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IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 51 covering the period 18-24 Dec 1999

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
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COTE D'IVOIRE: Military coup

Soldiers in Cote d'Ivoire announced on radio and TV on Friday that President Henri Konan Bedie had been deposed and parliament dissolved, and that a curfew would be imposed from 18.00 to 0500 Hrs starting on Friday night.

According to radio reports, the soldiers, who had begun a mutiny on Thursday, also went to the MACA, the main penitentiary in Abidjan, and freed the prisoners there, including the leaders of one of Cote d'Ivoire's main opposition parties.

The mutineers' spokesman, General Robert Guehi - described by another member of the military as the "new president of the republic" - said on radio that the soldiers had met Bedie to discuss their grievances, which were both political and military, but the meeting ended abruptly after no common ground could be reached.

"They consider that from now on President Henri Konan Bedie is no longer president of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire," he said. "A Comite de Salut de la Republique (Committee for the Salvation of the Republic) will be set up and its composition will be communicated to you in the coming hours or days".

Guehi said the mutineers had two main grouses. "There are specifically military problems with regard to the restoration of their dignity, i.e. improving their equipment, salary increases ... Other problems are political since they asked for the liberation of the people who are now detained at the MACA for reasons of a political nature."

The detainees include the secretary-general of the opposition Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), Henriette Diabate, and other senior members of the party. who were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years in November, less than a year before presidential elections billed for October next year .

They were convicted, by virtue of a law that renders organisers of demonstrations responsible for damage caused during such protests, following a sit-in held in late October to protest against anti-opposition bias on the state media.

The sit-in was one of a series of protests organised by the RDR, whose leader - former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara - has been barred from contesting next year's election by the state, which maintains that he is not of Ivoirian origin, a claim he has denied.

SIERRA LEONE: RUF ex-combatants disarm

Former combatants of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in parts of Sierra Leone's Northern province have been disarmed, according to a news release on Tuesday from the Economic Community of West African States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).

The RUF area commander for the ex-combatants in Fadugu, some 180 km northeast of Freetown, said that all the arms in their possession had been collected ready for handing over to the disarmament officials in compliance with the order from their leader, Foday Sankoh.

Between 4 November and 22 December some 3,636 former combatants - 1,785 from the RUF, 1,257 from the AFRC and 594 from the Civil Defence Forces - disarmed, according to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone.

SIERRA LEONE: ECOMOG says it intercepted arms smugglers

The Economic Community of West African States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) said on 21 December it was questioning seven ex-Sierra Leone Army/Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (ex-SLA/AFRC) rebels caught last week trying to smuggle arms into Freetown by boat, AFP reported.

ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade said the men were "elements" from the Occra Hills, east of Freetown, who had attempted to infiltrate the capital.

On 20 December, ECOMOG reported that its troops killed three ex-SLA/AFRC members and took one prisoner in Makanta, a village north of the Freetown peninsula, according to news organisations. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade said the three were killed on 19 December when ECOMOG troops went to repel a rebel attack on the village. A fourth rebel was seriously wounded and taken to hospital in Freetown, Reuters said. Makanta is close to Lungi where a demobilisation centre has been set up for former fighters, AFP reported.

SIERRA LEONE: Cautious optimism follows Bockarie's flight

There was a mood of cautious optimism following former rebel commander Sam Bockarie's flight on 16 December from Sierra Leone to Liberia where a senior government official said he would not be allowed to leave until the disarmament of Sierra Leone's former combatants was completed.

The Economic Community of West African States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) said on 17 December that following Bockarie's flight, the "ECOMOG High Command is optimistic that the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme can now move forward without undue hindrances".

The spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Fred Eckhard, said on 20 December that the United Nations hoped Bockarie's departure would relieve tension and speed up the disarmament of Sierra Leone's former combatants.

SIERRA LEONE: Inter-agency mission to Port Loko

An inter-agency team travelled on 3 December to the town of Port Loko, some 55 km north of Freetown, to assess the condition of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the World Food Programme (WFP) reported.

The team said about 6,560 IDPs in the Maforki displaced camp needed food, water and sanitation. It recommended moving the IDPs away from a nearby disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration camp and then providing them with a one-off food ration, shelter, water and sanitation.

The team included WFP, Children's Aid Direct, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit, UNICEF, OXFAM, the International Medical Corps, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children and CARITAS.

WFP also reported that some 464 mt of assorted food were distributed recently to about 31,400 people in Bo in south and Kenema in the southeast, while about six mt of seed rice were distributed in Daru in the east.

SIERRA LEONE: Committee appeals for release of abductees

The Committee for the Release of Prisoners of War and Non-Combatants in Sierra Leone has appealed to the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to let all abductees go, the UN said on Tuesday.

The committee said it had seen and talked to people being held against their will, many of them women and children. More than 2,000 of the children registered as missing since the rebel occupation of Freetown in January are still unaccounted for and new abductions are occurring almost every day, according to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

SIERRA LEONE: More troops arrive from Nigeria

An advance party of some 106 Nigerian soldiers, including six officers, arrived at Lungi International Airport on Thursday ahead of newly constituted battalions scheduled to join the new UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG said on 17 December. Nigerian troops will make up nearly three battalions of the 6,000 strong force which will also include peacekeepers from Ghana, Guinea, India, and Kenya.

LIBERIA: Human rights organisation against exit visa

Liberia's Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) has said it is concerned about the government's plan to introduce an exit visa, Liberian 'Star' radio reported on Wednesday.

The immigration bureau said the visa was needed to monitor and control the movement of people in the country and increase government revenue, Star reported.

