13.8 million) power project aimed at linking Benin and Togo, PANA reported.

The meeting was attended by delegates from the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, French Development Agency, Nordic Fund and the Kuwaiti Fund.

The project aims to connect the electricity grids in the northern parts of Togo and Benin to provide affordable electricity to both countries. Togo and Benin are already partners in the energy sector.

On 13 March, the energy ministers of Ghana and Nigeria recommended at a meeting in Abuja a speedy connection between West Africa's power supply grids beginning with Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.

The proposed interconnection is part of an ECOWAS energy master plan that includes a call for the common exploitation of energy resources among the 16 member states.

Abidjan, 24 March 2000; 17:05 GMT


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