Guinea + 2 more

IRIN Update 616 of events in West Africa

News and Press Release
Originally published
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35

SIERRA LEONE: Congressmen call for UN sanctions on diamonds

Two members of the US House of Representatives have called for the UN to back up its peacekeeping efforts with an embargo on black market diamonds from Sierra Leone, according to US Newswire.

Tony Hall and Frank Wolf, after returning from a trip to Sierra Leone, said that any diamond not certified by the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, chaired by Revolutionary United Front leader, Foday Sankoh, should be sanctioned under international law.

"Rebels responsible for the war's atrocities have signed the peace agreement but some factions continue to mine and sell diamonds and the unspeakable violence that depends on those revenues is also continuing," Hall said.

Most black market diamonds go from Sierra Leone through Liberia to diamond-cutting centres in Belgium and elsewhere.

"Any solution that leaves the black market strong is a recipe for bloodshed in the ranks of civilians, soldiers and peacekeepers too," Hall added.

SIERRA LEONE: Reported abductions exceed number of abductees freed

The Sierra Leonean Human Rights Committee (SLHRC) has reported in its 'Lome Implementation Bulletin' that the number of reported cases of abductions now exceeds that of released abductees, which is a setback for the peace agreement, according to a UN newsletter published on Friday.

However, the bulletin said that the recent appointment of the Constitutional Review Committee was a significant step towards the implementation of the human rights provisions of the Lome Peace Accord signed in July, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reported in its first Human Rights newsletter

The SLHRC is a consortium of local and international organisations committed to the protection and promotion of human rights in Sierra Leone, the newsletter said. On 29 July the committee adopted a mechanism to keep track of the human rights provisions of the Lome Peace Accord. Its public bulletins make periodic assessments on the "status of the key human rights commitments", which allow signatories to the Accord and civil society to respond accordingly.

SIERRA LEONE: Local NGOs receive international training

A number of human rights activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGO) have been taking part in a series of international training programmes organised with the support of UNAMSIL.

They include the president of the National Forum for Human Rights, Joseph Rahall, who took part in an international workshop on the empowerment of African human rights activists that was held in October in Dakar, Senegal, UNAMSIL reported.

The training programmes aim to provide individuals from local NGOs with the skills needed to work in the areas of human rights monitoring, documentation and intervention.

SIERRA LEONE: UNAMSIL training team consults ECOMOG

A three-member team from the United Nations in New York visited ECOMOG on Tuesday to discuss arrangements for a training programme to help incoming members of the UNAMSIL force, an ECOMOG news release said.

The head of the delegation, Emmanuel Erskine, said the training programme was aimed at helping the new UN peacekeepers adapt to their roles in the country. The team will be involved in training a group of trainers who will later train the forces participating in UNAMSIL, ECOMOG reported.

SIERRA LEONE: Disarmament deadline missed

A 15 December deadline for disarming some 45,000 former combatants will be missed, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade told IRIN on Wednesday.

The National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, in line with the Lome Peace Accord, had wanted the first phase of disarmament to end ideally by 15 December, Olukolade said.

Reuters quoted Information Minister Julius Spencer as saying on Tuesday that the deadline would be missed "due to delays and mistrust among parties involved in the implementation of the peace process".

SIERRA LEONE-LIBERIA: Sankoh hold talks with Taylor

RUF leader Foday Sankoh held talks on Tuesday with Liberian President Charles Taylor, sources in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Wednesday.

The visit was a casual one, but President Taylor wanted to express his wish that the peace process remains on course, Liberian Information Minster Joe Mulbah said.

According to humanitarian sources in Monrovia, Sankoh told journalists as he was leaving the Executive Mansion that his relations with field commander Sam Bockarie were "cordial". Bockarie, who recently accused Sankoh of sending a death squad to kill him, had been expected in Monrovia but had not yet arrived, sources said.

LIBERIA: Last volunteers for repatriation return from Sierra Leone

A three-day operation to repatriate the last Liberians who had volunteered to go back home from Sierra Leone was completed on Sunday, the UNHCR reported on Tuesday.

Some 213 refugees were airlifted from the towns of Bo in the south and Kenema in the east as well as Freetown. More than 1,800 of the approximately 8,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone have elected to return home. Most did so after fighting in the capital in January 1999 cut off aid to refugee sites, according to UNHCR.

LIBERIA: Government denies human rights violations in Lofa

Liberia's government has denied recent reports of an upsurge of violence and human rights violations by state security forces in the north of the country, Information Minister Joe Mulbah told IRIN on Wednesday.

