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SIERRA LEONE: UNHCR should be cautious on refugee repatriation
Refugees International (RI) recommended on Wednesday that UNHCR should "proceed slowly" in determining whether to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia, arguing that the country was not yet ready to accommodate the return of large numbers.
"With as many as 450,000 Sierra Leoneans in camps in Guinea and another 50,000 believed to be in Liberia, the potential resettlement problem is enormous," RI said.
Very few Sierra Leoneans have returned to their native country, RI said, fearing rebel attacks and continued unrest in the countryside. In addition, RI argued that the refugees have "little to go home to" as social services came to a virtual standstill during the conflict.
RI also made a number of recommendations for refugees in neighbouring countries including a call for "UNHCR to increase its protection staff in refugee camps in Guinea" and for WFP and UNHCR to monitor assistance levels in refugee camps to assure that refugees are receiving at least the minimum standard of food rations.
SIERRA LEONE: De Beers pledges to sell "rebel free" diamonds
Diamond mining conglomerate De Beers pledged on Tuesday to sell only diamonds which it can guarantee do not come from rebel areas, according to a company spokesperson.
"We closed our buying offices in Angola, DRC and Guinea in mid-October," Tracey Peterson, De Beers senior communications officer told IRIN. "We want to ensure that we are not buying diamonds on the open market in Africa," she said.
Peterson added that the objective of the pledge was to support international efforts to bring peace to African countries in conflict and to ensure that the legitimate diamond industry was not undermined by the small minority of diamonds used by rebel movements to fund their activities.
Sierra Leonean Minister of Mineral Resources Mohamed Deen has welcomed the De Beers pledge but urged the company to extend the ban to include all illegally mined or smuggled gemstones.
"The Sierra Leone government is also concerned about the smuggling during peace time of diamonds which do not go through legal government channels," Reuters quoted Deen as saying.
Meanwhile, RUF leader Foday Sankoh said that the moratorium he imposed on diamond mining in January had failed. "The government failed to provide me with the structure of my commission to carry out my work," Sankoh told reporters in Freetown on Wednesday.
Under the terms of the Lome peace agreement Sankoh was made chairman of the government commission responsible for the management of natural resources with the protocol rank of vice-president.
SIERRA LEONE: Peace momentum must be kept up
A tentative peace is taking root in Sierra Leone, wrote World Bank Vice-President for UN and External Affairs Mats Karlsson, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Frederick Barton, and UNDP Associate Administrator Zephirin Diabré in the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday.
Most former fighters in the civil war have agreed to abide by the Lome agreement, which few at the time believed would hold, the article said, and more than 16,000 soldiers from both sides have laid down their weapons. The internally displaced are returning home as perpetrators and victims of the war begin to embrace the peace process, the article added.
But more needs to be done to build on progress made, according to Karlsson, Barton and Diabre, as up to US $30 million will be needed just in the year 2000 to keep the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme on track.
"Keeping the peace will send the message to Sierra Leoneans and to post-conflict societies elsewhere that livelihoods can resume with the determination of people themselves and the political and economic support of the world at large," the three authors concluded.
SIERRA LEONE: Human rights seminar begins in The Gambia
An eight-day seminar to restore respect for human rights in Sierra Leone started in Gambia on Wednesday, according to Interights, a human rights organisation.
Organised by Alliances for Africa, Interights and the Institute for Human Rights and Development, the training session aims to enable Sierra Leonean civil society to use the African Charter on Human and People's Rights to seek redress for human rights violations perpetrated during the recent conflict.
NIGERIA: President speaks to the nation
President Olusegun Obasanjo addressed the nation late Wednesday and called for reconciliation following recent sectarian violence in Nigeria that has left hundreds dead.
"We must rid ourselves of the mentality of murderousness that stems from fear and suspicion of the other person. We must rediscover the value of dialogue," he said. Addressing investors in the Nigerian economy, he described the clashes between Muslims and Christians as "a hiccup" which would be put behind them and allow Nigeria to "move full steam ahead".
The violence in the northern city of Kaduna began on 21 February following a march organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to protest the proposed introduction of Islamic law in the state of Kaduna. The clashes, which resulted in over 400 deaths, created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust between people who had formerly been neighbours and some, mainly southerners packed their belongings and left the city.
