Benin + 11 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup 7 covering the period 12-18 February 2000

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
Tel: +225 20 21 73 54
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SIERRA LEONE: War crimes ambassador to visit

The Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues at the US State Department is travelling to Sierra Leone on Saturday to promote reconciliation and accountability for violations of humanitarian law, according to a news release.

David Scheffer aims to focus attention on the atrocities that have occurred since the signing of the Lome Peace Accord in July 1999. He plans to meet with government and rebel leaders as well as with victims of atrocities, the news release said.

SIERRA LEONE: Parliament concerned by rebels blocking peace

The Sierra Leonean parliament unanimously adopted on Tuesday a resolution expressing "grave concern" about the obstacles put in the path of the peace process by rebel forces, according to an official document faxed to IRIN.

Ahmed Dumbuya, the parliamentarian who moved the motion, said the concerns included the "extreme slow pace of the implementation of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme due to the lack of cooperation from Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and ex-Sierra Leone Army (SLA) forces".

Just over 16,500 ex-combatants have been disarmed, including 870 children, according to figures provided by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) on 16 February.

Legislators also noted the continued occupation of large areas of the country by RUF and SLA forces, which prevented people from moving freely and living normally, and the continued "flagrant disregard" of many of the provisions of the Lome Peace Agreement, signed in July.

Over the six weeks there have been a number of incidents involving the seizure of arms and vehicles from peacekeepers. On 11 January, for example, armoured cars and rifles were taken from Guinean troops on their way to join the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Military sources at UNAMSIL told IRIN on Tuesday that two armoured personnel carriers taken from Guinean troops had been returned to the UN at the end of the second week of February, but some 565 rifles remained with the rebels. Five or six rifles taken from Kenyan peacekeeping troops on 14 January and 1 February had also been returned, the sources said.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, told RUF Party (RUFP) leader Foday Sankoh on 13 February that the UN would react strongly if any more weapons are seized from its peacekeepers in Sierra Leone.

SIERRA LEONE: Camps needed for ex-combatants' families, NCDDR says

The Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), Francis Kaikai, has appealed for assistance to run special camps for the families of ex-combatants, the NCDDR reported on 17 February. The camps would be sited close to demobilisation centres, according to Kaikai, who said this would help solve the problem of congestion in demobilisation centres as some ex-combatants now live in these centres with their families.

SIERRA LEONE: UN reconnaissance mission to Koidu

UN military observers and peacekeepers returned to Freetown on Tuesday after a reconnaissance mission to the diamond-rich town of Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone. The bulk of the mission -- a platoon of Kenyan peacekeeping troops -- was blocked at a rebel checkpoint some 120 km from Koidu, while five military observers and an information officer went on to visit the town.

SIERRA LEONE: WFP food for IDPs in Port Loko

The World Food Programme (WFP) distributed food on Friday to some 4,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Port Loko, north of Freetown, the WFP representative in Sierra Leone told IRIN on Tuesday. "There were no problems, for the moment it's quiet," WFP's Patrick Buckley said. Security concerns had forced WFP to postpone twice the delivery of food to IDPs in the area, according to an emergency report issued on 10 February.

Buckley also told IRIN that an inter-agency mission went to Makeni, Magburaka and Matotoka in northern Sierra Leone on 9-11 February to assess food, health, education, water and sanitation needs. The mission included various NGOs, WFP and the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU).

Meanwhile, WFP, in collaboration with CARE, has completed registration of more than 34,000 people in 110 villages in Lower Yoni, a chiefdom in the northern Sierra Leonean district of Tonkolili, WFP said in a report on 10 February.

WFP is now establishing how many people who have returned to the area need food assistance intended to support vulnerable families and encourage people to resume farming, the report said.

Lower Yoni was affected by fighting last year and agricultural activities were not possible there. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently distributed farming materials in the area, WFP said.

SIERRA LEONE: Koroma threatened, government cracks down on rebels

Four suspects were arrested and others were being sought by the security forces after Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of Sierra Leone's former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta reported that a threat had been made on his life, Information Minister Julius Spencer told IRIN on Monday.

According to news reports, some seven former Sierra Leonean Army (ex-SLA) soldiers, members of the old national force that supported the 1997-1998 AFRC junta, have been detained by the authorities on suspicion of threatening to kill Koroma.

