Liberia + 2 more

IRIN Update 670 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 22-40-4440
Fax: +225 22-40-4435
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Ordnance demolition begins

A two-day ordnance demolition exercise began on Tuesday east of Freetown, a spokesman for the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN. "We hope by the end of the day 13 cluster bombs and one mortar bomb will have been detonated in place," Philip Winslow, UNAMSIL's Chief Information Officer, said.

The ordnance is being destroyed near Sumbuya, some 20 km southwest of Masiaka. On Wednesday the team travels to an area near Masiaka to detonate a few dozen unexploded rocket-propelled grenades and mortar bombs, Winslow said.

SIERRA LEONE: Vocational training for ex-fighters

Vocational training courses are being set up for ex-combatants in Sierra Leone as part of their reintegration into the local community, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said in a 2 March information bulletin.

"An ex-combatant is always a potential combatant", Francis Kaikai, executive secretary of the NCDDR, said. "They need skills more than cash, in order to sustain their livelihoods by themselves."

Several institutions have come up with proposals on ways to include former fighters in their vocational training courses, according to the committee.

Ebun Thomas, acting director of the REAPS (Rapid Engagement in the Acquisition of Practical Skills) vocational training centre, said that rather than segregating ex-combatants, they should be treated like any other trainees and integrated in small numbers onto existing courses with other students.

The REAPS centre, run by the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone, train students to become carpenters, metal workers, tailors, and secretaries.

Another institution interested in training ex-combatants is the Government Technical Institute (GTI), which offers courses to some 2,000 students in trades such as carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, car mechanics, and metal work, the NCDDR said. As many of the ex-combatants do not qualify for admission to the courses, the GTI and NCDDR are drafting a special three-year practical skills training course for them.

To take in a large number of former fighters, the GTI will run its regular courses in the mornings, while those for ex-combatants will be held in the afternoons.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (NCRRR) is working with the civilian population to overcome problems created by the war. It helps communities to rebuild their villages, restore the economy and come to terms with the psychological effects of the war, the NCDDR reported.

SIERRA LEONE: Displaced people demonstrate in capital

Hundreds of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the eastern diamond district of Kono held a peaceful demonstration on Saturday in the national stadium in Freetown, the Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported on Monday.

The demonstrators, currently living in camps the Freetown area, said they wanted to be able to return to their homes some eight months after the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) signed the Lome Peace Accord, MISNA reported. They said the authorities should guarantee the safe return of civilians to the district.

LIBERIA: Defence Ministry to spend $1 million on armed forces

Liberia's government is to spend US $1 million to restructure its armed forces, news organisations reported on 2 March.

Quoting Defence Minister Daniel Chea, the pro-government Radio Liberia International said the money would go to a restructuring commission headed by cabinet Director-General Blamo Nelson.

A document produced by the restructuring committee states that the military which, for now is limited to the army, will be reduced from 11,000 to a little less than 6,000 -- 5,150 in the army along with a 600-member navy and an air force of 240.

Broadly, the reorganisation of the military will involve demobilisation, retirements and then restructuring to give it a national character. Just before the civil war, the armed forces comprised people from late president Samuel Doe's Krahn ethnic group. After the civil war the military was made up of loyalists of various civil war factions, including former members of the Liberian Army.

A political analyst told IRIN on Tuesday that the numerical dominance of the Krahns in the military will likely be reduced to attain greater representation of other ethnic groups.

President Charles Taylor has sought money from the international community to restructure and modernise his military, so far without success. Recently, he said he would begin the process despite the lack of external support.

Liberia's military has traditionally been trained by the United States which provided it with its doctrine. The political analyst told IRIN that Washington showed interest in the military's reorganisation but that there had not been any public indication of this interest since a clash on 18 September 1998 between government troops and supporters of Taylor-rival Roosevelt Johnson, who had sought refuge in the US Embassy.

Under a peace accord signed in Abuja, Nigeria, the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, was supposed to have restructured, recruited and trained the AFL. However, Taylor objected, saying it was the sovereign right of Liberia to decide who would train its military.

LIBERIA: Taylor, Gaddafi on peacekeeping

The leaders of Libya and Liberia have said that any future peacekeeping force in Africa must be made up exclusively of troops from the continent, Libyan radio announced on Sunday.

