Guinea-Bissau + 2 more

IRIN Update 619 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 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Cautious optimism follows Bockarie's flight

There is a mood of cautious optimism in Freetown following reports of former rebel commander Sam 'Maskita' Bockarie's flight from Sierra Leone on Thursday, the managing editor of the privately owned newspaper, 'For Di People,' told IRIN on Monday.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish," is a view being expressed in the streets of Freetown following news of his disappearance, Paul Kamara said.

The Economic Community of West African States Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) said in a news release on Friday that Bockarie had fled Sierra Leone with his family to an "undisclosed country". Before leaving, he destroyed his field command headquarters and killed some officers loyal to the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Foday Sankoh, ECOMOG said.

People are cautious about drawing conclusions but hope that Bockarie's departure signals the end of the rift in the RUF leadership, humanitarian sources in Freetown told IRIN.

"I was in the market when the news was announced on the BBC," Zainab Bangura, coordinator of the Campaign for Good Governance, told IRIN on Monday. "Everyone was stunned and glued to their radios. They couldn't celebrate because they couldn't believe it. Bockarie was a nightmare for Sierra Leoneans, a man who killed with impunity and showed no remorse."

Bockarie, who had been accused of holding up the peace process, had openly defied Sankoh's calls to disarm by refusing to surrender any weapons to ECOMOG forces or Nigerian soldiers. He recently accused Sankoh of sending a death squad to try and kill him and was responsible for the abduction of two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) volunteers in what he said was an attempt to focus the attention of the international community on his dissatisfaction with the peace process.

An RUF official told Reuters that Sankoh had ordered Bockarie to release the two men and then meet him in Liberia's capital Monrovia. The two MSF volunteers were released on Thursday, shortly before Bockarie disappeared.

RUF spokesman Eldred Collins told IRIN on Monday that he was not able to comment on Bockarie's disappearance. He said that Sankoh, who had talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor on 14 December, was expected back from Liberia in the next couple of days and would make a statement on his return.

"Sankoh did not see Bockarie in Liberia and that was not the reason for the visit," Collins said. "He went there to discuss the implementation of the Lome Peace Accord."

No one is sure of Bockarie's whereabouts, whether he is still alive or under detention somewhere, Kamara said.

ECOMOG said in its news release that following Bockarie's flight, the "ECOMOG High Command is optimistic that the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme can now move forward without undue hindrances".

Civilians in Freetown were more reserved. "People have suffered too much to be out dancing in the streets," Kamara said.

SIERRA LEONE: More troops arrive from Nigeria

An advance party of some 106 Nigerian soldiers, including six officers, arrived at Lungi International Airport on Thursday ahead of newly constituted battalions scheduled to join the new UN peacekeeping force, ECOMOG said on Friday.

The soldiers, led by Major Michael Ologbenla, are expected to start training immediately to adapt to their roles in Sierra Leone in preparation for the main body of Nigerian peacekeepers expected to start arriving next week, ECOMOG said in a press release.

The new troops are drawn from units around Lagos and Enugu in southern Nigeria which have taken part in foreign and local military operations, it said. Nigerian troops will make up nearly three battalions of the 6,000 strong force which will also include peacekeepers from Ghana, Guinea, India, and Kenya.

WEST AFRICA: Bumper harvest expected

The aggregate cereal harvest for nine Sahelian countries is expected to reach a record 10.9 million mt this year because of abundant rains in the subregion, the FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture reported in a preliminary assessment of cereal production.

In its November assessment, it said the harvest is expected to be 2 percent higher than in 1998 and 16 percent above the average of the last five years.

Record crops are anticipated in Cape Verde, The Gambia, Mali and Mauritania, the FAO said. Above-average output is expected in Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Senegal. Output is expected to be below average in Guinea-Bissau following the war in 1998. However, despite the war, output for this year in Guinea-Bissau as well as Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, is expected to be generally superior to last year.

Production in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger will be below 1998's record outputs.

In the Gulf of Guinea, harvest prospects are good for Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Togo. The same heavy rains that raised harvest prospects in the Sahel have adversely affected Ghana and Nigeria which experienced, perhaps, the subregion's worst rain-caused floods this year.

Liberia and Sierra Leone, also part of the Gulf of Guinea, remain heavily dependent on international food aid, due to their recent wars.

WEST AFRICA: Japanese government donates food aid

Japan has donated aid through the UN World Food Programme to West African refugees and others facing severe food shortages because of civil war and other causes, the Japanese government said in a news release on Tuesday.

The food aid, maize meal and beans worth some 700 million yen (US$ 6.78 million) will benefit five countries including Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the news release said.

Abidjan, 20 December 1999; 18:10 GMT

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2175

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