Gambia + 3 more

IRIN Update 695 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 22-40-4440
Fax: +225 22-40-4435
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

GAMBIA: Banjul and surroundings calm

Gambia's capital, Banjul, and surrounding towns remain calm on Tuesday, a day after students and city hoodlums fought pitched battles with police which resulted in several deaths, Police Public Relations Officer Abdoulie Sanyang told IRIN.

"People are going about their normal business," he said.

However, he said police were patrolling the streets of Serrekunda, a vast semi-residential neighbourhood and the centre of Monday's demonstrations some 12-15 km southwest of Banjul.

Thousands of protestors threw stones, attacked public buildings, burnt cars as well as four police stations. Sanyan and other witnesses said the protest only turned violent when hoodlums joined the demonstration.

Exact numbers for people killed and injured are not immediately available. However, news sources put the conservative estimate at between 10 and 12 dead and scores more injured.

[See separate item 'GAMBIA: Banjul and surroundings calm']

SIERRA LEONE: Sankoh in Segbwema to disarm

Rebel leaders and peacekeepers in Sierra Leone travelled to the eastern town of Segbwema on Monday to try and disarm fighters in the RUF controlled diamond region, a UNAMSIL information officer in Freetown told IRIN on Tuesday.

"Some 74 RUF (Revolutionary United Front), mainly child soldiers, disarmed during Sankoh's visit," the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) official said.

In spite of the low turnout, he added, the UN Secretary-General's Representative, Oluyemi Adeniji, said there was no cause for disappointment as it had been a positive exercise.

At a recent meeting of stakeholders in the Lome Peace Accord it was agreed that RUF leader Foday Sankoh would also visit Kailahun and Daru to help speed up disarmament. He is due to speak to his fighters in Kailahun on Wednesday and return to Freetown, the UN said. The Daru leg has been cancelled due to lack of time.

Accompanying Sankoh to Segbwema were UN officials including Adeniji, UN Force Commander Major General Vijay Jetley, ECOMOG officials including force commander Major General Gabriel Kpamber and four parliamentarians. The leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, Johnny Paul Koroma, also sent a representative.

Kpamber told reporters as he left for Segbwema, some 240 km from Freetown, that civilians wanted to return to their homes and farms, and that the government wanted to reestablish administrative control, AFP reported.

As of 3 April the total number of personnel disarmed is 21,961, according to the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). There are an estimated 45,000 combatants in Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, United States State Department spokesman James Rubin said on Monday that although the government was "encouraged" by the recent high level donor's meeting to promote peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone, it is "deeply concerned that there has not been significant progress" on implementing the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme.

SIERRA LEONE: Ex-fighters allowed to join army

Former fighters from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Civil Defence Forces (CDF) and Sierra Leone Army (SLA) are entitled to join the restructured army if they meet the criteria in the Military Reintegration Plan (MRP) recently endorsed by the government.

The MRP, developed by the Ministry of Defence, provides for the screening and selection of ex-combatants who wish to join the restructured army and for the subsequent training of successful candidates, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) reported in its bulletin on Friday.

The first stage of the process is that all former combatants must disarm to UNAMSIL and go through a demobilisation process. Once completed each person will be entitled to benefit from either the civilian or the MRP. Screening and selection criteria for recruits are being established by the MRP. The the process, based on the principles of equal opportunity, fairness and transparency, is due to start in two months, the NCDDR said. Ex-combatants who fail to meet the army eligibility criteria will still be able to join the civilian reintegration programme.

As required by the peace agreement, mechanisms have been established to ensure that the new armed forces "reflect the geo-political structure of Sierra Leone". International advisers have been involved in the development of the MRP. In addition, the international community has been asked to provide independent monitors to ensure that the MRP is implemented transparently, the NCDDR reported.

SIERRA LEONE: In-service training for teachers needed

A two-day national conference on education recently ended in Freetown with recommendations designed to uplift the sector and get all school age children back into classrooms, the Sierra Leone News Agency reported on Monday.

Some of the recommendations, included an urgent need for an in-service teacher training programme, special help to children repeating classes, establishment of remedial work and a reduction in class sizes.

