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IRIN Update 611 of events in West Africa

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News and Press Release
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U N I T E D N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: UN Secretary-General says violations continue

Human rights abuses and other violations are continuing in Sierra Leone despite progress in implementing a peace agreement the government and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels signed in July in Lome, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.

Annan noted in a report that progress had been made in the implementation of the Lome Agreement but that serious human rights abuses, ceasefire violations, extensive troop and weapons movement and the targeting of humanitarian personnel gave cause for "very serious concern".

"The continued violence against the people of Sierra Leone and international personnel is unacceptable and perpetrators should expect to be held accountable for their actions," Annan added in his first report to the Security Council on the new UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Arbitrary clearance procedures and threats are also obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance and this should stop, he added.

International rights organisations recently reported that human rights abuses against civilians have been escalating over the last three months, particularly in the Northern Province.

The UN report also noted the need to strengthen and speed up the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants as fewer than 10 percent of the estimated 45,000 fighters have registered in weapon-collection camps.

SIERRA LEONE: First Indian troops arrive

The UN peacekeeping force commander, Major General Vijay Jetley of India, arrived in Sierra Leone on Tuesday followed by the first batch of some 141 Indian soldiers, a UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) official in Freetown told IRIN on Wednesday.

"The role we are here to play is to add a peaceful atmosphere for the (disarmament) programme," Reuters quoted Jetley as telling reporters shortly after his arrival.

The Indian troops are at Lungi International Airport while the remainder of the batallion is due to arrive around the end of this week or possibly next week, the UNAMSIL official said.

In addition to the Indian soldiers, the new 6,000-strong UNAMSIL force will be made up of troops from Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, some of whom are already in the country as part of the Economic Community of West Africa States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and also Kenya. An advance party of some 130 Kenyans arrived last week. The arrival of the remainder of the contingent has been delayed by logistical problems but they are expected this week, the source said.

The duties of the UNAMSIL force and some 223 UN military observers from 30 countries who are already on the ground will include helping the government implement a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration plan, monitor adherence to the ceasefire and assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

SIERRA LEONE: UN Force commander visits ECOMOG

Just two hours after his arrival in Sierra Leone, the new UN force commander, Major General Vijay Jetley, visited the ECOMOG headquarters in Freetown where he was briefed on the activities of ECOMOG and UNAMSIL in the disarmament exercise, an ECOMOG news release said on Tuesday.

ECOMOG's deputy force commander, Brigadier General Humphrey Agbevey, assured Jetley of ECOMOG's cooperation towards fulfilling UNAMSIL's mandate in Sierra Leone.

In response, Jetley commended the force for its work so far and said that his command required ECOMOG's cooperation, even in the amalgamation of certain aspects of the two forces, to ensure a smooth take-off of UNAMSIL forces in Sierra Leone, the news release said.

Jetley was accompanied on the visit by UNAMSIL's chief military observer, Brigadier General Subashi Joshi.

SIERRA LEONE: USAID helps to rebuild Freetown

Two US Congressmen visited a housing reconstruction project in an eastern suburb of Freetown on Monday during a two-day tour of the capital, according to a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) news release.

The rebuilding of Cabala Town, which was heavily looted and burned by rebels during the rebel invasion in January, is largely funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by CRS/Caritas in Freetown. The project began in March and by the end of October, 563 of the 948 houses destroyed had been completely rebuilt and over 10,500 displaced people were able to return home while efforts to rebuild the remaining houses are underway, CRS said.

During the invasion, some 77 percent of the houses were razed and about 32,000 residents were forced to leave and settle in camps for displaced people in other parts of the city. The chiefs of Cabala Town told the US congressmen that without this aid, their neighbourhood would be a ghost town today, the news release said.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Soldiers protest against delay in salaries

Members of Guinea-Bissau's armed forces staged a protest on Wednesday morning against a delay in the payment of salaries which had been promised to them by Tuesday, humanitarian sources told IRIN.

The soldiers blocked roads, paralysing transport in the capital, and told people to return home, according to a humanitarian source who said that as far as he knew the protest was peaceful. By mid-afternoon, the road blocks had been removed and the protest had ended.

The source told IRIN that representatives of the protesters said on national radio that the protest was not directed against the population but was being held solely to demand overdue salaries.

GUINEA-BISSAU: National human rights week

Government officials, members of the judiciary, members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), diplomats and representatives of UN agencies on Monday attended the launch of National Human Rights Week in Bissau.

At the launching ceremony, the representative of the UN Secretary-General, Samuel Nana-Sinkam, commended Guinea-Bissau's government and Military Junta for respecting the people's fundamental right to elect their representatives at legislative and presidential elections held on 28 November, a humanitarian source told IRIN.

Nana-Sinkam said the electoral process gave an indication of the will of Guinea-Bissau's people and leaders to push forward the reconciliation process in the West African nation, where an 11-month army mutiny ended on 6-7 May with the overthrow of then president Joao Bernardo Vieira.

