IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup 103 covering the period 15 - 21 Dec 2001

Report
from IRIN
Published on 21 Dec 2001
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SIERRA LEONE: International eyes focus on crucial 2002 elections

International bodies this week acknowledged the importance of ensuring the success of presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in May in Sierra Leone.

The elections will provide a chance to consolidate Sierra Leone's peace process, which "has reached an important juncture", UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report to the UN Security Council. He said the overall situation was stable but tensions could resurface in the run-up to the polls if the electoral process were not seen as transparent and credible. The "situation calls for continued vigilance to ensure the elections are a success," he said.

Annan said the UN and other international partners would help the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to enhance its capacity to organise and conduct the elections. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) will also play a role in this regard, he said, now that it has completed the implementation of its military concept of operations, which covers issues such as the deployment of police in newly accessible areas and disarmament.

The disarmament of former fighters is expected to be completed by the end of December. Annan's report, dated 13 September, said 36,000 ex-combatants had turned in weapons and the final number was now expected to be about 40,000.

However, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the international community urgently needs to play an even more "hands-on" role if next year's elections are to bring peace and reconstruction.

In a briefing paper released on Wednesday, titled: "Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?", ICG Project Director Comfort Ero said donor countries see the elections as a major part of their exit strategy. Ero expressed doubts about the capacity, transparency and impartiality of the NEC and its proposed voting system.

Even though the former rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) is significantly weakened, security is a major concern so an already overstretched police "may not be able to challenge organised intimidation and fraud", ICG said. The UN Secretary-General acknowledges that some important steps towards sustainable peace and development are lagging behind," it said.

According to the ICG, the international community is reluctant to have the United Nations take over the election apparently because it wants to "minimise the risk of too close an association with a process that many officials privately acknowledge will be far from perfect."

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council agreed to extend for 11 months a ban on rough diamond imports from Sierra Leone, a Council statement said. Wednesday's decision takes effect from 5 January 2002 and exempts imports controlled by the government under its Certificate of Origin regime, the statement said.

Local authorities in parts of the country have been contributing to the overall effort to control diamond mining. According to UNHCR, UNAMSIL peacekeepers in Koidu had to separate members of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia and the RUF who fought this week over the official date established by local paramount chiefs for a ban on illegal diamond mining in the eastern town.

The fighting was finally quelled on Thursday, according to UNHCR, which reported that although neither group was armed, a heavy exchange of rock throwing led to the death of five civilians while 38 were seriously wounded.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Unstable situation worries UNSG

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to political forces in Guinea-Bissau "to continue to resolve their differences through dialogue and within the framework of the constitution". In his latest report to the UN Security Council, he urged the international community to "remain engaged with and supportive of Guinea-Bissau" and to contribute generously to a roundtable conference to be held in early 2002 to help raise resources for the country.

Annan said the political situation remained "difficult and volatile" in Guinea-Bissau, whose government said it foiled a coup on 3 December. The political process continues to be marked by multiple crises among various institutions: the opposition has been calling for President Kumba Yala's resignation; Yala dismissed the foreign minister and prime minister within two weeks; and the opposition has called for the rescinding of the arrest and detention of the former president of the Supreme Court on corruption allegations which it describes as politically motivated.

Yala came to power in early 2000 after winning elections that ended a brief period of military-civilian rule following the ouster in mid-1999 of then President Nino Vieira by a section of the military. His party is in the minority in parliament. [The full report can be viewed at http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2001/1211e.pdf ]

LIBERIA: NGOs want refugees relocated

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Liberia called on the government to relocate internally displaced persons (IDPs) from areas close to trouble spots and to improve their protection.

Action Contre la Faim (ACF) and Concerned Christian Community (CCC), called for the relocation of some 10,000 IDPs now living in Sawmill, Bomi County, after fleeing renewed fighting farther north between dissidents and government forces. ACF said on 14 December that the IDPs should be relocated immediately since their safety was not guaranteed in Sawmill, a transit town for soldiers heading for the battlefront.

Amnesty International also urged the government to provide better protection for the IDPs.

