Cameroon + 10 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 10 covering the period 04-10 Mar 2000

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
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SIERRA LEONE: Rebels receive widespread criticism for blocking peace

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have criticised the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and their leader Foday Sankoh for blocking peace in Sierra Leone and committing abuses against civilians.

In his latest report on Sierra Leone, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday reported "modest progress" towards the implementation of the governance provisions of last year's Lomé Peace Agreement.

However, he said he was "very concerned about the often negative and confusing approach taken by Foday Sankoh to key elements of the peace process and the role entrusted to the United Nations".

"The present situation gives rise to serious doubts about the commitment of Mr. Sankoh and the RUF to the faithful implementation of the Peace Agreement," Annan added.

On Wednesday, the president of the Security Council, Anwarul Chowdhury, said the United Nations was deeply concerned by human rights abuses which are reportedly still being committed by the RUF.

"Council members view with deep concern reports of continuing human rights abuses, in particular gross violence against women and girls," he said in a statement. He added that members were also worried about reports of a serious humanitarian situation especially in those parts of the country where the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) is being prevented from deploying its troops.

For its part, HRW said it had documented numerous rebel abuses committed in January and February in Port Loko District, 40-65 kms from Freetown. The abuses, it said, included 14 cases of rape against girls as young as 11 years old, 118 abductions, three murders, and several cases of mutilation, forced labour, looting and ambushes, as well as the training of child combatants.

SIERRA LEONE: Displaced people demonstrate in capital

Hundreds of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the eastern diamond district of Kono held a peaceful demonstration on 4 March in the national stadium in Freetown, the Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported.

The demonstrators, currently living in camps the Freetown area, said they wanted to be able to return to their homes some eight months after the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) signed the Lome Peace Accord, MISNA reported on Monday. They said the authorities should guarantee the safe return of civilians to the district.

Kono is one of seven districts with a total population of 2.4 million to which humanitarian agencies do not have access, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) said in a 7 March situation report. The others are the northern districts of Bombali, Kambia, Kailahun, Koinadugu, Port Loko and Tonkolili. However, the ICRC said this week that it had sent an assessment team to Tonkolili.

SIERRA LEONE: ICRC conducting needs survey

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) have started a needs assessment in four districts prior to a distribution of seeds and tools, ICRC Information Delegate Priska Spoerri told IRIN on Thursday.

The survey started last week, is expected to last three to four weeks and targets some 40,000 destitute families, Spoerri said. The teams are now in the eastern district of Kenema, Tonkolili District east of Freetown, and Pujehun District in the far south. If their security is guaranteed, they will also travel to Kailahun District in the east, she added.

After the survey has been completed, the ICRC and the SLRCS will distribute 40 kg of rice seed, 10 kg of groundnuts, vegetable seed, hoes, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats, and soap to each family, the ICRC said.

SIERRA LEONE: Urgent humanitarian priorities

In most areas assessed by humanitarian agencies the priorities for urgent intervention include: the rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities, agricultural support especially in the northern and eastern regions, rehabilitation and support for the health sector, and close monitoring of the food security situation, particularly in rural areas.

Other urgent priorities, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) said in its latest situation report, are: rehabilitating the educational infrastructure and providing learning materials, reinforcing bridges and arterial routes before the start of the rainy season in April, closely monitoring returning refugees and internally displaced persons, and increased support to the DDR process to facilitate access.

SIERRA LEONE: Tension between UNAMSIL and RUF

The relationship between UNAMSIL troops and Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) is tense at the moment, HACU reported on 7 March.

On 25 February, UNAMSIL told the parties to last year's Lome peace agreement to stop obstructing the movements of UN peacekeepers as they deploy across the country. The warning followed "numerous occasions" on which peacekeepers have been blocked by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) manning "illegal roadblocks", a UNAMSIL statement issued in Freetown said. "This is despite repeated assurances from RUF leader Foday Sankoh that all such roadblocks would be removed," the statement added

Over 7,000 of the approved 11,100 UNAMSIL troops are on the ground and forces have been deployed to Makeni, Port Loko, Lungi, Daru, and Kenema.

SIERRA LEONE: Gov't, UNICEF deliver school supplies to the north

School supplies have been delivered to over 15,000 children in two northern Sierra Leonean towns for the first time since a peace accord in July 1999 between Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and the government, UNICEF said.

