Cameroon + 13 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 43 covering the period 23-29 Oct 1999

News and Press Release
Originally published
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35

SIERRA LEONE: More than 625,000 children immunised against polio

A total of 627,978 children were immunised against polio in Sierra Leone's 13 districts on 9-10 October, during the first round of National Immunisation Days for Polio Eradication, the World Health Organisation (WHO) office in Freetown reported.

About 93.1 percent of targeted children in accessible regions of the country - and an estimated 76.4 percent of all children under the age of five years in Sierra Leone - were immunised, WHO said.

The second round of immunisation is to begin on 6 November. However, due to fighting since mid-October between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and former Sierra Leone Army (ex-SLA) in the eastern town of Makeni, the coverage strategy this time will be revised daily depending on security reports, WHO said.

Participants in the first round of immunisation included UNICEF, Rotary International, World Food Programme, Action contre le Faim (ACF), Africare, Merlin, Caritas, Cause Canada, Concern World Wide, Medecins sans Frontieres, ADRA and International Medical Corps, Dr William Aldis, the WHO representative in Sierra Leone, said.

SIERRA LEONE: More diarrhoea cases in Port Loko

Health officials reported 781 cases of diarrhoea within a 14-day period in the northern district of Port Loko, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit of Sierra Leone (HACU) said in its situation report of 10-23 October. The situation in Sanda Magbolontho, a chiefdom in the district lacking minimal health facilities, is reportedly desperate. The population there has been without any relief help since December 1998 because the ferry has broken down.

SIERRA LEONE: German help for eastern Freetown

Germany has given Sierra Leone one million deutschmarks (US $550,000) to rehabilitate eastern Freetown, which bore the brunt of destruction during a rebel invasion of the capital in January, AFP reported. German Ambassador Conrad Fischer, who handed over the money to Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister Sama Banya on Thursday, said Berlin had provided funds to help reopen two primary schools in the area and would help to build 100 shelters.

SIERRA LEONE: HRW calls on leaders to investigate rebel crimes

Human Rights Watch (HRW) asked Sierra Leone's two rebel leaders on Tuesday to investigate human rights violations by their troops and begin disciplinary proceedings.

The executive director of the Africa Division of the New York-based watchdog, Peter Takirambudde, said over the last two months rebels had committed rape, torture, attempted amputations shootings, abductions, the ambushing of vehicles, and extensive looting of property in the central and western parts of the country.

HRW wrote to both rebel leaders - RUF head Foday Sankoh and ex-Sierra Leone Army (ex-SLA) chief Johnny Paul Koroma - complaining about the atrocities, which violate international human rights law and the provisions of the Lome Accord.

HRW said violations included those perpetrated during an attack on 15 October on Makeni, an ambush against a government bus on 4 October near Magbondo Village, and numerous raids on villages around Masiaka and Port Loko.

In fresh reports of the violation of the accord, local and international media reported on Wednesday that some 100 ex-SLA were believed killed during clashes last weekend with RUF rebels near Makeni.

HRW has called on US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Sierra Leone on 17 October, to denounce the rebels publicly and put pressure on Sankoh and Koroma to halt the atrocities.

LIBERIA: Sierra Leonean refugees complete exodus from Lofa

The UNHCR transported on Monday a last batch of 165 elderly and infirm Sierra Leonean refugees from Kolahun to the relative safety of a new camp in Sinje, some 60 km from Monrovia.

The refugees and their caretakers were the only Sierra Leoneans left in Kolahun, which was attacked in mid-August by gunmen. The attack forced aid workers to withdraw from the area, the UNHCR said.

Fearing further attacks and due to the forced absence of humanitarian staff, at least 10,000 other refugees had already walked 100 km from Kolahun to Tarvey, a town closer to Monrovia. There are about 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia.

WEST AFRICA: Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees visits

The new Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Frederick Barton, arrived in Guinea on Monday at the start of a week-long review of the agency's repatriation and reintegration operations in West Africa, UNHCR said on Monday.

Barton, who took up his post at the end of August, is visiting Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire in that order. He will meet senior government officials, NGO representatives, the heads of UN agencies and UNHCR staff. The four countries host a total of about 700,000 refugees, including about 500,000 in Guinea, according to the UNHCR.

It is anticipated, UNHCR said, that by the end of Barton's visit, new solutions will be proposed for the refugee crisis in the subregion, which has one of the highest concentrations of refugees in Africa.

WEST AFRICA: Carter Centre gets US $30 million to fight blindness

The Carter Centre says it has received its largest project-specific grant, totalling some US $30 million over the next 10 years, to combat river blindness and trachoma in 15 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The grant, from the Lions Clubs International Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, will allow the Centre to work with both organisations and other partners over the next five years to develop blindness-prevention programmes in the 15 countries, which include Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda.

The initiative's target group is more than 110 million people at risk of contracting river blindness and/or trachoma, the Carter Centre said last week in a news release.

Trachoma, the world's leading cause of preventable blindness, can be avoided through simple hygiene measures such as washing one's hands and face. River blindness is spread by parasites that enter the body through bites from black flies that breed in fast-flowing water.

WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS plans subregional rights court

Justice ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided in a meeting on Tuesday to set up a regional court of justice, 'The Guardian' daily in Lagos reported.

