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IRIN-WA Update 397 of Events in West Africa

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U N I T E D N A T I O N S
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

IRIN-WA Update 397 of Events in West Africa (Friday 8 February)

SIERRA LEONE: Kabbah to let rebel leader meet commanders

Sierra Leonean President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has agreed to allow imprisoned Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh to talk directly with his rebel commanders so they can present their plans for peace to his government, Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN today (Monday).

However, the offer is only good if the rebels accept the legitimacy of the Kabbah government, lay down their arms, stop attacks on civilians and present no pre-conditions for talks. "If they agree then we can go to the next step for the meeting," Kaikai said.

In a broadcast on Sunday, Kabbah said he would allow Sankoh, imprisoned for treason, to travel for the talks at a venue and time yet to be determined.

ECOMOG arrest rebel collaborators

West African ECOMOG troops have made an undisclosed number of arrests in Freetown in an effort to crack down on rebel collaborators, AFP reported citing an ECOMOG spokesman.

Speaking on local radio the spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade, said the troops seized a large quantity of weapons on Friday in its "cordon and search" operations in the centre and west of the city.

ECOMOG also struck rebel hideouts in the south and southwest of Freetown, AFP said quoting military sources. It gave no casualty figures. The agency said ECOMOG officers were convinced that Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels, who are former Sierra Leone army soldiers, were still hiding in the homes of relatives in the capital after their invasion of the capital 6 January. The AFRC has joined the RUF in trying to oust Kabbah.

Situation returning to normal

Despite the continued presence of rebel elements in Freetown, life is slowly returning to normal, Kaikai told IRIN. An increasing number of markets are being opened and people are returning to work, despite the dearth in public transport. "Rebels burnt fifty percent of the taxis in the city so transport is difficult," he said.

He added that aid agencies were beginning to return to the country providing much needed relief to the seriously injured. Rebels carried out an orgy of mutilations of residents in eastern Freetown when they invaded the capital.

Humanitarian action plan urges dialogue

A humanitarian action plan for Sierra Leone said any solution of the conflict would depend increasingly on the initiation of a dialogue between the government and rebels. The 60-day plan, prepared by the humanitarian community in Sierra Leone, noted that one out of five Sierra Leoneans had been displaced and between 65 and 80 percent of residences in eastern Freetown were destroyed by fighting. Basic operational requirements contained in the plan include full access to communications equipment, cooperation between the government and humanitarian agencies, unheeded humanitarian access and established ground rules with the military and security forces.

Ghanaian reinforcements arrive

Another 150 Ghanaian troops landed in Sierra Leone last Thursday bringing to over 1,000 the number of Ghanaian reinforcements that have arrived in the country since 1 February, Sierra Leone Web, a government-compiled news service, said.

Nigeria to help train new army

Nigeria is drumming up support to help train officers and men for the new Sierra Leonean army that will take over when ECOMOG withdraws later this year, PANA reported. Sierra Leone's chief of defence staff, Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe, told PANA in Lagos that the country's "entire military structure" had been destroyed. Khobe, a Nigerian who a was the former ECOMOG task force commander in Sierra Leone, was made Sierra Leone's defence chief after ECOMOG reinstated Kabbah.

Nigeria has voiced a desire to withdraw its ECOMOG contingent from Sierra Leone in May, when that country reverts to civil rule. However, Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN that Nigeria would not leave Sierra Leone totally defenceless.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Priest's expulsion order revoked

Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira has revoked the expulsion order against the Italian priest, the Reverend Mario Faccioli, for publicly accusing France of military intervention in the West African country, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.

Vieira pardoned Faccioli after his diocese gave an explanation for Faccioli's accusation. On Friday, Faccioli was given 24 hours to leave the country where he had worked for 43 years. In an interview last week, Faccioli denounced France accusing it of backing the beleaguered Vieira in his efforts to put down a military revolt. French President Jacques Chirac last week denied Faccioli's allegations.

Gambian troops leave for Bissau

A company of 140 Gambian soldiers left Banjul for Dakar, Senegal, today where they will join a French warship taking them on peacekeeping duties in Guinea-Bissau, Gambian Foreign Minister Sedat Jobe told IRIN. The Gambians will join troops from Togo and Niger already in the Guinea Bissau capital, in a force to number some 600 men. Under the Abuja peace agreement the arrival of the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, should pave the way for the withdrawal of Guinean and Senegalese soldiers called in to prop up Vieira's shaky hold on the country.

