IRIN Update 510 of events in West Africa

Report
from The New Humanitarian
Published on 19 Jul 1999
UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@ocha.unon.org

GABON: Libreville seeks aid for refugees

Gabon is seeking international help to provide for Congolese refugees who have been pouring into its southern provinces, Gabonese Africa No. 1 radio has reported.

It said Gabonese Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ntoutoume-Emane met separately with ambassadors for two days last week, seeking help. Refugees fleeing fighting between guerrillas and government troops in the Republic of Congo now number 10,000 in the Gabon, the radio said.

When, on 5-7 July, the UNHCR, the World Health Organisation and the Gabonese Red Cross went on a mission to the southern province of Nyanga, they found some 2,000 refugees there.

UNICEF had reported that the refugees were generally in a fair condition of health but that there were "several cases" of malnutrition and a lack of safe drinking water.

A UNHCR official told IRIN on Monday that the refugee agency distributed drugs and US $5,000 worth of food to the refugees in Nyanga in early July.

NIGERIA: kidnapped pilots freed

Two helicopter pilots taken hostage in the Niger Delta nearly three weeks ago have been freed unharmed, news organisations reported on Saturday.

The two pilots and their helicopter, working under contract for the oil company Royal Dutch/Shell, were taken hostage on 27 June, news organisations said.

A spate of kidnappings in the Niger Delta over the last few weeks has increased insecurity in a region where crude output has been disrupted by attacks from militant youths wanting a share in its oil wealth, Reuters reported. Athough oil companies usually deny paying money to free kidnapped employees, it is widely known within the oil industry that ransoms are often paid, Reuters said.

Cholera in Katsina state claims lives

At least 28 people have died in a cholera outbreak in the northern state of Katsina, Austin Oghide, information officer for the World Health Organisation in Lagos (WHO) told IRIN on Monday.

"According to a report from our regional office two weeks ago," Oghide said, "there have been 302 cases and some 28 deaths reported from the cholera outbreak in Katsina State." He said that some measures were now in place to control the situation including social mobilisation and deliveries of intravenous fluids.

An official from the Federal Ministry of Health told IRIN last week that cholera was endemic in Nigeria and that the country has had many epidemics. Other outbreaks have been reported in recent weeks in the eastern state of Enugu and Kano State in the north.

GUINEA BISSAU: Visits authorized for political prisoners

Guinea Bissau Attorney General Amin Saad has given the go-ahead for visits by relatives to political prisoners detained since the May overthrow of President Joao Bernardo Vieira, AFP reported.

Saad, speaking on Friday after visiting the Bissau prison where 42 high-ranking officers are being held, said the visits could begin Monday, AFP added.

On 12 July, the Guinea Bissau Human Rights League LGDH) criticised prison conditions in the country. It claimed that some prisoners were suffering from a lack of medical attention, but this has not been confirmed by other sources, OCHA reported in its 1-15 July situation report on Guinea Bissau.

About 225 of the more than 500 people detained following Vieira's overthrow on 7 May have been released so far.

WESTERN SAHARA: Provisional voters list sent to parties

In accordance with the time frame for the implementation of the referendum in Western Sahara, the United Nations on Thursday communicated the provisional list of eligible voters, which contained the names of some 85,000 people, to the parties.

As agreed by the parties, the appeals process for those not on the list also began on Thursday. The United Nations opened five centres to receive appeals for the next six weeks, and plans are underway to open an additional 13 centres for that purpose.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is continuing to identify potential voters from among the so-called "contested tribes". That process began one month ago and, when it is over, another provisional list will be published and another appeals process will begin for them.

The final list is expected out in March 2000, allowing time for the repatriation and referendum campaign.

The vote itself will be held at the end of next July.

NIGER: Low turnout in referendum

Most of Niger's four million registered voters stayed away from polling stations in Sunday's referendum on a new constitution designed to share power between a president and prime minister, news reports said.

Quoting provisional figures from the Conseil electoral national independent (CENI), Reuters reported early on Monday that average turnout in 17 of the 63 communes plus one department was 12 percent.

The low turnout was partly attributed to farmers tending their fields during the ongoing rainy reason. Rains also rendered polling stations inaccessible in three regions.

