Burkina Faso + 5 more

IRIN Update 635 of events in West Africa

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
Tel: +225 20 21 73 54
Fax: +225 20 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

NIGERIA: Ijaw youths pledge to end violence

Ijaw activists from over 12 groups promised on Monday at a meeting convened by the Ijaw National Congress (INC) to stop all forms of criminal behaviour in the Niger Delta area, 'The Guardian' daily reported.

The decision would not only affect the big oil companies targeted by militants youths, the director of the IJAW Council for Human Rights in the Niger Delta, Patterson Ogon, told IRIN on Tuesday. It will also make a big difference to residents whose lives have been affected by inter-community conflicts, he said.

Over recent months, acts such as hostage taking, kidnappings and piracy, committed by militant youths demanding a share in the region's oil wealth, have become a regular occurrence in the Niger Delta.

To ensure peace in the region, vigilante groups have been formed to patrol waterways in search of pirates and others who vandalise oil installations and a peace rally is planned next week at Burutu in Delta State, the daily reported the youths as saying.

INC leader Alaowei Bozimo said the youths had decided to stop criminal activity because the federal government had promised to develop the Niger Delta. However, he said his organisation had never espoused crime.

"I wish to state that the criminal activities of hostage taking, hijacking, abduction and piracy were never part of the struggle for justice, equity and fair play by the INC," Bozimo said.

He added: "These criminal acts cannot by any stretch of the imagination be ascribed to any one tribe alone."

NIGERIA: Militant group causes much concern

In the past fortnight, the Oodua Peoples' Congress (OPC) has been linked to episodes of violence which appear to illustrate its reputation as both a self-appointed scourge to crime and a threat to civil order in south-western Nigeria.

On 5 January, armed militants said to belong to the OPC invaded the Lagos slum of Mushin to flush out criminals and by 7 January at least 20 people had died and over 40 houses had been burnt down, according to newspaper reports. A week later, OPC militants in the Bariga suburb of Lagos invaded a police station to free one of their comrades held for alleged robbery, killed the station's commander and drenched two other policemen with acid.

Founded in 1994 by medical doctor and politician Frederick Fasehun "to protect the interests" of the some 20 million Yorubas in Nigeria, the OPC later splintered into factions, one of which has been blamed for the recent acts of violence.

[See item titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on militant south-western group']

NIGERIA: AD governors stand by Tinubu

Governors from the opposition Alliance for Democracy (AD) met in Lagos on Monday and vowed to back their Lagos State counterpart, Bola Tinubu, over the threat by the federal government to declare a state of emergency in his state, 'The Guardian' reported on Tuesday.

"We believe he is doing his best to contain the situation in Lagos within the limits of the constitution and so we stand by him," Ogun State governor Segun Osoba told journalists after the meeting, describing the recent threat by the federal government as slightly "alarmist".

The governors told the federal government to find out who was supporting the recent surge of violence in Lagos State and not to blame everything on the Oodua People's Congress (OPC). Osoba said the recent crisis and violent clashes in Lagos State were attempts to destabilise the southwest and the entire country. He described the crisis as a "deep security problem" which should be treated as such and said the federal government must look beyond the OPC to unmask "fifth columnists" attempting to create instability in the country.

NIGERIA: Government takes over Abacha Foundation

The federal government formally took over the Sani Abacha Foundation for Peace and Unity (SAFPU) in Abuja on Monday and renamed it the Institute for Conflict Resolution, "The Guardian" reported.

The Minister for Integration and Cooperation in Africa, Jerry Gana, said the 500-million-naira (US $5-million) complex would become a "centre of excellence in peace studies and promotion and well-rounded research in conflict resolution".

The foundation's director of programmes, Idi Faruk, told reporters after a meeting with the minister that dwindling funds for the maintenance of the foundation had led to the handover to the government. He maintained that the complex was never owned by the former military ruler, Abacha, and that "from day one it was a public trust".

BURKINA FASO: ECHO aid for returnees from Cote d'Ivoire

The European Commission has approved US $205,000 in emergency humanitarian aid for the distribution of some 350 mt of food to Burkinabe migrants forced to leave Cote d'Ivoire in November-December 1999, the EC Humanitarian Office (ECHO) reported.

The decision was taken on 14 January, ECHO said in a news communique. "The emergency assistance granted by the European Commission via ECHO corresponds to the food needs of the expelled populations during the first two months of their return," the news communique stated.

The relief operation in favour of the Burkinabes, implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP), began on 11 December.

The Burkinabe who, ECHO said, number about 20,000, had been farming - mainly cocoa - in southwest Cote d'Ivoire for years. Following a land dispute, locals chased them out of the area, destroying houses and other property, ECHO stated. Officially there was one death in each community.

The expelled migrants are mostly from Poni province in southwest Burkina Faso, and more than 60 percent are women and children, ECHO said.

WESTERN SAHARA: More people eligible to vote in referendum

Another 2,130 people were cleared on Monday to vote in the proposed referendum on independence for Western Sahara or its incorporation into Morocco, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which reviewed at least 50,000 applicants for eligibility, said the new names would be added to an existing list of 84,251 qualified voters. The Mission's mandate ends on 29 February.

The Identification Commission has been hearing appeals from disqualified voters at centres in Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and refugees camps in Tindouf, Algeria.

The UN had said that the appeals along with the opposing positions taken by Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) would likely delay the referendum beyond 2002.

The referendum, first scheduled in 1992, has been postponed on a number of occasions.

AFRICA: Summit on poverty reduction

At least 20 African leaders, finance ministers and central bank officials began a two-day meeting in Gabon on Monday on ways to spur further economic growth and reduce poverty, news reports said.

They were joined at the meeting by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, who told them to move fast in strengthening their economies.

"We must act now," Reuters quoted him as saying.

He promised that the IMF would begin to assess ways of reducing poverty but told the heads of state they must improve their systems of government, tackle corruption and curb arms spending.

The conference follows the annual IMF/World Bank meeting with member countries in September 1999 on a new approach to tackle poverty and reduce debt.

For over a decade, the IMF adopted the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAP) as a blueprint for achieving macro-economic stability in needy countries. This focused, among other things, on reducing budget deficits and the privatisation of state assets as a condition for financial assistance. Critics say the reduced social spending ESAPs entailed worsened poverty.

Considered too harsh for most countries to apply, ESAP was replaced in November 1999 with the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, under which structural adjustment programmes also take the views of development bodies and civil society into consideration.

Abidjan, 18 January 2000; 19:35 GMT


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