The United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA) has undertaken a mission to Guinea Bissau from the 14 to 16 February 2005. The mission, led by the Under Secretary-general for Political Affairs, Jack Chistofikdes, also composed of members from the Department Social and Economic Affairs, humanitarian actors as well as other UN staff members. The objective of the mission was to review the mandate of UNOGBIS and to strengthen its peace keeping mandate as well as review how to reform the security sector in the country. The mission, who also evaluated the possibilities of a humanitarian crisis, has subsequently shared its recommendations with the UN Secretary General.
The UN secretary General has presented a progress report S/2005/86. The report was published on 11 February 2005. on ways to combat sub-regional and cross border problems in West Africa, stressing the need to develop an integrated response towards the prevention of conflicts in West Africa. The report highlighted the efforts made by UNOWA and the international community in addressing the cross border issues towards peace and security; proliferation of small arms and light weapons; harmonise DDR programmes, focussing especially on women and children; advance durable solutions to the refugee problem within the region and promote the reform of the security sectors.
The Commanders of the UN Peace Keeping Operations in West Africa: UNAMSIL (Sierra Leone); UNMIL (Liberia); UNOCI (Cote d'Ivoire) and the Military Advisors of UNOWA met in Dakar at their bimonthly meeting to review the political and military scenario and risks in the sub region as well as discussing the problems faced in implementing their various mandates.
II. POLITICAL AND SECURITY SITUATION
A meeting took place on 24 February in Ouagadougou by the UN system and humanitarian partners to discuss the political crisis in the neighbouring Togo and revise the contingency plan for the Burkina Faso to anticipate possible influx of refugees should the situation in Togo deteriorate further.
The current constitution in Nigeria adopted in 1999 under a military regime has been criticised by the opposition and some political observers who believe that too much power is bestowed to the President and that the different ethnic groups are not adequately represented in the Parliament. To address this issue President Obasanjo have taken the initiative to organize a conference, which opened on 21 February to strengthen the unity of the country. The conference, scheduled to continue for the next three months, is envisaged to develop recommendations that could reform the constitution and reduce inter-ethnic violence in the country.
Several inter-religious clashes have been reported during February. In Sokoto in the north of the country Muslim violence between rivalling communities resulted in 3 casualties and several others wounded. 12 persons were likewise killed in the south of the country in the oil rich state of Bayelsa and 13 Nigerian farmers were killed by nomads in the border region towards Niger.
In the last Presidential consultation held on the 25 February with the Military Committee, (the consultative and advisory body to the President), the military stressed the need to have Presidential elections by 7 of May 2005. The Government, in dialogue with the opposition, has decided to undertake a completely new electoral census instead of updating the existing one. The technical process for a new electoral census will take at least two months, increasing thus the possibilities of a delay in respect to the election date envisaged by 7 May. A decision on the dates for the electoral consultation should be made public by the Transitional President during the first week of March. Currently, of the more than thirty preliminary candidates for the presidency, only two have officially deposed their candidacy at the Supreme Court.
The "Reconciliation Commission in the Army" was officially opened on 25 February. The Commission, led by General Buota Na Bacha, has one month to reconciliate the three factions within the Army. At the opening ceremony, the Army Chief of Staff declared that he was aware that troublemakers in the barracks are mobilizing soldiers to retake the arms but that an uprising will not be tolerated.
Violence among different Muslims groups on the 16 February in the Eastern city of Gabu (200 km from Bissau) caused four injured among the Ahmadiyya Muslim group, a group that was banned in August 2001 by the previous government. Few weeks ago, the Attorney General declared the ban unconstitutional taking into consideration that Guinea Bissau is a multi religious state. The Attorney General decision allowed thus the restarting of Ahmadiyya's activities in the region but caused a sudden riot of the local population.
The initiative to strengthen the local de-mining capacity was launched on 25 February in Bissau at the EU headquarter who has financed a project in partnership with Handicap International. The project that will enhance the de-mining activities in the outskirts of Bissau; in the northern part of the country towards Senegal; in São Domingos in the west; and Ingoré in the east of the country, is expected to last 15 months. The country that ratified the Ottawa Convention in 2001 is believed to have more than 11.000 mines shattered in the periphery of Bissau following the civil war in 1998, and more than 20.000 old mines in the rest of the country reminiscence from the national liberation war that began in 1963. In 2003 and 2004 a total of 41 people were killed by mines in the country. 10 were children.
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) has facilitated the liberation of four civilians belonging to the political wing of the MFDC in Casamance on 19 February. The four civilians had been retained since 19 January 2005 by the military wing of MFDC. Since July 2004, IFRC has set up a program to increase the health services, improve the availability of portable water and reinforce the production of vegetables for the people victimised and isolated by the conflict in the region.
Following the death of Gnassinbé Eyadema on 5 February 2005 after 38 years of continued rule in Togo, the army transferred power on 6 February to one of the late President's sons Faure Gnassinbe, Minister of Mining, Telecommunication and Public Works. The President of the National Assembly, Fambaré Nachaba was supposed to act as interim Head of State and to organize presidential elections but instead Faure was sworn in to finish the Presidential mandate of his father until 2008. The transfer of power was condemned at the national, regional and international level.
ECOWAS met as a consequence in an emergency session on 7 February in Niamey to discuss the situation in Togo and to introduce diplomatic sanctions should the country not adhere and reinstate the constitutional order. The sanctions were introduced on 19 February where the ECOWAS and the African Union withdrew their ambassadors, prohibited official visits in the region and announced the immediate halt of sub-regional integration programmes.
The evening before on 18 February, Faure Gnassingbe declared on a radio and television transmission that he would organise presidential elections within 60 days in conformity with the constitution, but still retain the post as Head of State. It was only on 25 February that Faure stepped down and handed over power to Abass Bonfoh, the Vice President of the National Assembly to act as interim Head of State. He used the occasion to declare his candidacy for the upcoming elections.
Even though the international community have commended the act and ECOWAS and AU lifted the sanctions, the political opposition in Togo still claim that the President of the Parliament Fambaré Nachaba should take over the role as interim Head of State.
Togo has since the beginning of February 2005 witnessed a succession crisis that has placed the country in a very fragile and dangerous political situation, which could be extended until the Presidential elections envisaged in April. The country has already been faced by the manifestations of discontent by the opposition and the civil society. It is therefore crucial that ECOWAS and the International community assist the country conduct free and transparent elections which could lead to the return of peace and stability in the country.
The court at Wad Naga delivered on 3 February its verdicts against the almost 200 accused military personnel and civilians that have been charged with taking part in the coup attempts against the regime in June 2003/August and September 2004. Out of the 195 persons standing trial, 4 got a life imprisonment and 82 were also to accept to prison sentences. The remaining 111 persons were acquitted. Among the latter were the former Mauritanian President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla and the opposition figures Ahmed Ould Daddah and Cheikh Ould Horma.
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