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IRIN Update 396 of Events in West Africa

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News and Press Release
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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@ocha.unon.org

GUINEA BISSAU: European Commission mercy flight for Bissau

A two-day airlift of vaccines and other medical material begins today (Friday) in an effort to save hundreds of people wounded in recent fighting in the Guinea Bissau capital, Bissau, and overcome a meningitis epidemic in the southern region of Oio, the European Commission (EC) said in a statement sent to IRIN.

The commission, whose humanitarian office ECHO will make the deliveries, said at least 500 people had been wounded in the four days of heavy fighting in Bissau.The main city hospital and another at Canchungo, 53 km to the northwest, were in dire need of medicines, dressings and surgical material, the commission said. At least 30 wounded people would die if they did not receive sufficient treatment, it added.

The ECHO flights will carry 20,000 doses of vaccines and 1.5 mt of surgical material for the two hospitals. In Oio, 50 km from Bissau, where a meningitis epidemic has been declared, 16 cases have been recorded half of them fatal. "The risks of a sharp rise in cases is very strong," the commission said in its statement.

Thousands of displaced sheltering in Catholic mission

At least 20,000 displaced people lacking food and clean water have sought shelter at the Takir Roman Catholic Mission on the outskirts of Bissau, the missionary news agency, MISNA, reported today. Father Renato Rovelli, a missionary, told the agency that hungry, frightened children had been sleeping in the mission courtyard with adults in poor sanitary conditions.

"The odour of the latrines is enough to make anyone sick and there is no water to wash with," he said.

WFP delivers food rations

WFP delivered a four-day food ration to 6,450 children living in churches and other institutions in Bissau, and to 700 people in the city's main hospital, the UN agency said in a statement today.

The agency said some 30,000 IDPs had sought refuge in Cumura, 10 km northwest of Bissau, and close to 10,000 in Safim, 10 km north of the capital, as well as 12,000 in Cumere, 10 km east of the capital.

WFP said that a fuel shortage had severely curtailed private transport and that many IDPs seeking safety may have to walk at least 120 km from Safim to reach the eastern towns of Bafata and Gabu.

Junta gives Senegal ultimatum

Guinea Bissau's self-styled military junta has given Senegalese troops 48 hours to leave the country now that ECOMOG troops have begun arriving, MISNA reported today, quoting a radio announcement by the junta's spokesman.

Gambian and more Togolese troops are due to be flown into Bissau today, bringing to 600 the estimated number of ECOMOG troops that are to be deployed in the country, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.

Under the Abuja peace accord signed on 1 November 1998 by rivals President Joao Bernardo Vieira and junta leader General Ansumane Mane, Guinean and Senegalese troops must withdraw as ECOMOG intervention troops arrive to oversee implementation of the deal. Presidential and legislative elections are to be held by end March.

SIERRA LEONE: ECOMOG mobilising amid rumours of rebel attack

The West African intervention force ECOMOG is reportedly mobilising in the capital Freetown, as rumours circulated of an imminent rebel attack on the city, according to news reports. AFP quoted spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade who said residents had been asked to remain indoors "in case fighting breaks out". He added that the general mobilisation was aimed at "maintaining security" and "preventing any action against residents". Troops had been deployed at strategic points, he said. According to AFP, the rumours appeared to emanate from state radio broadcasts warning that Sam Bockarie, field commander of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was planning a surprise attack. Some reports said hundreds of people were trying to flee Freetown. According to Star radio's Freetown correspondent, many of them were heading for Guinea and Gambia. On Wednesday, Sierra Leone army chief, General Maxwell Khobe, warned that if necessary, ECOMOG would fire on civilians if rebels trying to inflitrate the city were using them as human shields.

The British defence ministry meanwhile denied allegations that British troops were involved in planning military offensives in Sierra Leone. AFP claimed dozens of Royal Marine commandos were seen at ECOMOG headquarters in Freetown "poring over maps". However, according to news reports, a ministry spokesman said British soldiers were simply escorting the British high commissioner and helping with humanitarian operations.

