Gabon + 4 more

IRIN Update 620 of events in West Africa

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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@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: United Nations hopes for less tension

The United Nations hopes that the arrival in Liberia of rebel commander Sam Bockarie will relieve tension and speed up disarmament, the spokesman for the secretary-general, Fred Eckhard, said on Monday.

Over the weekend, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) field commander went to the capital for talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor, Eckhard reported. He added that since RUF leader Foday Sankoh was also in Monrovia, Taylor would be able to mediate between them.

Taylor told journalists on Monday that he had been holding discussions with both men for the last few days in an attempt to resolve the rift, news organisations reported. Bockarie, who fled eastern Sierra Leone on Thursday with his family, had been accused of holding up the peace process.

He had openly defied Sankoh's calls to disarm and recently accused him of sending a death squad to kill him.

Bockarie was also responsible for the abduction of two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) volunteers in what he said was an attempt to focus the attention of the international community on his dissatisfaction with the peace process.

LIBERIA: Activist released on bail

Human rights activist James Torh was released on bail on Monday after being charged with sedition, Jappah Nah, national coordinator of the Human Rights Centre of Liberia, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Torh was detained on Wednesday following remarks made earlier this month to secondary school students in Monrovia. He allegedly said the government was being run from Taylor's pocket and that whereas it claimed it had no money, many expensive cars were still being seen around the streets of the capital and those who voted for it must be sorry to see it was failing them, Nah told IRIN.

Torh is the director of a child rights advocacy group in Monrovia, FOCUS. He had recently 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.

Torh was released on a 150,000-Liberian-dollar criminal appearance bond. No date has yet been set for the trial of the rights activist who, if found guilty, could face up to five years in prison.

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 Saturday and Sunday, 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 for their actions, he said.

The 'Vanguard' newspaper reported that the vicar of the United Missionary Church of Africa (UMCA) in the Ilorin neighbourhood of Amilegbe, the Rev. Samuel Ekundayo, had been injured in one of the attacks and was on the danger list in a private hospital.

A prominent Islamic cleric, Alhaji Ali Agan, told 'The Guardian' newspaper that the attacks were "a thing that no faithful Muslim will associate himself with".

NIGERIA: Igbos demand reparations

Leaders of the Oha-na-Eze Ndi Igbo organisation say they want Nigeria's federal government to pay 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.

Reuters reported that the Igbos said their political exclusion had reached new levels under the administration of Obasanjo, who had commanded the division of the federal armed forces that led the final assault which crushed the Igbo secession bid in 1970.

The 'Post Express' newspaper reported that the organisation also called for the restoration of "Igbo lands" which it claimed were carved up into Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. Another demand is for the federal government to restore all bank accounts, with accrued interest, of Igbos who held deposits in Biafra as at 29 May 1967.

"Marginalisation of Ndi Igbo, if allowed to foster in Nigeria, will resolve itself autonomously in the fullness of time, but not without untold bloodshed and social disruption," the newspaper quoted the leaders as saying in their petition.

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, where separatist rebels have been fighting against the state for 17 years.

The distribution is being carried out at a time when people are placing their hopes for peace in negotiations due on 26 December between the Senegalese government and the separatist Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance, ICRC said.

GABON: Cameroon sends food for Congolese refugees

Cameroon has sent food and other relief aid to Gabon for thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported.

Abidjan, 21 December 1999; 17:30 GMT

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2182

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