GUINEA: Parliament seeks clemency for jailed opposition leader

Guinea's parliament has asked President Lansana Conte to release Alpha Conde, a jailed opposition leader accused of trying to leave the country illegally and seeking to recruit troops to destabilise it. The appeal was contained in a letter addressed to the president and read out in parliament on Monday, AFP reported.

Conde, leader of the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee, lost presidential elections on 14 December 1998, which were won by Conte. He was arrested on the day after the polls in a village near Guinea's border with Cote d'Ivoire and has been kept in detention since then.

At a news conference in Paris on Thursday, Conde supporters in the Comite pour la liberation d'Alpha Conde, called on the European Union to suspend its economic aid programmes to the country until his unconditional release.

GUINEA: New army chief of staff named

President Lansana Conte has named Colonel Kerfala Camara as the new army chief of staff, AFP reports a source close to the minister of the armed forces as saying. Camara replaces Colonel Ibrahima Sory Diallo who has been nominated as governor of Kankan region in the east.

LIBERIA: Presidential guards evict civilians

Hundreds of residents of Capitol Hill district in Monrovia have been evicted from their homes by Liberia's elite presidential guard following President Charles Taylor's decision to live permanently at the executive mansion, which is located in the area, news organisations reported. Residents have appealed for compensation and some have threatened legal action.

LIBERIA: Lawyers file for dismissal of Torh's case

Lawyers representing child rights advocate James Torh filed a motion yesterday requesting that charges against him be dismissed on the grounds that the Liberian consititution permits freedom of expression, Star radio reported. The State charged Torh with sedition for a statement he made at a secondary school in Monrovia in December when he allegedly said that the state was being run from President Charles Taylor's pocket.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Ex-Interior Minister arrested for "subversion"

Cote d'Ivoire's former minister of the interior was detained on Tuesday by the military authorities, for alleged "subversive activities" and in connection with the embezzlement of public funds, the military authorities said in a communique issued on Wednesday.

The statement said that Emile Bombet was arrested after organising meetings which aimed to "betray national security" and for his role in "certain economic crimes against the state." It cited a financial scam involving some US $27 million of EU aid, and the misappropriation of state funds amounting to some 8 billion F CFA (US $12 million) originally set aside for presidential and legislative elections in 1995 and municipal elections in 1996. The authorities said their investigations were continuing and others would be "detained for questioning" in the next few days.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Referendum commission set up

Cote d'Ivoire's government decided at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday to create a commission in charge of a constitutional referendum to be held this year, according to a report on the meeting, carried by state-owned 'Fraternite Matin' and other local newspapers.

The 16-member commission will be headed by Honore Guie, a law professor at the local university. Its members will include one representative from the seven main political parties, the national office of technical and development studies, the ministries of economy and finance, budget, and the interior and four non-governmental organisations.

The transitional government has promised to hold presidential, legislative and municipal elections before 31 October.

GUINEA BISSAU: Yala sworn in as president

Kumba Yala was sworn in as president of Guinea Bissau on Thursday in a ceremony held at the September 24 stadium in Bissau, a humanitarian source who attended the inauguration told IRIN. In his speech, Yala said the provision of health and education and the revitalisation of the agriculture sector were among the priority areas for his government, the source told IRIN.

NIGERIA: Police warn against violent Sharia-related rallies

The police in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna have warned pro- and anti-Sharia demonstrators against acts capable of endangering lives and property, 'The Guardian' reported on Thursday. The daily cited the state's police chief as saying that permits issued to both Christian and Muslim demonstrators would be withdrawn if they breached the peace. On Monday, thousands of Muslims in Kaduna staged a rally demanding the extension of Islamic law to the state. (See NIGERIA: Focus on religious tension, 12 January 2000)

NIGERIA: Anti-corruption bill

Nigerian lawmakers have passed an amended version of President Olusegun Obasanjo's flagship anti-corruption bill. The bill, passed by the lower house of parliament in December, was approved by the Senate on Tuesday, according to media organisations. The draft legislation, which provides for the establishment of a special commission to probe corruption, was one of the first measures sent to the lower house after Obasanjo took office in May.

NIGERIA: Cohen forced to postpone visit

US Defence Secretary William Cohen postponed a 16-17 February visit to Nigeria because bad weather prevented his aircraft from landing in Abuja, the United States Information Agency (USIA) reported. Cohen told reporters he hoped to reschedule his visit to Nigeria, possibly in early April when he travels to the Persian gulf.

