Benin + 9 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 11 covering the period 11-17 Mar 2000

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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

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, replaced it with a nine-man technical board and brought the utility under his direct supervision.

Obasanjo said the new board would reshape the company for privatisation. Meanwhile, the government has reached agreement with Exxon-Mobil for a 350-megawatt power station to come on stream in two years, AFP reported.

Vital sectors of NEPA's generation and distribution system broke down last week in what company officials called a "systems collapse".

The special assistant to the minister of power and steel, Olu Agunloye, said in Lagos on Monday that a sudden drop in voltage caused the blackout. The outage also affected supplies to Niger, Nigeria's northern neighbour, which takes some 80 megawatts of electricity from the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA).

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 the two nations, Benin 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 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.

WEST AFRICA: Connection of railroads begins June 2003

A project to connect West Africa's railroads is to begin in June 2003 in line with a master plan adopted six years ago, PANA reported on 12 March. The decision was taken at a four-day meeting organised by ECOWAS, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Union of African Railways (UAR).

Donors will be approached this month to fund the feasibility studies for the rail network while preliminary cost estimates and detailed engineering studies are due for completion by February 2001.

The meeting was attended by ECOWAS representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Also present were representatives of the ECOWAS Fund for Cooperation, the ADB, the ECA and the UAR.

WEST AFRICA: Two West Africans among Iraq monitors

Two West Africans are among 16 commissioners appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) for Iraq. They are Abigun Ade Abiodun of Nigeria and Senegal's Cheikh Sylla.

SIERRA LEONE: UN peacekeepers blocked by rebels, again

Revolutionary United Front rebels stopped a patrol of 107 UN Indian peacekeepers and six military observers on Monday insisting that the soldiers needed clearance to allowed through, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

The peacekeepers, part of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), returned to base. The incident followed a meeting in Freetown on 9 March at which all the main stakeholders agreed that UNAMSIL and humanitarian workers would have unhindered access to all parts of the country, that the government was in full control all over Sierra Leone and that disarmament would take place throughout the country as facilities are made available, Eckhard said.

SIERRA LEONE: Situation still volatile, says UN official

The security situation in Sierra Leone remains "tense and volatile", the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, told the Security Council on Monday.

Reflecting this, civilians who fled the town of Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone arrived in the capital Freetown with reports of rebels stripping, beating and throwing people into diamond-mining pits, then subjecting them to hard labour, the BBC reported. The abuses follow an anti-rebel demonstration held in Freetown by people displaced from Kono.

Annabi said the mains steps to be taken in Sierra Leone should include the early disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of all ex-combatants, the extension of government authority throughout the country, national reconciliation and democratisation, and improvement of the country's capacity to ensure its own security.

Progress in those areas, he said, would require a sustained commitment by all concerned, as well as significant material and financial resources. He said a donor conference to be held in London on 27 March and contributions to the World Bank Multi-Donor Trust Fund would help cover the present shortfall of some US $20 million needed to support the peace process.

SIERRA LEONE: Hundreds of militiamen down arms

A large number of former pro-government militiamen arrived the weekend of 11 March 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.

SIERRA LEONE: Calls for DDR coordination over education

Sierra Leone's Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and its National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) have expressed the need to coordinate the activities of all agencies offering services in the area of education, the NCDDR reported on 10 March. During a meeting at the Ministry of Education, NCDDR Executive Secretary Francis Kaikai said some 12 percent of the estimated 45,000 former combatants were children who were expected to be enrolled in educational institutions.

SIERRA LEONE: Britain gives more money to DDR programme

The British government has pledged another 5.5 million pounds sterling (US$ 8.5 million) for the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programme (DDR) following a recent visit by Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, a spokesman at the British High Commission told IRIN on Friday .

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 on Monday, quoting the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.

Star said 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.

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: Closure of independent radios slammed

Liberian media, the US government and international press freedom advocates have lambasted the decision by President Charles Taylor's government to close Star Radio and Radio Veritas, Liberia's two independent radio stations.

Armed police arrived unannounced at the radio stations, evicted staff and confiscated equipment after the government accused them of broadcasting subversive material. The two radio stations have denied the government's accusations.

Star and Veritas have had a troubled relationship with Taylor's government. Star, set up in July 1997 by Swiss-based NGO Fondation Hirondelle, had its short-wave frequency license withdrawn in October 1998. Veritas' headquarters were burnt down in clashes in Monrovia in 1996.

[See separate item titled 'Liberia: Closure of independent radios slammed']

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, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.

A UNEP report on the 'Environmental Impact of Refugees in Guinea' says that in the rural areas where the refugee camps are based, the use of the surrounding natural resources is "highly unsustainable". The demand for food crops has led to the transformation of natural forest 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.

UNEP 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 capacity for urban environmental management.

[The full report is available on the Internet at http://www.grid.unep.ch/guinea]

GHANA: MP calls for disaster management commission

Ghanaian parliamentarian Hackman Owusu-Agyemang has asked the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to establish a Disaster Management Commission would would pool talents and resources from different African countries for their mutual benefit, PANA reported on Thursday.

He said that the recent events in Mozambique and Madagascar had exposed how unprepared Africa is to cope with disasters.

SENEGAL: US $7.5 million IFAD loan to Senegal

Residents of 90 rural communities in Senegal are expected to benefit from a US $42.9-million project to promote decentralised development and strengthen local government, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said.

The project, signed on Monday by IFAD and the Senegalese government, aims to provide about two million people - from the poorest communities - with better access to health, education, sanitary facilities, potable water and roads. The project will allow local communities and governments to plan and manage their own infrastructure.

The International Development Association is providing US $28.5 million for the project, IFAD US $7.5 million and Senegal $6.8 million.

SENEGAL: Wade, Diouf battle for the presidency

Some 2.6 million Senegalese voters go to run-off presidential polls on Sunday to chose between incumbent Abdou Diouf and Abdoulaye Wade, who leads a 19-party opposition alliance determined to unseat the Parti Socialist that has ruled since independence in 1960.

Diouf, 64, has gained the support of former rival Djibo Ka who won 7 percent of the first round. Wade, who also competed for Ka's support, has gained that of Moustapha Niasse, leader of the Alliance des forces de Progres. Niasse came third in the first round with 17 percent of the vote.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Election budget set

Cote d'Ivoire's Council of Ministers set a transitional budget on Friday, allocating some FCFA 16 billion (US $24.5 million) to finance elections to be held later this year, the state daily 'Fraternite Matin' reported on Monday.

The military authorities recently announced that presidential, legislative and municipal elections will take place by 31 October, marking a return to democratic rule.

Abidjan, 17 March, 14:55 GMT

[ENDS]

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