The fresh wave of displacements followed renewed fighting since November between government troops and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), an armed group which has been fighting in the northwestern county of Lofa since 1998 and has spread its operations to Gbarpolu County, south of Lofa. Gbarpolu is just north of Bomi.

The dissidents were reported this week to have captured the town of Zorzor, in Lofa.

NIGERIA: Communal killings could have been avoided, HRW says

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week that the deaths of hundreds of people in September in religious violence in central Nigeria's Plateau State could have been avoided if the authorities had heeded warnings from NGOs.

"Several non-governmental organisations directly approached state government, police and military authorities to warn them of the impending dangers. Explicit threats by both Muslim and Christian groups were not taken seriously by the government. The warnings were effectively ignored", HRW said in a report titled 'Jos: City Torn Apart'.

The report called on Nigeria's government to guarantee an impartial, thorough investigation into the deaths of "as many as 1,000 people" who are believed to have been killed in just six days from 7 and 13 September, as the Plateau State capital, Jos, was rocked by unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims. [The full report can be accessed at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/nigeria/]

Over the past two years, Nigeria has been wracked by similar clashes, most of them related to the imposition of the Sharia in the north of the country. On 14 December, Gombe became the last state in the north to adopt the Islamic legal system. Gombe Governor Abubakar Habu Hashidu said the sharia would co-exist with customary courts for followers of traditional African religions and common law for Christians.

COTE D'IVOIRE: National reconciliation forum ends

Cote d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo officially closed on Tuesday a three-month national reconciliation forum which the state organised to find solutions to the country's socio-political problems. In doing so, he approved 14 recommendations submitted to him by the forum's steering committee, on issues including education reform, immigration, land reform, the justice system and security, governance.

One of the most important recommendations concerned the nationality of former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. The committee recommended, in its 13 December report, that the authorities deliver Ouattara a certificate of nationality. "I have nothing to add", Gbagbo commented in his speech. However the question of Ouattara's eligibility for political office, an issue that has divided Cote d'Ivoire's political class for years, is yet to be resolved.

Another key resolution relates to the case of the 57 bodies discovered in late October 2000 in an Abidjan suburb. A military tribunal acquitted eight gendarmes of the killings, but Gbagbo said on Tuesday he would set up a body to ensure that "the entire inquiry is begun from scratch" because the circumstances surrounding the men's deaths were still unclear.

The Organisation of African Unity and the government of France this week made donations to the committee to cover some of the expenses incurred during the three-month national dialogue, which involved members of political parties, civil society and interest groups.

BURKINA FASO: Harnessing water to fight grain deficits

Burkina Faso hopes to produce up to 40,000 mt of surplus food a year through a project aimed at helping communities to tap and conserve ground water. The 'Projet petite irrigation villageoise', begun in November, focuses on promoting small-scale irrigation in villages, enabling farmers to grow food all year round rather than simply in the three-to-four month rainy season. Under the project, farmers will receive loans to buy water pumps and seeds, and make compost heaps.

WESTERN SAHARA: Former Nobel laureates appeal to Annan

Six former Nobel Peace Prize winners on Tuesday appealed to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to make sure a planned referendum in Western Sahara takes place, a news release from the Oslo-based Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara said. "The credibility of the United Nations is at stake in Western Sahara," they said, arguing that abandoning the referendum plan would be a betrayal of the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination. The six are Jose Ramos-Horta (East Timor), Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala), Oscar Arias Sanchez (Costa Rica), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina), Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland) and Cora Weiss for the International Peace Bureau.

The laureates said Western Sahara, a Spanish colony until 1975, had been under occupation for 26 years by Morocco, which annexed the territory after Spain pulled out, causing enormous suffering for both Sahrawis and Moroccans.

Since 1991, the UN has tried to resolve the conflict. Its latest settlement proposal, dating back to June, offers Sahara limited autonomy within Morocco for five years after which a referendum would be held to determine its future. Morocco and the Polisario Front, which is fighting for independence for Sahara, have disagreed on various aspects of such a referendum. In 1991 the United Nations set up a Mission to prepare for the referendum, but the positions of the two sides remain far apart.