"Many people, mainly women and children, are travelling to safe places to monitor the situation," Fabian Okoye, the director of research and publications of Human Rights Monitor in Kaduna, told IRIN on Thursday. He added that although there had been no clashes since Friday and the heavy army presence had been drastically reduced, people were still apprehensive. "Some markets have reopened but in the main business district, no serious work is going on, people report in the morning and leave at lunchtime," Okoye said. A 06:00 pm to 07:00 am (17:00-06:00 GMT) curfew is still in place.
Over 400 people are also believed to have died in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the southeastern city of Aba on Monday, according to Reuters. The victims in Aba appear to be northern Hausas, who are almost all Muslim, killed by mainly Christian Igbos from the southeast in reprisal for the deaths of scores of Igbos in the northern city of Kaduna last week, news organisations reported. Meanwhile reprisal violence spread to Uyo in the southeastern state of Akwa Ibom on Tuesday where youths torched properties believed to belong to Muslims, 'The Guardian' reported.
Obasanjo, responding to criticisms that he had not sent troops in immediately to Kaduna, said that the normal procedure is to wait for the governor to indicate that the police force is unable to contain the disturbances. "Once that request came from the deputy governor, I immediately ordered the troops should move in to support the police and took necessary measures to put an end to the killings and destruction in that city and its environments," he said.
According to Okoye, a lot of people welcomed the president's speech, but others said it should have come earlier.
COTE D'IVOIRE: UNHCR repatriates nearly 11,000 Liberians since August 99
UNHCR has repatriated nearly 11,000 Liberian refugees from Cote d'Ivoire since last August, according to a statement from UNHCR in Abidjan. Just under 5,000 Liberian refugees returned in December, UNHCR said.
During the first two months of the new millenium just over 2,000 refugees were "assisted to repatriate with transport plus returnee package", UNHCR said.
The repatriation of Liberian refugees from Cote d'Ivoire was not affected by the violence that erupted in Liberia's northern Lofa County last August, UNHCR said.
UNHCR cites the government of Cote d'Ivoire as saying that there about 140,000 refugees in the country as of 31 December 1999. Most of them are Liberian, UNHCR said.
SAHEL: Food security improves
Unusually heavy rains across the Sahel in 1999 has increased food security for farmers, with many recording good to excellent harvests in most areas despite the damage caused by the rains, the US Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) says in its bulletin for 29 February.
FEWS describes food security in Mali as excellent after two consecutive bumper harvests. Cereal and other food products are available in markets and prices have remained lower than average.
Estimated rice production is up for the fourth consecutive year to just over 800,000 mt.
"Most of the growth occurred in the modern rice production sector," FEWS says.
Rice output in this sector, which throughout the 1990s rose from 60-70 percent, has been possible because of market liberalisation, improvements in irrigation and infrastructure, the devaluation of the franc CFA and better use of fertiliser and water resources as well as improved planting methods.
Livestock productivity has remained high because dry season pastures and watering points are well watered.
Harvest of recessional sorghum, know here as berbéré, is expected to be excellent and is in progress. FEWS says because of a below-average main season, the 1999/2000 cereal production will only reach average levels for the Sahelian zone. However, FEWS adds, parts of the this zone - such as western Kanem, Lac and northern Batha - are experiencing localised production shortfalls.
Other off-season crops such as beets and tomatoes are good and are being harvested. Wheat crop conditions are good near Doum-Doum.
Cereals, vegetables, meat, dairy products and fish are readily available at affordable prices in urban and rural markets, FEWS says, adding that prices of the main cereal staple in each region fell at most markets through December and were well below the 1995-98 average at all reporting markets covered by the Market Information System (SIM).
Agricultural officers in the border areas with Mali report that traders are importing Malian millet because of the lower prices in that country. The high water table and high river and dam levels has spurred market gardening and fishing.
Off-season rice prospects in the provinces of Ganzourgou and Boulgou are excellent this year, FEWS says. Water and fodder are readily available for livestock.
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Abidjan, 2 March, 16:30 GMT
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