WFP warns of serious food shortages

WFP yesterday warned of serious food shortages in Freetown within two to three months if the fighting continued. In a news release, the Sierra Leone country representative Patrick Buckley said many businesses had been severely hit by the fighting and subsequent looting. "If commercial food is not replenished, we could well be faced with a full-blown food crisis in two to three months," he warned. Under a humanitarian contingency plan, UN agencies and NGOs will provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the most vulnerable people, the statement said.

According to Buckley, parts of the capital "are completely razed by fire, and chaos and uncertainty dominate the daily lives of the people". He said WFP would continue to assist the people of Sierra Leone, but urged all sides in the conflict to respect an acceptable level of security for humanitarian workers.

LIBERIA: Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone urged to return home

The Liberian Council of Churches (LCC) today issued a statement urging all Liberians "fighting in Sierra Leone" to lay down their arms and return home, Star radio reported. According to the statement, it was an "open secret" that Liberians were fighting on both sides of the conflict. Expressing concern about the "daily destruction of innocent lives", the LCC said it supported a call by Liberian Senator Charles Brumskine for "Liberian mercenaries in Sierra Leone to be prosecuted". "The involvement of Liberians in the conflict has seriously damaged Liberia's image abroad," the statement added. The Liberian government has denied accusations of helping the rebels in Sierra Leone.

NIGERIA: INEC says proposed APP/AD alliance "dead"

The Independent National Electoral Alliance (INEC) told IRIN today the terms of a proposed alliance between the All People's Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), in a bid to win the upcoming elections, were illegal. "As far as INEC is concerned, it maintains its stand that it is illegal to have two presidential candidates representing two party emblems or logos, and by implication, the alliance is dead," INEC's Director of Public Affairs Steve Osemeke said.

The alliance was created in an attempt to defeat Nigeria's largest party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), in elections later this month.

PDP threatens to withdraw from poll if alliance approved

The PDP earlier threatened to pull out of the elections if the proposed working alliance was approved by INEC, Nigerian Radio reported. The PDP national secretary, Senator Aniatu Okon, told a news conference in Abuja yesterday that his party would not accept a common logo nor a joint list of candidates.

Babangida says era of military rule is over

The era of army rule is over in Nigeria, the former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, told reporters yesterday in Lagos. "Let me re-emphasise that the era of military intervention in politics as an accepted alternative is over," AFP quoted him as saying. He added that this had been accepted by his "former colleagues and comrades at arms", Babangida ruled Nigeria from 1985 to 1983 and, according to AFP, has admitted to some involvement in most of the coups since independence in 1960.

Reports in the Nigerian press suggest that he has future presidential ambitions, hoping to run for office as a civilian candidate in the country's next elections, following those to be held on 27 February, AFP added.

Abubukar visits Gambia, Senegal

Meanwhile the current military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubukar, arrived in Gambia yesterday for a two-day official visit and talks with President Yahya Jammeh, the Nigerian embassy in Abidjan told IRIN.

According to news reports, Jammeh called on Nigeria to continue its technical assistance to Gambia. Referring to Gambia's support for Nigeria's role in peacekeeping in West Africa, he added that countries in the region needed peace in order to develop. During the visit, the two leaders were expected to discuss the various conflicts taking place in the region.

Although Gambia has no troops in the Nigerian-led ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, a small Gambian contingent is due to join troops from Togo, Niger and Benin on peace-keeping duty in Guinea Bissau. Abubukar is expected to travel to neighbouring Senegal later today.

Key fuel refinery resumes operations

The fuel refinery at Kaduna, northern Nigeria, has started operating again, pumping some 1.5 million litres of fuel a day to a depot in the region, the plant's manager said on Friday, according to AFP.

The restoration of the refinery is a step towards ending the chronic fuel crisis in Nigeria, caused five years ago when three out of four refineries slowed or stopped working, AFP added.

Abidjan, 5 Feburary 1999, 18:00 gmt

[ENDS]

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