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SIERRA LEONE: Civil society lobbies for peace
Members of the civil society in Sierra Leone are trying to speed up the peace process by holding meetings with the various parties to discuss issues of concern.
"We are holding individual seminars for all stakeholders, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), former Sierra Leonean Army (SLA)/Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), Sierra Leonean government, ECOMOG and others to discuss issues which are holding up the implementation of the peace accord," Zainab Bangura, coordinator of the Campaign for Good Governance, told IRIN on Friday.
One of the pressing issues blocking the Lome Peace Accord is the slow implementation of the disarmament process. Under the accord, signed on 7 July, 1999 by the government and the RUF, the disarmament, demoblisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme was to start within 6 weeks of the deal. However, it was not officially launched until 20 October.
Then, at the launch it was said that deadline for the disarmament phase was 15 December. As of 1 March, out of an estimated 45,000 former fighters, only 17,641 had reported to reception centres, according to the government body responsible for managing the DDR process, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR).
Alimamy Koroma, general secretary of the Council of Churches, told IRIN on Thursday that members of the civil society were lobbying for "substantial disarmament" before any elections takes place in Sierra Leone.
Other key issues to be discussed with the parties to the peace accord include access for relief agencies to previously inaccessible areas to allow humanitarian deliveries, and the release of abducted children, Bangura said. The UN Security Council said in a statement on Wednesday that members "view with deep concern reports of continuing human rights abuses, in particular gross violence against women and girls".
Security Council members were worried, too, about reports of a serious humanitarian situation especially in those parts of the country where the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) is being prevented from deploying its troops.
There are also plans to organise workshops and seminars with commanders of the warring factions with the eventual aim of bringing all the players together to try to reach a consensus, Bangura told IRIN.
SIERRA LEONE: Annan doubts Sankoh's commitment to peace
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan continues to worry over Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh's commitment to the peace process, Annan said in a report to the Security Council released on Thursday.
Annan was "very concerned about the often negative and confusing approach taken by Foday Sankoh to key elements of the peace process and the role entrusted to the United Nations", according to UN News.
While describing the security situation in the country as "precarious" he reported "modest progress" towards the implementation of the governance provisions of last year's Lome Peace Agreement. However, he said that the present situation gave rise to "serious doubts about the commitment of Mr Sankoh and the RUF to the faithful implementation of the peace agreement", and called on the RUF leader "to dispel these doubts in a tangible and unequivocal manner".
The UN Secretary-General outlined the challenges ahead in the peace process and said it was important that the government, RUF and other parties showed real commitment to its implementation.
The report also noted with concern that humanitarian needs could not be met in all parts of the country and the rapid implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programme could "significantly facilitate the work of the humanitarian community in delivering much-needed assistance to all groups in need".
In a related development, British Ambassador to the UN Jeremy Greenstock told reporters in Freetown on Thursday that the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) force was entitled to use force "to clear obstacles in their way when they want to deploy". In February, a reconnaissance mission, including UN military observers and peacekeepers, to the eastern town of Koidu was stopped at a rebel checkpoint some 120 km from the town. The bulk of the mission, a platoon of Kenyan peacekeeping troops had to remain at the checkpoint while five military observers and an information officer went on to visit Koidu.
The military component of UNAMSIL now numbers almost 7,400 persons, including 260 military observers, the UN body reported on 1 March.
SIERRA LEONE: British support for market vendors
Claire Short, Britain's minister for overseas development, launched a micro-credit project for market women during her two-day visit which ended on Friday, a civil society leader in Freetown told IRIN.
According to NGO leader Zainab Bangura the nationwide project, aimed at increasing women's economic independence, received a grant of US $50,000 from the British Department for International Development.
Bangura, who is the coordinator of the Campaign for Good Governance, said Short had consultations on the implementation of Sierra Leone's peace process with all the major political players in the West African nation as well as civil society representatives.
NIGERIA: Government attacks malaria
With some one million Nigerians dying each year from malaria, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has decided to make rolling back malaria a key project for this year, Nigerian radio has reported.
The director for primary health care in the Nigerian Ministry of Health, Dr. Edugie Abebe, told IRIN on Friday the government had started meetings with various groups to reach consensus on strategies to control the disease, after which the government will seek community input in the fight.
"We are also looking at early diagnosis, at the use of mosquito nets and at pregnant women," Abebe said.
Pregnant women with malaria, she added, accounted for 10 percent of deaths. The plan is to provide prophylactics over the short-term to these women, which will not compromise their natural immunity to the disease.
Statistics for malaria prevalence are stark.
Abebe said country hospital statistics showed that 30 percent of child mortality was due to malaria. About 60 percent of outpatients at hospitals come for malaria treatment. "It is the largest killer in the country, more than HIV/AIDS," she said.
Nigeria's AIDS rate is 5.4 percent of population over 18 years. The highest prevalence, 21 percent, is in Benue State.
However with malaria, all parts of the country suffer, with seasonal variations determining prevalence. More cases are reported during the April-to-September rainy season when still pools of water provide perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which are the carriers of the disease.
GHANA: President calls for more investment in oil
President Jerry Rawlings on Tuesday urged oil exploration companies to invest more in Ghana's petroleum sector, PANA reported. He was speaking at an oil and gas conference organised by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation.
The conference brought together major players in the oil and gas industry to talk about exploration, production, trade, and finance. Rawlings told delegates that "the signs of good potential are there" and invited more investors to join in exploration activities in Ghana. Almost all of Ghana's offshore area has been licensed to companies that have committed themselves to significant levels of investment, Rawlings added.
Abidjan, 10 March 2000; 19:20 GMT
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