The referendum comes three months after President Ibrahim Barre Mainassara was assassinated in a coup. The previous constitution was scrapped because, reports said, it gave too much power to the presidency.

MALI: Ten killed in north

At least 10 people were reported dead and six badly wounded in fighting between Arab communities in the northern Malian regions of Gao and Kidal, AFP reported on Saturday. Quoting a military source the agency reported that the fighting resulted from political rivalry linked to local government elections in May, and from the "control of contraband" in this region.

An army officer - a former rebel absorbed into the regular army - was badly wounded while intervening between the warring groups, AFP said. Five other badly wounded persons were flown to Bamako, the capital, and others to the town of Kidal.

SIERRA LEONE: Ex-junta officers released from prison

Eight former members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) that toppled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah two years ago were released over the weekend, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN.

The eight had been jailed for their part in the May 1997 coup against Kabbah, who was reinstated in March 1998. They were originally sentenced to death for treason but Kabbah later commuted this to life imprisonment.

The release of the prisoners is in keeping with the Lome peace accord signed on 7 July by the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The pact states that the government shall "grant absolute and free pardon and reprieve to all combatants and collaborators in respect of anything done by them in pursuit of their objectives, up to the time of the signing of the present Agreement."

Kaikai told IRIN plans were underway to release the remaining ex- AFRC soldiers still in prison and that the Attorney General was looking at the legal requirements for this.

UNOMSIL opens reception points for ex-rebels

The United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has opened three reception points in Freetown where former rebel soldiers are registered on the demobilisation programme after surrendering their weapons and ammunition, according to the Deputy Spokesman of the Secretary-General in New York.

As at last Friday, 18 ex-combatants had been registered in the reception centres, which are manned by members of ECOMOG and UNOMSIL.

According to government sources there are at least 33,000 armed rebels, renegade soldiers or members of the civil defence force in Sierra Leone.

Released abductees received in Freetown

Two trucks carrying 192 released abductees, mainly women and children, arrived at Cockerill military headquarters in Freetown on Friday, according to UNICEF in the city. They were collected from Magbeni, which is about 60 kms from Freetown.

There were 111 children among the abductees, about a third of them under 10 years of age, including several breast-feeding infants. Many were undernourished, tired, poorly clad and suffering from skin diseases, according to UNICEF.

The female members of the group, most of them teenagers, believed their captors had deliberately selected pregnant and lactating women for release. They said at least a quarter of the girls were pregnant, while seven were lactating adolescent mothers.

Several children had the letters AFRC "inscribed" on their chest, UNICEF said. One of them could not descend from the vehicle as he was weak and in a poor physical state. He was one of five taken to hospital for medical treatment.

After a brief screening at the military headquarters, the children were taken to an interim care centre, where they received medical check-ups, clothing and toiletries.

UNICEF sources in Freetown told IRIN on Monday that about 70 of the children had already been reunified with their families.

Based on UNICEF's experience over the last four months about 80 percent of abducted children whose families are in or near Freetown are reunified within 24 hours of their arrival.

TOGO: Main opposition party out of talks

Talks aimed at ending a political crisis looked set to open on Monday without the main opposition party after its leader refused to travel to Lome because of concern for his safety, news organisations reported.

The leader of the Union of Forces of Change (UFC), Gilchrist Olympio, told journalists on Sunday at Togo's border with Ghana that he was turning back because his security was not assured, according to news organisations.

There was no reaction to the day's events from either the government or opposition parties, Reuters said.

Olympio, who has lived in Ghana since an assassination attempt against him in 1992, was due to have attended talks aimed at ending a prolonged political crisis in Togo.

The opposition boycotted parliamentary elections in March after saying a June 1998 presidential poll was rigged and wants both polls re-run. President Gnassingbe Eyadema, in power since 1967 through a coup, was declared the winner in 1998 but Olympio claimed to have won the election.

The 10-day national reconciliation talks were due to be brokered by four mediators from Europe and the Francophonie Organisation

Meanwhile, the government banned a rally in Lome by the UFC on Sunday on the grounds it could disturb the peace ahead of the talks, Reuters reported.

Abidjan, 19 July 1999; 18:35 GMT

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-1259

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