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SIERRA LEONE: UN expresses concern over rights abuses
The United Nations is deeply concerned by human rights abuses which are reportedly still being committed by rebel groups in Sierra Leone, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by the President of the Security Council, Anwarul Chowdhury.
"Council members view with deep concern reports of continuing human rights abuses, in particular gross violence against women and girls," the statement said. It added that members were also worried 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.
Humanitarian agencies do not have access to seven out of 12 districts in Sierra Leone, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) said in a 7 March situation report. Rebels' refusal to allow UNAMSIL to deploy in key areas has not only reduced hopes for improved security conditions, but has also raised concerns over a possible military confrontation which could increase the dangers aid workers face on the ground, HACU said.
Council members described the situation as "unacceptable" given the commitments made by all parties to the Lome Peace Accord on 7 July 1999 to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights and unhindered access throughout the country. They called on Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh to "genuinely" order his forces to end rights abuses, remove roadblocks and return all illegally seized weapons to UNAMSIL peacekeeping forces.
They urged UNAMSIL and the government to investigate all reports of human rights abuses and encouraged the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone to take a firm line with former rebel leaders over violations of the peace agreement.
SIERRA LEONE: ICRC conducting needs survey
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) have started a needs assessment in four districts prior to a distribution of seeds and tools, ICRC Information Delegate Priska Spoerri told IRIN on Thursday.
"The survey started last week and is expected to last three to four weeks," Spoerri said. The teams are now in the eastern district of Kenema, Tonkolili District east of Freetown, and Pujehun District in the far south. If their security is guaranteed, they will also travel to Kailahun District in the east, she added.
The assessment is directed at some 40,000 families who are destitute, including displaced people, refugees, and resident farmers, whose houses or crops were looted during the war. "Some of the local chiefs will help point out the people who are in most need," Spoerri said.
After the survey has been completed, the ICRC and the SLRCS will distribute 40 kg of rice seed, 10 kg of groundnuts, vegetable seed, hoes, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats, and soap to each family, the ICRC said.
LIBERIA: Senate approves creation of new county
The Liberian Senate passed a law on Tuesday creating a fourteenth county to be called River Gee, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah told IRIN on Thursday.
The new county, comprising six districts, has been formed out of the eastern county of Grand Gedeh, which is on the border with Cote d'Ivoire.
Grand Gedeh is populated mainly by Krahns, the ethnic group of former president Samuel Doe, who was killed in 1990. Since 1976, however, there had been calls for the creation of a new county in southern Grand Gedeh by members of the Grebo ethnic group who said they felt marginalised by the Krahns in the north, according to Mulbah.
When asked if this move might encourage other minorities to call for the same treatment, he said: "We have not heard cries from other places, so far."
NIGERIA: Government spends millions on peacekeeping
Nigeria's government spent at least 2.3 billion naira (US $22.86 million) between October 1999 and February 2000 to sustain military operations at home and abroad, President Olusegun Obasanjo said in a memorandum to the national assembly.
This includes peacekeeping in Sierra Leone as well as dealing with communal conflicts in various parts of Nigeria.
In the document on 'Financial Requirements of Military and Other National Emergencies', Obasanjo said this spending was not included in the appropriations bill for year 2000, now under consideration by the national assembly, the 'Post Express' newspaper reported.
NIGERIA: Christians flee Kano
Christians and non-indigenes have been fleeing the northern city of Kano for fear that the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Kebir later this month might be accompanied by unrest, AFP reported on Wednesday.
At the same time, Muslims in the southeast have been heading north for fear that violence in northern cities would again spark retaliation against them.
The fears have been spurred by the recent killing of some 400 people, mostly Christians, in the northern city of Kaduna and a similar number, mainly Muslims, in the southern city of Aba.
AFP reported that hundreds of passengers bound for the southeast boarded vehicles at bus stations in the Sabon Gari District of Kano, which has the highest concentration of Igbos (a southeastern ethnic group) in the town. Bus operators, mostly Igbos, slashed transport fares by half to ease the burden on travellers.
Most Igbo-owned shops have been closed this week, bringing commercial activity to a low ebb, AFP reported, adding that banks in Kano had reported panic withdrawals since the religious unrest in Kaduna two weeks ago.
In response to the prevailing climate of fear, Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso has cancelled his plans to go on a Holy pilgrimage to Mecca, AFP said.
For their part, Muslims have been leaving the southeastern city of Port Harcourt in anticipation of retaliation should more violence break out in the north. The information and research coordinator at the Centre for Responsive Politics in Port Harcourt city, Temple Ayasuk, told IRIN on Wednesday that an average of 500 northerners had been leaving the city each day.
"All Igbo-owned luxury buses are fully booked," he said. However, he said, calm prevailed in Port Harcourt, which probably has the largest concentration of northerners in the southeast.
Officials of Nigeria's southern and eastern states say they have taken measures to ensure the safety of all northern residents in their areas.
NIGERIA: Help for the internally displaced
Some 20,00 people who sought refuge in army and police bases following outbreaks of sectarian violence in various parts of Nigeria are receiving help from the Nigerian Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.
The Nigerian Red Cross has been providing medicines, cooking utensils, bedding and clothing for women and children, ICRC said.
Thousands of northerners have sought shelter in military and police facilities in the southern states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Imo where Igbo youths launched retaliatory attacks on northerners after southerners were killed in the north.
The northern state of Kaduna, which was the scene of the first wave of violence between Christians and Muslims over the proposed introduction of Sharia law, is returning to normal, the ICRC said.
Quoting government estimates, the ICRC said just 35,000 of the initial 80,000 displaced persons remained in protected areas and that the number of injured people in hospitals had dropped from 738 to 300.
MALI: Military patrol hunting tourists' killer
Four men suspected of killing three Dutch tourists near Tessalit, a remote desert locale some 2,000 km north of Bamako, have been arrested and an army patrol was hunting for a fifth suspect, a military information source in Mali told IRIN on Thursday.
The official daily newspaper, 'L'Essor', said the victims, whose names it gave as Ferdinand Smit, Aardi Tenboogaard and J. Jsint, had had their throats cut. The military source told IRIN that security forces found their bodies near the border with Algeria.
News reports said the three had driven from Algeria and had left Tessalit on 25 February for the south Malian town of Gao.
The military information official said the Tessalit sector had been calm.
However, a humanitarian source told IRIN that the desert track from Tessalit to the border was frequently used by smugglers and small-time traders.
Prior to 1991, the road was used heavily by locals and Westerners. However, a Tuareg rebellion that broke out in northern Mali at the start of the 1990s coupled with the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency in Algeria had made the area dangerous.
The insecurity in northern Mali caused thousands of people to flee to other parts of the country and to neighbouring countries. UNHCR resettled some 142,000 Tuaregs before closing its operation in 1999. Now, the humanitarian source said, there is no longer an insurgency in the north, but the region is prone to attacks by bandits.
Abidjan, 9 March 2000; 18:30 GMT
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