A number of Vieira loyalists have been in detention since his overthrow and Nana-Sinkam called for the liberation of some of the detainees and the speedy trial of others.

The source said Interim Prime Minister Francisco Fadul strongly criticised the country's Attorney-General at the launching ceremony, saying that it was known that some prisoners were being mistreated and accusing him of deliberately delaying the legal process.

The National Human Rights Week activities include a five-minute message - broadcast on radio and television - by each UN agency present in the country on an aspect of human rights related to their work and a march by some 500 students to the main stadium in the capital where five of their number each read out an article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Representatives of the government, Military Junta, civil society and the international community are scheduled to participate in a ceremony marking the closure of the week on 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

GAMBIA: MDFC consultative meeting due end

Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) separatists agreed on Wednesday at the end of a two-day consultative meeting in Banjul, The Gambia, to hold peace talks with the Senegalese government on 26 December, news sources told IRIN.

"On this historic date, the MFDC will propose to the government of Senegal (that it) express its determination to reach lasting peace and the cessation of the war in Casamance," Reuters reported citing a statement by the MFDC.

The movement designated its 20-member National Bureau to begin the talks with the government on ending the war in Senegal's Casamance area. The 26 December meeting is to be held in Banjul.

A radical member of the movement, one-time deputy secretary-general Nkrumah Sane was not present at the talks. Neither was the leader of the MFDC's military wing, Salif Sadio. However, in a handwritten message to the conference, Sadio said he would support any decision taken by the politicians.

The MFDC, made up mostly of the Jola ethnic group that occupies southern Senegal, has been fighting a secessionist war against the government in Dakar for 17 years, complaining that the area has been neglected.

Factions of the MDFC, divided between the north, south, the internal and external wings, met in The Gambia in June and July to prepare a united front for talks with the Senegalese government. MFDC Secretary-General Abbe Augustin Diamacoune Senghor and Senegalese President Abdou Diouf agreed in January that the conflict should be ended through talks.

The Gambia set up a fund some three weeks ago to support a peace initiative it has been carrying out in the subregion, the most successful element of which was its mediation in Guinea-Bissau.

Taiwan has been the first to contribute to the fund with US $30,000, an official of The Gambian Department of State for Foreign Affairs told IRIN. The official said Britain, the EU and US had made contributions and that the UN would eventually be approached.

AFRICA: Varied views of media's role

Opinions among the 60 participants at a UNDP-sponsored conference in Bamako, Mali on Africa's image in the media were varied, according to a UNDP source who attended the conference.

"Some felt that Africa was not portrayed objectively in the media," Obi Emekekwue, a UNDP information officer, told IRIN. "Others felt that the media does accurately portray what it sees."

The conference was held from 29 November to 3 December and was attended by leading editors, writers and media personalities from more than 20 countries, according to a UNDP news release. Participating West African countries were Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

During the conference Djibril Diallo, Director of UNDP's Division of Public Affairs, briefed journalists on the NETAID website ( www.netaid.org) launched on 8 September by UNDP in partnership with a private firm, Cisco Systems.

The website provides information on organisations and their projects against social and economic deprivation. It has attracted more than 40 million hits and the participation of 2,100 leading anti-poverty NGOs, according to UNDP.

The Netaid Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up to manage funds raised by Netaid for poverty eradication, has initial grants totalling US $1 million, Diallo told conference participants.

"Some felt that the internet was an elitist medium and that more should be done to give ordinary people access," Emekekwue told IRIN. "This could be done by setting up more internet community centres or cybercafes," he added.

WESTERN SAHARA: Referendum unlikely before 2002

A referendum to decide Western Sahara's future, originally set for 1992, now seems unlikely before 2002, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.

In a written report to the Security Council, he said that although he expected the voter identification process to be completed by the end of December, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) might be faced with a lengthy process if it were to consider the tens of thousands of appeals against exclusion from the electoral rolls.

"Under the circumstances, the prospect of holding the referendum within a reasonable period of time, instead of becoming closer, has become even more distant," Annan said.

The referendum, which will give the people of the territory a choice between independence and integration with Morocco, had been delayed several times because of differences between the Moroccan Government and the Algeria-based, pro-independence Polarisio Front, particularly on the issue of voter eligibility.

In his report Annan recommended that the Security Council extend MINURSO's mandate, which expires on 14 December, to 29 February 2000.

This would allow time for completing the identification of eligible voters, issuing a second provisional voters' list and initiating appeals from people excluded from the voters' list, he said.

Annan also said he had instructed his Special Representative, William Eagleton, to continue his consultations with both sides to reconcile their "widely divergent" views on the appeals process, the repatriation of refugees and other crucial issues.

Abidjan, 8 December 1999; 19:03 GMT

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2119

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