"The reports are a lot of empty noise," Mulbah said in response to a recent charge by the Liberia National Bar Association and human rights observers that reports of rights violations such as harassment, rape and murder had increased in Lofa County.

Mulbah said the rights groups needed to do more research as the reports were not true. However, he added that the government was investigating a report some two weeks ago of unidentified armed men harassing civilians in Lofa County.

GUINEA: Amnesty calls for release of opposition leader

Amnesty International asked the Guinean government on Tuesday to release "immediately and unconditionally" Alpha Conde, the jailed opposition leader charged with trying to leave the country illegally and seeking to recruit troops to destabilise Guinea.

"The motives for Alpha Conde's arrest were political and the legal proceedings continue to be severely flawed," Amnesty International said.

Conde placed third in the presidential elections of 14 December 1998, won by Lansana Conte. He was arrested one day after the polls in the village of Pine near Guinea's border with Cote d'Ivoire.

The government has denied his lawyers access to files on his case, AI said, and failed to begin his trial as expected in September. Conde has been denied bail. His wife and other members of the family have not been allowed to visit him.

Amnesty said that at least 60 members of Conde's Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee (RPG) were arrested after the elections and imprisoned for four to five years.

"Most stated they had been tortured in detention," Amnesty said.

In 1998, the president of the national assembly, El Hadj Biro Diallo, condemned the use of torture to extract confessions from prisoners. Diallo also asked President Lansana Conte to prevent such abuse, AI said.

WEST AFRICA: UNHCR appeals to Guinea, Liberia to open borders

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to the governments of Liberia and Guinea to reopen their countries' common borders to returning refugees. Border posts were closed in August following security incidents in northern Liberia and no repatriation convoys have operated since.

Meanwhile, several hundred Liberians in N'zerekore in south-eastern Guinea have now said they want to go home. UNHCR has reminded the governments that it is scheduled to end its assistance to returning refugees on 31 December.

UNHCR proposes to transfer Liberians from Guinea to Liberia via Cote d'Ivoire. More than 13,000 Liberians had been repatriated from Guinea on UNHCR convoys in 1999 before the August security problems, bringing the total to have return home from that country since 1997 to 75,000.

Returns from Cote d'Ivoire, the other main country of asylum, have continued throughout.

Since 1997, an estimated 340,000 of 480,000 Liberians who had fled their country have returned with UNHCR help and on their own.

AFRICA: Conference ends with call for conflict-prevention network

A colloquium on peace, social stability and lasting development in Lusophone African countries ended on Friday with a call for the creation of a worldwide network for the promotion of peace and conflict-prevention in Africa.

The former presidents, researchers and other academics and politicians from Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome/Principe who participated in the meeting also recommended the devoting of a week to the culture of peace and tolerance.

The colloquium, held on 7-10 December in Praia, Cape Verde, was organised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in conjunction with the government and civil society of Cape Verde.

Participants recommended the creation of public mechanisms to ensure key aspects of good governance such as the independence of parliaments and the judiciary, and the autonomy of central banks.

Other recommendations related to respect for freedom of expression, strengthening the role of independent media and creating constitutional mechanisms capable of supporting people's participation in decision-making at various levels.

The colloquium also advocated strengthening the role of traditional authorities in conflict prevention and resolution, the non-politicisation of the armed forces and their involvement in the process of integration and socio-economic development.

WESTERN SAHARA: Security Council extends MINURSOs mandate

By a 14-vote majority, with one abstention, the Security Council extended on Tuesday the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 29 February 2000.

This will enable the completion of voter identification, the issuance of a second provisional voters' list, and time to begin appeal hearings from three ethnic groupings, the UN said.

The appeals and the opposing positions taken by Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Ore (Frente Polisario) would likely delay the referendum beyond 2002, the UN said.

A commission established to identify eligible voters has recognised 42,774 applicants. The UN says "a relatively small percentage" of these qualify. "If all those who may be found ineligible were to file an appeal, the total number of appeals to be processed could almost double," the UN said.

The status of the three ethnic groups - identified by the UN as H41, H61 and J51/52 - has been contested because Morocco considers them to be Sahrawi while Polisario considers them Moroccan.

In the referendum, first scheduled in 1992, voters will be asked to choose between independence for the former Spanish territory, a position supported by Polisario, or its political integration with Morocco.

The logic of Polisario's position is that the ethnic groups, if registered as Sahrawi, would be eligible for the referendum and would vote for the territory's incorporation into Morocco.

The 1998 Settlement Plan for the territory proposed by the UN and the Organisation of African Unity provides for a transitional period during which the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, helped by MINURSO, would be responsible for identifying and registering eligible voters.

Abidjan, 15 December 1999; 18:08 GMT


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