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SIERRA LEONE: Suspected link between rape and deaths
UN officials in Sierra Leone said on Thursday that there appeared to be evidence that rape may have contributed to the deaths of several women returning from rebel-controlled areas in the east of the country, the UN spokesman for the Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, reported in New York on Thursday.
According to Eckhard, a human rights officer who had gone to the town of Kenema to assess the health and social services for rape victims reported that doctors there "strongly suspect" that injuries caused by rape and sexual abuse had contributed to the deaths of several women abductees.
Sexually transmitted conditions contracted by the women, such as HIV/AIDS, were also a factor. The doctors said that in the past week alone, some 12 women and children had died from complications arising from physical abuse, poor medical treatment and malnutrition they experienced in areas controlled by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
SIERRA LEONE: UN patrol blocked again
A UN patrol travelling from the eastern town of Kailahun to Buedu on the Liberian border was stopped by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels on Tuesday, an information officer at the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN on Friday.
The local commander told the force that prior permission from RUF leader Foday Sankoh was needed for the patrol to continue. According to UNAMSIL the patrol was scheduled to make another attempt to reach Buedu on Friday.
SIERRA LEONE: Ex-combatants to receive food aid
WFP signed an agreement with the Sierra Leonean government on Tuesday to provide food aid valued at US $2.7 million to 45,000 ex-combatants for six months, WFP Sierra Leone Representative Patrick Buckley told IRIN on Friday.
"The food is available and we are currently working out the operational details with NCDDR (National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration)," Buckley told IRIN. "Only those ex-combatants being demobilised in the centres will receive food aid," he added.
SIERRA LEONE: NGO abductees "doing fine"
Two staff members of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) who were abducted earlier this month are now "doing fine", ADRA's country director, Prince Cummings, said on Tuesday.
Aaron Kargbo and Aruna Sherrif were returning to Port Loko on a motorcycle from Freetown when they were ambushed and held overnight. UN peacekeepers found the two men, who were seriously wounded in the attack, on the following day at the side of the road. According to Aaron and Aruna, the attackers claimed they wanted food and other benefits," Cummings said.
SIERRA LEONE: Food distributed to 4,400 people
During the past week an inter-agency team provided 67 mt of food and non-food items to just over 4,400 vulnerable individuals in Masanga, some 25 km southeast of Makeni, CARE reported on Wednesday.
It is the first time in 18 months that humanitarian agencies have distributed commodities in this area as operations have been constrained by insecurity and fear of looting by rebel elements, CARE said.
Participating agencies were CARE, World Vision, WFP and ADRA, CARE reported.
SIERRA LEONE: Ex-child fighters' camp attacked
A camp some 15 km west of Freetown that houses former child soldiers was attacked with machetes and stones by some 10-15 area residents on Tuesday evening, a humanitarian source told IRIN.
The clash was triggered by a minor accident involving a camp member and a car driven by local people who blamed the former child soldier for the crash and attacked him. The camp was attacked after friends of the victim retaliated by beating two members of the local community.
Three residents of Lakka Camp were injured during the incident, UNICEF said, adding that it had not received any reports of casualties among locals. Forces from the UN Mission in Sierra Leone and ECOMOG intervened and by Wednesday, the situation was under control.
International workers and NGOs who operate in the camp have been meeting with community leaders to try to resolve the underlying tension which led to the confrontation.
SIERRA LEONE: March against recruiting child soldiers
Some 2,500 people marched in Freetown on Wednesday against the recruitment of child soldiers and for their early return to civilian life, a UNICEF source told IRIN. The march was organised by the Roman Catholic NGO, CARITAS.
SIERRA LEONE: UN official says UNAMSIL aims to deliver
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, told journalists on Tuesday that the United Nations was committed to bringing peace to Sierra Leone.
Speaking at the end of a three-day visit, Miyet said the mandate of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) gave it the means to react if there was "a negative reaction". More troops are expected soon from India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Zambia to bring UNAMSIL up to its full complement of over 11,000, he said.
SIERRA LEONE: Electoral commission
A five-member independent electoral commission mandated to ensure that all preparations are made for elections earmarked for 2001, was sworn in on Monday, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN on Tuesday.
SIERRA LEONE: Kenyan peacekeeping commander replaced
The commander of the Kenyan UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone has been recalled, a source at the public information office of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN on Tuesday.
The recall on 27 February of Colonel Francis Musumbu, who has been replaced by Colonel Ngoni, was "a routine changeover" following a visit by the Kenyan Chief of Staff to Sierra Leone, the source said.
