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LIBERIA: President promises to rebuild military
Two years after presidential elections in Liberia, its government is moving to put together a better trained and professional military that represents all or most ethnic groups, news organisations reported President Charles Taylor as saying.
"We will make sure to have a balanced, trained, professional and mobile army that will respond decisively to any external threat," Taylor said at an induction of key senior officers, according to Reuters.
Liberia has at least 16 ethnic groups and Augustine Toure, head of Liberia Democracy Watch, told IRIN on Wednesday that "many Liberians are for an ethnically balanced army".
He said, however: "We want a transparent process that will include the international community, preferably ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) which was responsible for the Abuja Peace Accord."
That agreement, signed in August 1996, ended seven years of civil war during which fighters splintered into several rival ethnic factions.
[See separate item titled 'LIBERIA: Taylor pledges to rebuild military']
LIBERIA: Fears about their safety keep exiles away, Kromah says
Opposition politician Alhaji Kromah has urged Liberia's government to create the conditions needed for the return of Liberian exiles, independent Star Radio reported on Tuesday.
Kromah, who led the ULIMO-K faction during the seven-year civil war that started in December 1989, said some 30,000 former fighters in exile wanted to return home but were concerned about their security.
Kromah's comments were in response to a recent appeal by Taylor for the former ULIMO-K leader and George Boley, another politician, to return and help rebuild the country.
Star reported Kromah as saying that he and some prominent Liberian opposition politicians planned to return home this year if security improved. Star said he wanted government to make policy reforms that would foster genuine national reconciliation.
The government could take decisive measures to encourage exiles to return, Augustine Toure, head of Liberia Democracy Watch, told IRIN on Wednesday. These, he said, included displaying tolerance for dissenting political views, and creating an independent judiciary "not only in name but in structure and action". He added: "There has been persistent interference with the judiciary."
Toure said the government must also introduce a true free market and competition as an incentive to returning exiles who could engage in gainful employment.
"We have very much an entrenched patronage system in this country where the ruling class has become the client of the foreign business class and they are busy extracting resources for private use and not for national development," Toure said.
SIERRA LEONE: Ex-rebels reopen roads in the east
Former fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) have formally opened roads in eastern Sierra Leone, according to local media and other sources. The reopened roads include those linking Kenema to Kailahun to the north, and to Koindu and Kono, to the northeast, according to the reports.
During the weekend, Vice President Joe Demby officially reopened the road linking Kenema and Koindu (some 10 km from the Liberian border) in a ceremony attended by six former rebel commanders. "We have no plans to fight again," state radio quotes Brigadier Dennis Lansana, leader of the rebel delegation, as saying.
A humanitarian source with operations in the area told IRIN that it was important to remain cautious, particularly because ECOMOG troops were now handing over to UNAMSIL peacekeepers in the Kenema area.
In December, two MSF volunteers working in Kailahun District, through which the road from Kenema to Kailahun runs, were held for just over a week by RUF rebels in the area.
Another humanitarian source told IRIN that the successful delivery of large-scale humanitarian assistance to Koidu was more dependent on the reopening of the road from Makeni to Koidu rather than the Kenema-Koidu road.
Large quantities of supplies destined for the Koidu area, the source said, would tend to be transported from Freetown via Makeni because the Kenema-Koidu road is in poor state.
MALI: EC helps Tuareg returnees
The European Commission says it has decided to finance, via its humanitarian office, ECHO, the digging of a permanent well to provide potable water at a resettlement site in northern Mali for a group of more than 1,000 returning Tuareg refugees.
The EC said in a 30 December communique that the returnees were on their way to Mali, and that they were members of the Kel Essouk Tuareg clan who had fled to Niger to escape attacks against them in 1994, during the Tuareg rebellion.
The well is to be dug by the Spanish chapter of the non-governmental organisation, Action Contre la Faim, which has been one of ECHO's partners in northern Mali for many years, according to the communique.
It said the EU had financed humanitarian operations to the sum of 14.6 million euros for populations affected by the rebel war in northern Mali in the 1990s.
NIGERIA: Democracy releases pressure valves, analysts say
Since Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as president in May 1999, communal conflicts have increased in Nigeria in number and intensity, causing hundreds of deaths and displacing thousands.
The most common explanation provided to IRIN by analysts in Lagos and Port Harcourt is that the introduction of democracy has acted like the release of a pressure valve, enabling people to vent their pent-up anger and express themselves more freely.
[See Item: irin-english-2223 titled 'NIGERIA:
IRIN Focus on communal
COTE D'IVOIRE: Debt payments suspended
Cote d'Ivoire's new head, Brigadier General Robert Guei, on Wednesday announced that payments on Cote d'Ivoire's foreign debt had been suspended for the moment.
"The state coffers are totally empty," Guei said at the inaugural session of a new transitional government. He added that the state had only been able to pay public servants' salaries "because we have momentarily suspended the settlement of external commitments".
"The pillage has been immense and systematic," he said, adding that everything would be done to recover the funds looted from the state.
Guei heads Cote d'Ivoire's Conseil National de Salut Public (CNSP), set up following the overthrow of President Henri Konan Bedie on 24 December 1999. He is also president and minister of security in the transitional government, whose composition he announced on Tuesday.
The government includes members of the CNSP, political parties and civil society. However, one of the country's two main opposition parties, the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) on Tuesday declined to participate in the new cabinet.
FPI head Laurent Gbagbo charged that the other main opposition party, ex-Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara's Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR) was over-represented in the new government.
WESTERN SAHARA: UN completes voter identification
The United Nations said on Tuesday its voter Identification Commission in Western Sahara had completed its work among three ethnic groups in preparation for a referendum on the country's future statehood.
The Commission finished identifying on Thursday some 51,000 eligible voters from the 64,000 people called forward, UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York.
He said a provisional list of voters for the referendum on the territory's choice between independence and integration with Morocco would be issued on 15 January.
Since the beginning of the identification process, Eckhard said, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had called up at least 240,000 people and identified nearly 200,000 of them as eligible voters.
However, he said, the UN was still to hear appeals by some 70,000 people deemed ineligible to vote. The hearings are set to begin on 17 January.
In his latest report on Western Sahara, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that such a high number of appeals could delay the referendum until 2002 or beyond.
Abidjan, 5 January 2000; 18:15 GMT
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