UNICEF provided logistics to the Ministry of Education for the delivery, completed on 1 March. The supplies - textbooks, blackboards, chalk, pencils, erasers and sharpeners - were sent to 50 schools in Makeni and Lunsar, in one of the first such actions taken by the government of national unity. Both towns had been in rebel hands since December 1998.

NIGERIA: People still fear fresh religious clashes

The approach of the Muslim Festival of Eid ul Kebir, to be celebrated next week, has created fears of fresh communal violence in Nigeria following clashes between Muslims and Christians in which nearly 1,000 people are reported to have died in the past two weeks.

Christians and non-indigenes have been fleeing the northern city of Kano while Muslims have been pouring out of Port Harcourt in the southeast, AFP reported.

The movement has been sparked by fears of a resumption of the incidents in the northern town of Kaduna, where Muslims killed about 400 people, mainly Christians, and the retaliatory killing of a similar number of Muslims in the southern state of Abia. The clashes were related to the proposed introduction of Islamic law in northern states.

About 80,000 people displaced by the clashes sought refuge in safe areas such as military and police compounds. About 35,000 remain there, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said the Nigerian Red Cross has been providing medicines, cooking utensils, bedding and clothing for about 20,000 displaced persons.

Officials of southern and eastern states said they had taken measures to ensure the safety of northerners resident in their areas, while Muslim and Christian leaders called for calm after separate meetings this week with President Olusegun Obasanjo.

NIGERIA: Ijaws, Itsekiris end conflict in Warri

Ijaws and Itsekiris, who have been at war with each other since 1997 over the relocation of a local government headquarters in Warri, southeast Nigeria, have agreed to end their conflict, state-owned Nigerian Television Authority reported on Tuesday.

A group of leaders of the Ijaw, Itsekiri and neighbouring Isoko communities met Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja and informed him of their decision. The delegation, led by Gabriel Mabeaku, an Itsekiri chief, told reporters they had agreed to work together in the larger interest of their people.

NIGERIA: Dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed in part of Osun State

Five more people were killed despite a curfew on two rival communities in southwest Nigeria, bringing the toll to 35 in one week, 'Post Express' newspaper reported on Thursday.

The people were killed on Wednesday at Ogunsola village following clashes between the communities of Ife and Modakeke, about 230 km southwest of Lagos, in Osun state.

The state's governor had earlier imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the two communities following days of violence over land rights that started on 3 March.

NIGERIA: President seeks debt relief from Britain

President Olusegun Obasanjo repeated his call for the cancellation of Nigeria's debt when he received British minister Clare Short on Monday, AFP reported, citing an official statement by the Nigerian presidency. He told Short, who is responsible for overseas development, that as one the poorest countries in the world, Nigeria needed debt relief from the Paris Club of creditors for it to develop.

Short said Britain's support for Obasanjo's administration was aimed at improving the quality of life of Nigerians. British cooperation included police reform, she said, the eradication of malaria and the battle against the spread of HIV and AIDS. She arrived in Nigeria on Sunday on a four-day visit to evaluate poverty alleviation and health programmes, AFP said, quoting the British High Commission.

NIGERIA: State to spend 6.5 million naira to fight guinea worm

The Enugu State government has promised to spend at least 6.5 million naira (US $64,229) to eradicate guinea worm in the state, 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday. A state official said the money would be used to repair two machines used for digging boreholes, rehabilitate two operational vehicles used for routine maintenance and provide villagers with potable water.

NIGERIA: Government spends millions on peacekeeping

Nigeria's government spent at least 2.3 billion naira (US $22.86 million) between October 1999 and February 2000 to sustain military operations at home and abroad, President Olusegun Obasanjo said in a memorandum to the national assembly.

This includes peacekeeping in Sierra Leone as well as dealing with communal conflicts in various parts of Nigeria.

In the document on 'Financial Requirements of Military and Other National Emergencies', Obasanjo said this spending was not included in the appropriations bill for year 2000, now under consideration by the national assembly, the 'Post Express' newspaper reported.