Taylor, who has cultivated close diplomatic ties with Libya, ended a three-day visit to that country on Sunday. The call for an all-African force was contained in a joint communique that capped a meeting between Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

In recent years, France and the United States have taken initiatives on the creation of a rapid reaction peace force for Africa, comprising African armies. The idea of an all-African force was first proposed by late Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah but never got off the ground.

However, in 1990, the Economic Community of West African States became the first subregional group to deploy a peacekeeping and peace-enforcement body. It did so in Liberia and later in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

NIGERIA: Muslim leaders call for peace

Muslim leaders from 19 northern Nigerian states called on their people on Monday to live in peace with Christians, following recent violence between followers of the two religions in which hundreds of people were killed, news organisations reported.

"We pray to God the Almighty to give us the fortitude to bear the losses and the courage and determination to live together and develop our country to greater heights," they said in a communique.

In the document, whose content was released after separate meetings in Abuja with Nigeria's president and vice president, the leaders pledged to uphold the country's unity. They called on Muslims in the south of the country to remain there and for all communities in the Muslim dominated north to live in harmony.

However the communique, read by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, made no mention of an earlier announcement by Vice President Atiku Abubakar that governors in the north had agreed to suspend the implementation of Sharia laws.

Close to 1,000 Muslims and Christians died in the last two weeks, in what has been described as the worst violence since a civil war in 1967-1970. The killings followed a demonstration by Christians in Kaduna against the implementation of Sharia law in the city which is almost equally populated by adherents of both faiths.

The Muslim Association of Nigeria also called on both communities to show restraint over the Sharia issue. Christians fear that Sharia's harsh criminal code - which calls for limb amputations for some crimes - may be applied on them. However, Muslim governors have said repeatedly that the laws apply only to Muslims.

Meanwhile, Governor Orji Uzor-Kalu of Abia State, where hundreds of northern Muslims died in retaliatory killings by members of the local Igbo community, warned that if any more Igbos were killed in the north, more violence would follow.

"Nobody should kill an Igbo man again in the name of religion," AFP reported him as saying. "There will be retaliation."

State officials said some 10,000 people fled their homes following the killings in Abia, with 7,500 seeking refuge in a naval base, AFP reported.

NIGERIA: President seeks debt relief from Britain

President Olusegun Obasanjo repeated his call for the cancellation of Nigeria's debt when he received British minister Clare Short on Monday, AFP reported, citing an official statement by the Nigerian presidency.

He told Short, who is responsible for overseas development, that as one the poorest countries in the world, Nigeria needed debt relief for the Paris Club of creditors for it to develop.

France, a key member of the Paris Club, has already started consultations with Abuja over the cancellation of its debt to the body, 'The Guardian' newspaper of Lagos reported on Tuesday. Some 70 percent of Nigeria's external debt, which is estimated at US $28.6 billion, is owed to the club.

Obasanjo briefed Short on his government's efforts to crush corruption, reduce inflation, stabilise the naira and rehabilitate decaying social and economic infrastructure. Short said Britain's support for Obasanjo's administration was aimed at improving the quality of life of Nigerians. British cooperation included police reform, she said, the eradication of malaria and the battle against the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Short arrived in Nigeria on Sunday to evaluate poverty alleviation and health programmes, AFP said, quoting the British High Commission.

NIGERIA: Oil strike has limited effect

A strike by Nigerian oil workers protesting the transfer of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to the Ministry of the Environment has had limited affect on motorists so far, a news source in Lagos told IRIN on Tuesday.

"The strike has not had the type of impact that will cause any problems at the moment," the source said.

However, 'The Guardian' reported some experts as saying that an expected windfall from high crude prices and oil exports from Bonny, Escravos, Forcados and Qua Iboe terminals may have been lost. Crude oil prices are currently at about US $30 per barrel.

Members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) suspended work on Monday claiming they were not consulted about the department's transfer to the ministry, the chairman of the PENGASSAN Lagos chapter, George Bada, told the 'The Guardian'.

Some 150 placard-waving DPR employees in the south-eastern oil town of Warri said the transfer of the DPR Safety and Environmental Unit was done "to satisfy some fraudulent and unpatriotic Nigerians in the corridors of power".

Abidjan, 7 March 2000; 18:35 GMT

[ENDS]

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