WEST AFRICA: Some progress, but region remains volatile, UN says

Despite some improvements, the overall political situation in West Africa remains volatile, requiring an integrated international response, Ibrahima Fall, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday. He said the peace process in Sierra Leone had continued to progress, Cote d'Ivoire's government had organised a national reconciliation dialogue, Guinea's had decided not to force through legislative polls that might have led to an internal crisis, and peaceful democratic transitions had occurred in Ghana and Gambia.

Fall warned, however, that insecurity and instability could spread, particularly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The plight of refugees and internally displaced persons was also a cause of great concern. He said fighting in northern Liberia could have dangerous spill-over effects in Sierra Leone. Other challenges facing the region include reintegrating demobilised soldiers, stopping illegal arms trafficking, protecting children in armed conflicts, and promoting peace, justice and national reconciliation in several countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Fall and other UN officials have consistently advocated an integrated approach to West Africa's problems and this is part of the mandate of a UN West Africa office to be set up in Dakar. The role of the office would also include collaborating with regional and subregional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The UN Security Council this week expressed support for the establishment of the office, which would also work with the Mano River Union to bring peace and stability to its three members - Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone. The office is slated to open on 1 January.

WEST AFRICA: Peace, stability, integration dominate summit

Decisions aimed at enhancing peace, stability and regional integration were among the results of the 25th ordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which ended on Friday in Dakar, Senegal, an ECOWAS source told IRIN.

The West African leaders condemned the activities of illegal armed groups, particularly those operating within the Mano River Union (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone). They expressed support for the work of UN humanitarian agencies in the region, but called on the entire international community to contribute to peace to West Africa, especially conflict countries, the source added.

They also approved the formation of a second West African Monetary zone that will include Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. Its currency will be issued and regulated by a new institution, the West African Central Bank, whose capitalisation has set been at US $100 million. The five-country zone, which could later include Liberia and Cape Verde, will take effect in 2003. In 2004, ECOWAS plans to merge this new monetary area with the existing CFA zone and create a single currency. [The CFA (Communaute francoafricaine) zone comprises the region's former French colonies except Guinea.]

AFRICA: Health news - ebola, immunisation, river blindness, worms

Ebola spreads from Gabon to Congo

Ebola haemorrhagic fever spread this week from Gabon to neighbouring Republic of Congo. The World Health Organization said on Thursday that out of 27 suspected cases reported, 11 were in the Republic of Congo, while 16 were in Gabon, where suspected cases of the virus were detected some days ago in the province of Ogooue-Ivindo, which borders on Congo. WHO said 25 cases were confirmed, while some 227 people were being monitored for possible infection - 133 in Gabon, and 94 in Congo.

Sport and immunisation festival in Ghana

While health authorities battled Ebola in Gabon and Congo, Ghana celebrated its first ever combined sport and immunisation festival. It included the launch of a campaign to immunise children against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB), as well as the launch of the country's sports foundation. The campaign is a joint project with Olympic Aid and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Money for river blindness

On Monday, the World Bank announced pledges totalling US $39 million made jointly by the Bank, USAID and African governments for a project to wipe out river blindness by 2010. The pledges were made at a 10-14 December meeting in Washington, which also decided to set up a network to monitor and fight communicable diseases in Africa.

The new initiative will cover Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda.

River blindness is transmitted by the black fly, which breeds in rivers. About 10-30 percent of victims become blind. Nearly 100 million people are at risk in the 19 countries, including 22 million who are already infected, the World Bank said. De-worming workshops

And two workshops on a the Partners for Parasite Control (PPC) project were held on 13-15 December and 17-19 December in Abidjan, with participants from 13 countries, WFP, WHO, the World Bank and other partners. Delegates received information on the purpose and benefits of the project and help in designing disinfection projects for their respective countries.

Under the project, children who attend schools where WFP has set up canteens would receive deworming tablets. Up to US $50,000 is available for each implementing country. Participants came from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal.

[ENDS]

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