Senegal denied reinforciing troops

In a related issue, Senegal's military has denied reports that it had sent 200 troops to reinforce its 2,300 men in Guinea Bissau, AFP reported on Sunday. Quoting a statement form military headquarters in Dakar it said the only troop movements were in Elinkine and Cap Skirring, in the southern Casamance area, where they are guarding hotels against attacks by Senegalese rebels. Senegal sent troops to Guinea Bissau in June 1998 in support for that country's president. Almost a month ago, Senegal announced the withdrawal of the first 200 of its men in Guinea Bissau.

Nigeria will not send troops

Nigeria will not contribute troops to the West African intervention force mandated by the Abuja peace accord for Guinea Bissau, PANA reported on Saturday. Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar told the agency in Dakar: "Nigeria's hands are full. We cannot send soldiers to Guinea Bissau." Nigeria provides the bulk of 15,000-20,000 ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone where a major effort is underway to put down a rebellion. However, Abubakar said Nigeria would help provide logistics and make other facilities available to ensure peace returns to Guinea Bissau.

NIGERIA: Shell plans to invest US $8.5 billion

The multi-national Royal Dutch/Shell has proposed an investment of US $8.5 billion to revitalise the oil industry in Nigeria, news agencies reported today. The five-year scheme integrates numerous oil and gas projects already planned by Shell and its partners to link new offshore fields. Shell Nigeria Managing Director Ron van den Berg told the 'Financial Times' in London that 70 percent of the new investment would come from oil firms and the rest from the state.

The move is seen as a welcome vote of confidence in Nigeria's current regime and its predicted return to civilian rule in May, Reuters said. Nigeria is in need of foreign finance to ease the deficit caused by the oil price slump.

Fire at sabotaged fuel pipelines

Meanwhile, sabotaged fuel pipelines caught fire at Warewa village in Ogun State, southwest Nigeria at the weekend, the independent 'Guardian' reported today. It said that a bush fire was thought to have spread to holes sodden with petrol. The holes are drilled by scavengers attempting to reach pipelines carrying fuel from Lagos to parts of the southwest and north.

More than 700 people collecting fuel from a burst pipeline in the southern Delta region died last year after fire broke out.

INEC extends presidency nomination date

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has extended the nominating date for candidates in the presidential elections by three days to 15 February, news organisations reported today. "An extension of two or three days if the need arises has been confirmed," an INEC official said, according to Reuters.

Following this announcement the largest party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), has postponed its national convention until next weekend, a party spokesman told AFP yesterday (Sunday). So far, only one of Nigeria's three political parties, the southwest-based Alliance for Democracy (AD) has picked its candidate for the 27 February presidential elections.

Government officials meet party leaders to "calm tensions"

President Abdulsalami Abubukar did not attend a planned meeting today with leaders of the country's three political parties following his decision to attend the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan, the BBC reported. However, the meeting, called in an apparent effort to "calm tensions" over the selection of presidential candidates, went ahead with government officials, the BBC said.

NIGER: Voting peaceful in landmark poll

Voting in Niger's local elections - the first since independence in 1960 - went ahead peacefully yesterday, news organisations reported. They pointed out that the poll was a political landmark in Niger's history as previously all municipal officials were nominated by the central government. The elections were the last phase in the country's restoration of democratic institutions after a military coup in 1996 which brought President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara to power. However, a Supreme Court judge today took issue with the centralisation and announcement of the results, saying this did not conform with the electoral code. AFP noted that since voting ended last night, the independent national electoral commission had organised an "election night" in Niamey during which it announced the results as they came in, ahead of the official announcement by the various local commissions.

POPULATION: Parliamentarians discuss issues of reproduction and development

Parliamentarians from 100 countries met in The Hague, Netherlands, last week ahead of a meeting on population and development which opens there today comprsising representatives of 180 governments. According to a news release from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the parliamentarians' findings will be presented to today's Hague Forum meeting. One parliamentarian stressed that rapid population growth was closely linked to poverty and environmental problems. Mrs J. Van Nieuwenhoven, speaker of the Netherlands parliament, said national parliaments could initiate population policy and adopt legislative measures "that contribute to a sound population policy and better opportunities for women". Another speaker said "misconceptions about religious proscriptions" must be addressed. "A key area is the need to change male behaviour and to teach men to be responsible for their own reproductive health and that of their partners," the speaker, Dr Nafis Sadik of UNPFA, noted. She hailed certain initiatives such as South Africa's incorporation of reproductive rights into its constitution, and the Senegalese parliament's decision to outlaw female genital mutilation. A third speaker said it was important to address sub-Saharan Africa's high rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted diseases.

Abidjan, 8 Feburary 1999, 17:40 gmt

[ENDS]

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