SIERRA LEONE: Peacekeepers deployed in RUF stronghold
UN peacekeepers were deployed on 16 March to the rebel stronghold of Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone, where they found civilians in need of humanitarian supplies, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN on Monday.
The 107 military personnel and six military observers arrived on Thursday and began setting up in the town, located in the heart of territory dominated by Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
There are 2000 to 2,500 people in the town, mainly RUF members and their dependents, and the situation for civilians is "grim," UNAMSIL Chief Information Officer Philip Winslow said. Food and water are scarce, hunger is widespread and medical supplies are needed.
LIBERIA: Radio Veritas suspension lifted
Liberia's Information Ministry announced on Wednesday that the suspension of the Roman Catholic station Radio Veritas had been lifted with "immediate effect", a government official told IRIN.
The information ministry official said the issue of Star radio, which the government closed down one week ago - at the same time that it suspended Radio Veritas - would be resolved through "diplomatic channels".
Liberia's independent media protested against the closures. Two dailies were off the newsstands on Monday and private media decided to boycott government functions until Friday 24 March.
LIBERIA: Charles Taylor's challenges
After almost three years in office President Charles Taylor's international standing has improved but corruption, mismanagement and oppressive government have prevented Liberia from attracting donor funding to help it rebuild its shattered economy, Oxford Analytica said in a report dated 21 March.
NIGERIA: Police arrest pipeline fire suspects
Police in Abia State in southeastern Nigeria have arrested dozens of suspects in connection with a pipeline fire that killed at least 50 people on Wednesday, news organisations reported.
Some 45 people are accused of vandalising the pipeline which caught fire as thieves tried to siphon petrol at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines at Nnejiji and Umugbede in Isioma Ngwa local council area, 'The Guardian' reported.
NIGERIA: Confederation gains popularity in southeast
In the aftermath of the religious violence that rocked the northern city of Kaduna last month, the new buzzword in southeastern Nigeria is 'confederation', a concept that has a powerful association with the country's slide to civil war more than 30 years ago.
[See separate items titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on the call for confederation' and 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on tension in Kaduna']
NIGERIA: Poverty and conflict interlinked
In southern Nigeria, the popular perception is that the historical political dominance of the north has translated into a discriminatory allocation of resources.
But while the northern ruling class may have benefited from political power, social indicators indicate that their people have not. Figures from the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS) show that the core northern states have Nigeria's lowest literacy levels, shortest life expectancy and highest under-five mortality rates.
In the current Sharia crisis, in which some northern states have challenged the country's secular constitution by introducing the Islamic penal code, southern analysts suggest that religion is being used to obscure the failure to address poverty.
There is also a class dimension to the problem. In the north, the brunt of poverty is borne by the almajiris, young boys assigned to itinerant Islamic scholars, but who often become street children. One analyst sees them as a "standing army that can be mobilised in defence of the faith". In the religious violence in Kaduna from 21-23 February, he said there was "an element of class warfare", where the almajiri deliberately attacked symbols of wealth.
[See separate item titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on Poverty and conflict']
NIGERIA: Warring communities reach truce
Two warring communities have agreed to a truce after a peace meeting with senior government officials, AFP quoted their leaders as saying on Friday 17 March.
The leaders of the Ife and Modakeke communities were speaking after a meeting with Governor Bisi Akande of Osun State in Osogbo, the state capital, about 230 km southwest of Lagos.
At least 60 people from the two communities are believed to have died in clashes over land rights during the past two weeks.
CAMEROON: Top security officials dropped in reshuffle
Top officials responsible for security in Cameroon have been dismissed in a cabinet reshuffle announced on Saturday. A media source in Yaounde told IRIN on Monday that their dismissal has been interpreted as a response to an outcry against crime in the West African nation.
The minister of territorial administration, the secretary of state responsible for penitentiaries, the secretary of state for the national gendarmerie and the head of national security all lost their posts in the reshuffle, which affected 14 ministries and six secretary of state posts.
No reason was given for the reshuffle but, according to the media source, it came a week after the government promised to curb insecurity in the country. That promise followed attempts by bandits to rob the Dutch charge d'affaires on 8 March and, two days later, the US ambassador to Cameroon.
In recent weeks, members of the diplomatic corps, opposition parties and human rights advocates have expressed concern about the high level of crime in Cameroon.
GHANA: Military restructuring could improve disaster response
A restructuring of the Ghanaian military, announced on Monday by the office of President Jerry Rawlings, would enhance the armed forces' ability to respond to disasters, a humanitarian source told IRIN.