The JPC described the move as an attempt to witch-hunt and restrict the travel abroad of perceived enemies of the government, the radio said.

LIBERIA: Activist released on bail

Human rights activist James Torh was released on Monday on a 150,000-Liberian-dollar criminal appearance bond after being charged with sedition, Jappah Nah, national coordinator of the Human Rights Centre of Liberia, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Torh, detained on 15 December following remarks on government corruption which he allegedly made earlier this month, is the director of a child rights advocacy group in Monrovia, FOCUS. He had also criticised the state on a number of human rights issues and called for the dismantling of a notorious anti-terrorist unit set up by Taylor's son.

GUINEA-LIBERIA: Guinea calls for summit on relations with Liberia

Guinean President Lansana Conte has called for a extraordinary summit of the three-nation Mano River Union (MRU) to discuss outstanding political differences between himself and Liberia's Charles Taylor, Radio Liberia International reported. Conte and Taylor have occasionally accused each other of backing armed groups opposed to their respective governments. Recent sources of contention include a rebel incursion that left 28 people dead in Macenta, southern Guinea.

GHANA: Cabinet to meet on AIDS early in 2000

Ghana's cabinet will early in year 2000 discuss a national strategic plan to combat HIV/AIDS, which has reached 4.6-percent prevalence in the country, state radio reported.

The plan, being drawn up by the Ministry of Health, aims to prevent the HIV rate from reaching five percent, Communications Minister John Mahama told Ghana Broadcasting Corporation on Monday in Accra. He said it would focus on ways of changing public sexual attitudes and behaviour because although public awareness of HIV/AIDS has reached an estimated 90 percent, people still have multiple partners.

WEST AFRICA: Ghana and Nigeria seek closer economic ties

A Nigerian trade delegation led by Jerry Gana, Minister of Co-operation and Integration, concluded two days of bilateral talks in Accra on Tuesday on measures to make the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) more functional.

Gana said concrete decisions had been taken on cooperation between Ghana and Nigeria in terms of a common currency and free movement of goods and people. "We are talking about a rail link between Accra and Lagos," he said. "We are moving fast because time is not on our side."

NIGERIA: Police stoned near churches

Policemen were stoned this week while protecting churches in Ilorin, capital of the central Nigerian state of Kwara, following the destruction of 14 churches there on 18 and 19 December, news reports said.

Kwara State Police Commissioner Antony Sawyer said some 3,000 youths, believed to be Muslims, were involved in the weekend attacks and that some had been arrested. They were being interviewed to ascertain the motive behind their actions, he said.

NIGERIA: Igbos demand reparations

Leaders of the Oha-na-Eze Ndi Igbo organisation say they want Nigeria's federal government to pay Igbos 8.6 trillion naira (US $87 billion) in compensation for the 1967-70 Biafra war and the years of neglect which, they charge, have followed it, news reports said on Tuesday.

The demand by the Igbo leaders was contained in a petition sent to the Oputa Panel of Human Rights Violations set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo. The petition's signatories include former Nigerian Vice President Alex Ekwueme.

SENEGAL: Government confirms date for talks

President Abdou Diouf has confirmed that negotiations between his government and the rebel Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) will start in The Gambia on 26 December, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The MFDC, led by Abbe Augustin Diamacoune, has been fighting for 17 years for a separate state in the Casamance, an agriculturally rich area in southern Senegal. The rebel movement claims that France forcibly united the area with the rest of Senegal at independence.

SENEGAL: Food aid for displaced people in Casamance

Some 4,600 internally displaced persons in Casamance, southern Senegal, have been receiving food aid since 13 December, the ICRC said.

The emergency distribution, conducted by the Senegalese Red Cross and the ICRC, is the fourth this year for displaced persons in Senegal. The beneficiaries are from nine villages in Casamance.

WEST AFRICA: ECHO ends special relief flight service

The European Commission (EC) will be ending its special relief flights in West Africa on 31 December, the European Union (EU) announced this week.

The ECHO-FLIGHT service, begun in June 1998, has provided logistic support to humanitarian programmes financed by the EC, EU member states, the United Nations and other donors, the EU said. Based in Bamako, ECHO-FLIGHT flew mainly to and from northern Mali, northern Niger and Guinea-Bissau. Its Beechcraft King Air 200 plane has ferried nearly 2,000 passengers and 36.42 mt of medical, logistical and other emergency supplies since its inception.

NIGER: Tandja inaugurated as president

Mamadou Tandja, 61, sworn in on Wednesday as president of Niger after nine months of military rule, promised to work to improve the condition of workers and respect the principles of democracy, the BBC reported.

Tandja, a retired army colonel with some political experience, won presidential elections in November with 59.9 percent of the vote, while his Mouvement nationale pour la societe de developpement won 38 of the 83 seats in the national assembly.

CHAD: Rebel movements form alliance

Thirteen armed political movements on Tuesday announced the formation in Paris of the Coordination des Mouvements Armes et Politiques de l'Opposition (CMAP), a new alliance against Chadian President Idriss Deby, Radio France Internationale reported on Wednesday. The alliance, whose leaders include ex-president Goukouni Oueddei, does not appear to include the most active rebel group, Mouvement pour la Justice et la Democratie au Tchad (MJDT), led by ex-minister Youssouf Togoimi.

WEST AFRICA: Japanese government donates food aid

Japan has donated aid through the UN World Food Programme to West African refugees and others facing severe food shortages because of civil war and other causes, the Japanese government said in a news release on Tuesday.

The food aid, maize meal and beans worth some 700 million yen (US$ 6.78 million) will benefit five countries including Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the news release said.

Abidjan, 24 December 1999; 16:45 GMT


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