The proposed court, whose location is yet to be determined, would serve to protect nations' rights and those of their citizens. Citizens would be able to sue their governments for perceived violations of their rights. The court will also be able to adjudicate inter-state hostilities.

ECOWAS members are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.

GHANA: US $21 million needed now for flood victims

Ghana needs an initial US $21 million from the international community to care for flood victims in the country's three northern regions, the 'Daily Graphic' in Accra reported on Tuesday, quoting the chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee, Nii Okaija Adamafio.

Adamafio told diplomats in Accra on Monday at a briefing on the floods that the money was needed for "quick emergency rehabilitation" in the affected Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions.

Of the total relief money sought, he said, US $6 million would be for the immediate rehabilitation of roads, $2 million for drugs, $1 million for tents and another $6 million for relief food over the next six months.

Adamafio, who is also Ghana's minister of the interior, said 32,6036 homes had collapsed and 282,227 people affected. So far, 116,579 acres (about 47,180 hectares) is affected. In addition, he said, 52 people died and 29 were injured.

There have been 1,500 reported cases of cholera and 225 settlements submerged in Upper East Region.

In response to the crisis, Swiss Ambassador Peter Schwizer said, the Swiss Red Cross has airlifted relief items worth 400 million cedis (US $142,096) to Ghana.

The flood followed the heaviest rains in the area in 30 years.

TOGO: NGO makes US $2 million appeal for flood victims

Organization de la Charite pour un developpement integral (OCDI) is seeking US $2 million to care for 64,000 flood victims, at least 40,000 of them children, in four regions of Togo and has asked the European humanitarian aid agency, ECHO, for help, OCHA said in its situation report of 28 October.

An official of the Ministry of the Interior told IRIN that the worst affected areas were the Central and Savanes regions.

OCDI says it would use the money over four months to buy maize, vegetable oil, beans, anti-malaria medicines for victims in Kara, Plateaux, Maritimes and Savanes. OCHA said the funds would also pay for blankets, clothes, mattresses, and transport and cover the needs of local staff.

At least 1,000 hectares of arable land has been inundated, hundreds of homes and over 100 bridges destroyed. In addition, 800 km of roads have become unusable, isolating many villages.

MAURITANIA: Spain offers aid to flood victims

Spain gave Mauritania 1,000 mt of food on Thursday for victims of successive droughts and floods, AFP said quoting informed sources. It cited the pro-governmental daily newspaper, Chaab, as reporting that the wheat, oil and milk were delivered to the Mauritanian agency for food security.

Rains, the heaviest in 30 years in some areas, have left tens of thousands of people homeless, submerged farmlands and destroyed infrastructure from Mauritania in the West through to Cameroon in the east.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) last week listed Mauritania among the worst affected of eight West African countries battered by the rains.

CAMEROON: Task force set up to clean poison lakes

Cameroon's government on Tuesday inaugurated an inter-ministerial task force to supervise the cleaning of two volcanic lakes whose gases killed hundreds of people in 1986 and continue to endanger nearby populations.

Officials at the country's Ministry of Territorial Administration told IRIN on Wednesday that the task force, chaired by Prime Minister Peter Musonge, would seek international funds to siphon poisonous gas from lakes Nyos and Monoum.

Lake Nyos erupted in 1986 spewing carbon dioxide and killing nearly 1,700 people.

NIGERIA: Obasanjo counts the cost of ECOMOG

Nigeria had at least 500 soldiers killed, several hundred wounded and spent at least US $8 billion during its seven-year peacekeeping operation in Liberia, President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Monday according to 'The Guardian' of Lagos.

"We will never know the number of Nigerian civilians who lost their lives in the crisis in Liberia," he added.

Nigeria largely paid for and led the force that peaked at 15,000 in Liberia, and is still deployed in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Nigeria has also started its disengagement from ECOMOG's operations in Sierra Leone, following the Lome Peace Accord between the country's government and rebels. However, the United Nations says it expects Nigerian troops to take part in a UN mission to be deployed in the country.

NIGERIA: Northern state introduces the Shar'ia

The Shar'ia - Islamic law - entered into force on Wednesday in the impoverished north-western state of Zamfara and, almost immediately, Governor Sani Ahmed declared that women and men would now have to ride in segregated public buses and taxis.

On announcing the impending imposition of Islamic law some weeks ago, the Zamfara authorities said the Shar'ia would be applied strictly to Muslims in the state, including edicts such as the amputation of a hand for convicted thieves.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Amnesty launches appeal for political prisoners

Anmesty International said on Tuesday that it was very concerned about the health of scores of prisoners from Equatorial Guinea's Bubi minority who, it said, were "being held in appalling conditions in Malabo prison".

"Since their conviction in June 1998 they have been held in small, filthy cells," Amnesty said. "...Most prisoners are being denied medical treatment. Eleven have been held in incommunicado detention in Malabo prison since May 1998".

In May 1998, more than 110 people accused of involvement in attacks on military barracks were tried by a military court, which sentenced 15 to death (including four in absentia), and some 70 to prison terms ranging from six to 26 years.

Most of the defendants, predominantly Bubi, appear to have been detained solely because of their ethnic origin, Amnesty said. Many had been forced to make statements under torture, it added.

Abidjan, 29 October 1999; 16:40 GMT


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