State-owned radio said Rawlings approved the revision of the structure of the Ghana Armed Forces to allow for increased efficiency and effectiveness. Among other changes, the army had now been organised into Northern and Southern commands.
The humanitarian source said the reorganisation would enable the military to respond faster to disasters, especially in the southern part of the country, which is prone to earthquakes.
GHANA: Producers and importers of salt to meet
Some 50 producers and importers of salt from 24 African countries meet for the first time from 3 to 5 April in Accra to find ways of iodising the mineral.
The iodisation of salt worldwide is one of the decisions adopted at the World Summit on Children in 1990 in New York. Iodine deficiency leads to goitre, mental retardation and cretinism in children and impairs the health of mothers.
GHANA: US, Ghana reach agreement on open skies
Ghana and the United States have agreed on an open skies policy that will in six years eliminate all restrictions on air travel between the two countries, the US State Department's Office of International Information Programs said, quoting the Department of Transport.
CAPE VERDE: Opposition leader to step down
Cape Verdean opposition leader Pedro Pires will give up the presidency of his Partido Africano da Independencia do Cabo Verde in an extraordinary congress set for 16-18 June, a party spokesman announced on Monday in Praia, the capital.
The Portuguese news agency, LUSA, reports that there has been speculation that the move could be a preparatory step for Pires, a leading figure in the struggle Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau waged jointly for independence from Portugal, to run for president in elections due in 2001.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Amnesty concerned over prisoners
The transfer of some 50 ethnic Bubi prisoners from the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, to an unknown destination is likely to further endanger their physical and mental well-being, Amnesty International (AI) said in a news release on Monday.
The prisoners, who were sentenced to jail by a military court in May 1998 for allegedly attacking military barracks, were transferred by boat from their prison on Bioko Island, where the capital is located, to the continental part of the country.
According to AI, many prisoners depended on relatives for food and medicine. "The transfer away from Malabo makes it much more difficult for the families to bring medicine, food and moral support to the prisoners," AI said.
"Eight prisoners have already died as a result of torture and lack of medical care. This figure could increase rapidly unless the authorities urgently attend to medical needs and provide sufficient food," the organisation added.
SENEGAL: Wade wins presidential election
Provisional results of Senegal's presidential polls confirm that opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade stormed to victory with 58.5 percent, or 968,526 of the ballots, against 41.5 percent for President Abdou Diouf, leader of the Parti socialiste.
The results, released on Wednesday and printed in the official daily newspaper, 'Le Soleil', put the voter turnout at 1.67 million, or 60.77 percent of the electorate.
SAO TOME e PRINCIPE: Public sector strike
Public sector workers went on strike this week in Sao Tome e Principe to press for an increase in the monthly minimum wage from 40,000 to 350,000 dobras. The government has been proposing a minimum wage of 120,000 dobras.[The dobra exchanges at about 7,500 to the US dollar.]
GABON: Government says it is committed to human rights
Gabon is strongly committed to human rights, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the peaceful resolution of differences, Justice Minister Pascal Desire Missongo said on Tuesday in Geneva.
Speaking at the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Gabonese minister said his country had established a human rights ministry and promoted human rights through seminars. He said an inter-ministerial commission had been set up to address unfair laws, particularly those that discriminate against women.
GUINEA-BISSAU: President fires attorney general
Guinea-Bissau President Kumba Yala has fired Attorney General Amine Saad following the state's failure to obtain a conviction in the first trial of a senior member of the deposed regime of Joao Bernardo Vieira, Lusa reported.
Saad's dismissal on 16 March came just hours after the Bissau regional court acquitted the former minister of rural development, Avito Jose da Silva, on treason and other charges. Saad has been replaced by Rui Sanha.
Some 100 Vieira supporters, mostly military commanders, are in prison awaiting trial.
SAHEL: Record cereal production expected
Record cereal harvests for 1999 have been projected for nine arid West African countries, following a joint evaluation mission by the FAO and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).
Documents published after a regional meeting held on 6-9 March evaluating food output in the Sahel puts the region's aggregate cereal production at 11.5 million mt, an increase of 8 percent over 1998. Six CILSS member countries had record harvests: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. Niger's production remained close to its previous record of 1998 whereas Chad's is expected to have dropped by 9 percent in the same period. Guinea-Bissau produced less than in 1998 due to a military revolt.
AFRICA: Libya, Chad, Niger sign security agreement
Libya, Chad and Niger on Wednesday signed an agreement on security cooperation, Libyan television reported in Tripoli. The aim is to ensure security and stability, improve development and open prospects of communications among the peoples of the region, the television station said.
Abidjan, 24 March 2000; 18:45 GMT
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