Gabon + 4 more

IRIN Update 681 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 22-40-4440
Fax: +225 22-40-4435
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: March against recruitment of child soldiers

Hundreds of people marched in Freetown on Wednesday against the recruitment of child soldiers and for their early reunification with their families, a UNICEF source told IRIN.

Some 2,500 people joined in the peaceful demonstration, including representatives of UN agencies, government, human rights organisations, educational institutions and civil society. Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh was represented by his spokesman Eldred Collins. Senior officers of the former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council also attended.

The march, organised by the Roman Catholic NGO, CARITAS, aimed to sensitise the community and signatories to the Lome Peace Accord to the urgent need to stop using children in armed conflicts and release those still held by armed factions, the source said. Various speakers referred to the slow release of children since the signing of the peace accord and urged the continuation of discussions and activities to speed up the process.

According to UNICEF, only 1,500 out of an estimated 5,000 child combatants have been through the Sierra Leone's demobilisation programme. About 10,000 other children were abducted by armed forces to work as porters, sex slaves and food growers, but just half have been reunited with their families.

SIERRA LEONE: UN official says peacekeepers aim to deliver

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, told journalists on Tuesday that the United Nations was committed to making a difference in Sierra Leone.

Speaking at the end of a three-day visit, Miyet said the United Nations was there to bring peace and to work with the people. He said its mandate gave it the means to react if there was "a negative reaction".

More UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) troops are expected soon from India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Zambia to bring the force up to its full complement of over 11,000, he said. Asked if Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh would allow UNAMSIL to deploy, Miyet said: "Everyone, and I would say the RUF in particular, recognised now that UNAMSIL was a fully legitimate ... and neutral peacekeeping force in this country and that its deployment should have to be facilitated and accepted by everyone."

Miyet said all roadblocks put up by all the factions would have to be removed within two weeks. He said he raised this and other questions, including the rationale behind the UN presence in Sierra Leone, during a meeting he had with Sankoh.

The UN official stressed the importance of elections, of disarmament -- which, he said, was at the heart of the peace process -- and the restructuring of the armed forces and police.

Miyet's agenda included visits to Port Loko South Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) centre and a children's centre run by CARITAS, the Roman Catholic relief organisation, in the northern town of Makeni.

He also had meetings with parties involved in the peace process, including President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and ex-Armed Forces Revolutionary Council leader, Johnny Paul Koroma.

LIBERIA: Charles Taylor's challenges

After almost three years in office President Charles Taylor's international standing has improved but corruption, mismanagement and oppressive government have prevented Liberia from attracting donor funding to help it rebuild its shattered economy, Oxford Analytica said in a report dated 21 March.

Oxford Analytica argues that Taylor's relations with the West and Nigeria have significantly improved as a result of his positive involvement in the Sierra Leone peace process. "Taylor's respectability will increase over time, as the image of Taylor the president effaces that of Taylor the warlord," it said.

On the other hand, Taylor's failure to attract foreign aid could cause further social upheaval among those outside his network of patronage, Oxford Analytica noted. Military downsizing, extortion, freedom of speech and the smuggling of diamonds through Liberia are some of the issues which need to be addressed if the country is to attract more foreign investment, it said.

GHANA: Military restructuring could improve disaster response

A restructuring of the Ghanaian military, announced on Monday by the office of President Jerry Rawlings would enhance the armed forces' ability to respond to disasters, a humanitarian source told IRIN.

State-owned radio said Rawlings approved the revision of the structure of the Ghana Armed Forces to allow for increased efficiency and effectiveness. A statement issued on Monday from the office of the president, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, said the army had now been organised into Northern and Southern commands.

The navy remains organised into Western and Eastern commands, while the Accra air force station has been redesignated Airforce Base - Accra. The coastal town of Takoradi and Tamale (in the north) are now air force stations and there is now an air force school.

The humanitarian source said the reorganisation would enable the military to respond faster to disasters, especially in the southern part of the country. Southern Ghana is prone to earthquakes, which occur there in cycles of 60-70 years. The last big one, in 1939, measured six on the Richter scale. More recently, the source said, tidal waves caused by suspected seismic activity in the ocean submerged villages along the coast.

GHANA: Producers and importers of salt to meet

Some 50 producers and importers of salt from 24 African countries meet for the first time from 3 to 5 April in Accra to find ways of iodising the mineral.

The iodisation of salt worldwide is one of the decisions adopted at the World Summit on Children in 1990 in New York. Iodine deficiency leads to goitre, mental retardation and cretinism in children and impairs the health of mothers.

NIGERIA: Confederation gains popularity in the southeast

In the aftermath of the religious violence that rocked the northern city of Kaduna last month, the new buzzword in southeastern Nigeria is 'confederation', a concept that has a powerful association with the country's slide to civil war more than 30 years ago. [See separate item titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on the call for confederation']

GABON: Government says it is committed to human rights

Gabon is strongly committed to human rights, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the peaceful resolution of differences, Justice Minister Pascal Desire Missongo said on Tuesday in Geneva.

Speaking at the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Gabonese minister said his country had established a human rights ministry and promoted human rights through seminars. He said an inter-ministerial commission had been set up to address unfair laws, particularly those that discriminate against women.

Missongo added that since political transition started only 10 years ago in some African countries, only some of them had made progress in promoting human rights. There was a discrepancy between the expectations of the people, the limitations of the government and the political process in many transitional countries, Missongo said.

Abidjan, 22 March 2000; 18:30 GMT

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