NIGERIA: First Commonwealth investment conference

A Commonwealth-Nigeria investment conference, entitled 'The New Democratic Nigeria: Inward Investment Opportunities' will be held from 28 February to 1 March in Abuja, according to a Commonwealth news release. Organised by the Commonwealth Business Council in association with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, the conference will focus on private sector investment opportunities in the telecommunications, power, water, oil, gas, transport and agro-allied industries.

NIGERIA: Government plans joint oil venture with Norway

Nigeria and Norway will cooperate on deep water oil exploration, 'The Guardian' quoted President Olusegun Obasanjo and Norwegian Prime Minister Kjeli Bondevik as saying at a joint press conference in Abuja on Tuesday. Obasanjo said Nigeria would benefit from Norway's extensive experience in deep water exploration. Bondevik added that Norway could help Nigeria to formulate legislation to ensure the safety of exploration sites, 'The Guardian' reported.

NIGERIA: New centres expected to improve health care delivery

The Committee on Health in Nigeria's House of Representatives on Monday provided for the creation of 27 health centres costing N5 million (US $50,150) each in this year's budget, 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday. At a budget defence session which the committee had with officials of the Health Ministry, Committee Chairman Willie Ogbeide reportedly said the provision was intended to boost health care delivery in the country.

NIGER: Mainassara supporters demand investigation

Several hundred people marched into Niamey, Niger's capital, on 12 February to demand an international enquiry into the assassination of former president General Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, on 9 April 1999 in a coup organised by members of his presidential guard. The military regime which succeeded him later handed over power to an elected government and, on 11 February, the country's eight military administrators were replaced with civilians, AFP reported. France, which had suspended its cooperation with Niger following the assassination, on Tuesday agreed to grant the government of Mamadou Tandja assistance worth about US $9 million which, according to news sources, is to be used to pay wages owed to state employees.

CHAD: Rebel leader rejects invitation to Ndjamena

Chadian President Idriss Deby this week invited rebel leader Youssouf Togoimi to go to Ndjamena to form his own political party, but Togoimi's Mouvement pour la democratie et la justice au Tchad (MJDT) rejected the offer. Deby's offer came one day after new clashes were reported between government and rebel troops in the northern region of Tibesti. Each side said the other was responsible for the attack. The MJDT, which began its rebellion in the arid, mountainous north in September 1998, last week entered into a political and military alliance with two other rebel groups, RFI reported.

MALI: New Prime Minister; French aid

Economist Mande Sidibe, a former adviser to President Alpha Omar Konare, was Tuesday appointed Mali's prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The Malian media had been calling for Keita's resignation for several months on the grounds that he had not done enough to revitalise the economy, news organisations said.

Meanwhile, the French Minister for Cooperation and Francophonie, Charles Josselin ended a four-day trip to Mali on Sunday. He and his Malian counterparts on 13 February signed three aid agreements amounting to some 36 million FF (US $5 million) in the areas of book publishing, health, and financial administration reforms, AFP reported.

BENIN: EU gives 28 billion CFA to improve roads

The European Union has given two grants worth more than 28 billion FCFA (US $41 million) for road construction and improvement in Benin, an EU official in Cotonou told IRIN on Wednesday.

BURKINA FASO: Aviation agreement signed with United States

Burkina Faso and the United States established a formal aviation relationship on 10 February by signing an Open Skies Agreement, the first between Washington and a West African nation, according to US Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. Open Skies agreements permit unrestricted air service by the airlines of each country to, from and beyond the other's territory, eliminating restrictions on how often carriers can fly, the kind of aircraft they use and the prices they can charge.

SENEGAL: Change is the buzzword in presidential campaign

Senegal's eight-man presidential race is being fought over the urgent need for change, with two opposition alliances and various individual parties seeking to sweep away the Parti Socialiste (PS) that has ruled since independence from France in 1960.

Political analysts say the need for change is the central debate in this campaign. A professor of political science and law at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Babacar Gueye, told IRIN the opposition wanted to legitimise the state, fight crime and bring more social and economic benefits to the public.

[See separate item titled 'SENEGAL: IRIN Focus on presidential campaign']

Abidjan, 18 February 2000; 17:45 GMT


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