LIBERIA: Ex-fighters stage protest in capital

Hundreds of former fighters protested in the capital Monrovia on Monday accusing the leadership of their association of embezzling some US $100,000 and misusing its vehicles for commercial purposes, Star radio reported on Tuesday.

The demonstrators, ex-combatants from Liberia's civil war, attacked their head office and removed the leadership, replacing it with an interim body. The ex-coordinator of the combatants association, Eric Meyers, has denied the allegations.

LIBERIA: Senate approves creation of new county

The Liberian Senate passed a law on Tuesday creating a fourteenth county to be called River Gee, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah told IRIN on Thursday.

The new county, comprising six districts, has been formed out of the eastern county of Grand Gedeh, which is on the border with Cote d'Ivoire. Grand Gedeh is populated mainly by Krahns, the ethnic group of former president Samuel Doe, who was killed in 1990. Since 1976, however, there had been calls for the creation of a new county in southern Grand Gedeh by members of the Grebo ethnic group who said they felt marginalised by the Krahns, according to Mulbah.

LIBERIA: Defence Ministry to spend $1 million on armed forces

Liberia's government is to spend US $1 million to restructure its armed forces, news organisations reported on 2 March. Quoting Defence Minister Daniel Chea, Radio Liberia International said the money would go to an armed forces restructuring commission. A document produced by the commission states that the military will be reduced from 11,000 to a little less than 6,000.

LIBERIA: Taylor, Gaddafi on peacekeeping

The leaders of Libya and Liberia have said that any future peacekeeping force in Africa must be made up exclusively of troops from the continent, Libyan radio announced on Sunday. Taylor, who has cultivated close diplomatic ties with Libya, ended a three-day visit to that country on Sunday. The call for an all-African force was contained in a joint communique that capped a meeting between Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

ENVIRONMENT: Obasanjo appeals to UN to save Lake Chad

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo appealed on Monday to the UN Development Programme and other international agencies for help in reversing the gradual recession of Lake Chad, reduced by successive droughts since the 1960s to one-tenth of its original size.

In a speech delivered in Abuja on his behalf by Defence Minister Theophilus Danjuma at the opening of the 47th session of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, he said it was imperative to halt the degradation of the lake, once the world's sixth largest, 'The Guardian' newspaper of Lagos reported. A project has been launched to save it but the commission lacks money. "Member countries, therefore, have to pay their contributions on time," Obasanjo said.

Members states of the commission, formed in 1964 to ensure optimal use of the lake basin's water resources, are Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

MALI: Military patrol hunting tourists' killer

Four men suspected of killing three Dutch tourists near Tessalit, a remote desert locale some 2,000 km north of Bamako, have been arrested and an army patrol was hunting for a fifth suspect, a military information source in Mali told IRIN on Thursday.

The official daily newspaper, 'L'Essor', said the victims, whose names it gave as Ferdinand Smit, Aardi Tenboogaard and J. Jsint, had had their throats cut. The military source told IRIN that security forces found their bodies near the border with Algeria.

News reports said the three had driven from Algeria and had left Tessalit on 25 February for the south Malian town of Gao.

SAO TOME E PRINCIPE: Unions threaten general strike

Trade unions in Sao Tome e Principe have notified the government that they will go on strike on 20 March unless it raises the public sector minimum wage from the equivalent of under US $6 a month to roughly US$48.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Rights group condemns summary executions

The Ligue Ivoirienne des droits de l'homme (LIDHO) has condemned recent abuses which, it said, were committed by the security forces and has asked the military authorities to ensure they come to a swift end, according to a LIDHO news release issued on 2 March.

The rights organisation cited several examples of human rights abuses, including by members of PC Crise, a special crime-fighting unit set up after the military coup that ousted president Henri Konan Bedie on 24 December 1999.

"Daily, people presented as criminals are shot dead by members of the PC Crise and their corpses are presented on television," it said. "These so-called operations against banditry are often carried out on the basis of mere denunciations, even anonymous phone calls," it charged.

TOGO: OPEC loan for rehabilitating major road

The OPEC Fund for International Development has agreed to lend the Togolese government US $5.625 million to rehabilitate a road linking Aflao on the border with Ghana, to Hillacondji, on the border with Benin. The 53-km road is used by transporters between Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria, PANA reported.

Abidjan, 10 March 2000; 18:00 GMT


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