The recommendations are to form an action plan to be presented at the World Education Forum to be held in Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April.

NIGERIA: Enaharo calls for national conference

Joining the chorus of voices demanding a national conference, veteran Nigeria politician Anthony Enahoro called on Monday for political and economic reshaping of the country.

"The future lies in Nigeria becoming a union of nationalities," he told an audience of some 5,000 in a Lagos ceremony marking his return from self-imposed exile in the United States.

The country's current constitution "imposed" by the military, he said, failed to recognise the divergent nationalities among the country's 120 million people and some 200 ethnic groups. His return, he added, was in "expectation that the grounds have been cleared for the debate".

A political analyst, Godwin Obani of Ogun State, told IRIN "Ninety-nine percent of Nigerians clamouring for federalism and confederation are in support of what he says."

Enahoro's political pull comes from his influence as one of Nigeria's pro-independence activists in the 1953. Today the call for a national conference, to correct seeming inequities among the national groups inherited at independence, have also been articulated by figures such as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

Obani said the federal government, which has steadfastly refused to hold the conference, could not ignore grassroots agitation demanding the meeting. With NGO's educating the public on their rights, he added, holding the conference was "just a matter of time".

NIGERIA: Red Cross donates to Sharia riot victims

The Nigerian Red Cross has donated food and and other relief material to some 10,000 victims of the recent religious riots in Kaduna, Owerri, Aba and Enugu, 'The Guardian' newspaper reported on Monday. It said the victims, still camped in hospitals, army and police barracks, are being given 800 bags of rice, 108 bags of beans, 2,640 cans of vegetable oil, 5,000 mats and 1,500 covered plastic buckets.

Other aid to victims elsewhere has come from the Justice, Development and Peace Commission, a local human rights organisation in Ijebu-Ode, in the western state of Ogun. An official of the NGO said it had donated food, medicines and clothing through its Roman Catholic Diocese.

NIGERIA: Bayelsa needs US $248 million to rebuild Odi

The Bayelsa State government says it has prepared a 25-billion-naira (US $248 million) blueprint for the reconstruction of Odi, destroyed six months ago after federal forces moved in to arrest police killers, 'The Guardian' reported on Monday.

Governor Diepreye Alameyeseigha told reporters in Abjua, the federal capital, that "a whole community" had been levelled. He said the central authorities had done little to rehabilitate the victims in Odi and that he might appeal to the international community to help rebuild the community.

LIBERIA: Taylor to invite SL ambassador to visit military bases

President Charles Taylor said last week he would soon invite the Sierra Leonean ambassador in Liberia to visit military bases there to prove his government is not training Sierra Leonean dissidents, the Liberian News Agency (LINA) reported.

Taylor was responding to recent media reports that Liberia was harbouring dissidents and that former Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie was training rebels in Lofa County, northern Liberia, on the border with Sierra Leone and Guinea.

RUF spokesman Eldred Collins, based in Freetown, told IRIN that Bockarie was no longer a part of the movement. Collins said he had no reports that Bockarie was training guerrillas.

Taylor added that Liberia would never be used as a platform for aggression against other countries in the subregion. As members of the Mano River Union; Liberia, Guinea and Sierra have undertaken never to allow dissidents to operate from their territories in attacking other governments.

ECOMOG and Sierra Leone security agents arrested a group of suspected Liberian dissidents on 22 March in Sierra Leone. Two subsequent attempts by alleged armed dissidents to cross the border into Liberia had also failed, the BBC reported last week. In one of the attempts, it said, 55 dissidents led by a former general of one of the armed factions in the Liberian civil war, were arrested.

LIBERIA: Information ministers suspended

Liberia Information Minister Joe Mulbah and his deputy, Milton Teahjay, have been suspended from duty for nearly two months after exchanging blows during an argument last week, news organisations reported.

President Charles Taylor suspended the two ministers without pay for one month and three weeks. Their unpaid salaries would go towards repairing damage done to the ministry building during the fight, news reports quoted a government statement as saying.

The two men fought over Teahjay's decision to sack a junior member of staff while Mulbah was out of the country.

Abidjan, 11 April 2000, 18:40 GMT

[ENDS]

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