Mali + 3 more

IRIN Update 647 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 20 21 73 54
Fax: +225 20 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Grenade discharged in demobilisation camp

One man was killed and several injured on Tuesday when a grenade was discharged at the Port Loko South demobilisation centre, some 60 km northeast of Freetown, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) reported.

This means that there may be weapons being held illegally by ex-combatants in demobilisation centres, NCDDR said in a press release. It urged ex-combatants to hand in weapons being held in the centres "to prevent any further tragedies".

NCDDR said handing in a single hand grenade would not entitle an ex-combatants to enter the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process.

"The disarmament process is based on the principle of one combatant, one weapon or a specific number of people for a group weapon," NCDDR said. It said a minimum of 20 grenades could qualify an ex-combatant for the DDR process whereas a single grenade "will be collected, but it will not qualify an ex-combatant for DDR".

SIERRA LEONE: Abducted children released from Occra Hills

A UN military observer team secured the release on Tuesday of 37 former child combatants held by ex-rebels, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said on Wednesday.

Eckhard said the children, some of them as young as six, had been held at the rebel base in the Occra Hills, some 70km from Freetown. Some of the younger children appeared malnourished, Eckhard said. They were taken to the Lungi demobilisation centre, north of Freetown to await their handing over to child protection agencies, according to an information bulletin by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) dated 2 February.

UNICEF estimates that about 5,000 children have been involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone. More than half of the 4,000 still missing have been classified as cases of abduction.

SENEGAL: Demonstration seen as important for democracy

A protest on Wednesday by several thousand opposition party supporters and leaders against what they said were the ruling party's attempts to rig elections on 27 February was "extremely important" for democracy in Senegal, a local analyst told IRIN.

"It the first time that such a demonstration has been authorised," said Alieu Tine, head of a human rights and electoral monitoring group called the Rencontre Africaine pour le defense de droit de l'homme (RADDHO). "It was calm and the police did not charge."

Sources in Dakar said police stood impassively as the protestors walked through major streets of the Senegalese capital calling for the resignation of President Abdou Diouf and Interior Minister Lamine Cisse.

Sud FM, a private broadcaster, reported that a similar protest was held Wednesday in Diouf's home town of Louga, in the north of the country. However, it said, a planned demonstration was banned in the troubled southern region of Ziguinchor, where government troops and separatists are observing an uneasy ceasefire.

Leading presidential candidates - Abdoulaye Wade, Djibo Ka, Moustapha Niasse and Iba Der Thiam - led the demonstration in Dakar, which ended with the presentation of a petition to Cisse. The protesters are demanding that he scrap voters' cards printed in Israel and use the locally fabricated versions.

The government explained some weeks ago that it had the local cards printed in case those manufactured in Israel did not arrive in time for the polls.

"The locally printed cards conform more to the laws of Senegal than the Israeli cards," Tine said.

But Cisse has insisted on the use of the Israeli-made cards because, he said, they could not be forged. The locally printed ones are in storage and due for destruction.

The demonstration was organised and led by a group of 17 opposition parties calling themselves the Front pour la regularite et la transparence des elections (The Front for the Regularity and Transparency of Elections). The body maintains that the government has sent the voters' list to Israel with the aim of removing the names of opposition voters from the document.

"This is very hard to prove," one media source told IRIN.

Nevertheless, Tine said, the National Electoral Observatory, ONEL, has agreed to the opposition's request that the voters' list be audited.

NIGERIA: Police murder suspects arraigned

Ten people suspected of killing a dozen policemen in the south-eastern town of Odi on 4 November were arraigned before a Chief Magistrate's Court in Kaiama, Bayelsa State, 'The Guardian', a Lagos newspaper, reported.

AFP, quoting judicial sources, reported that the suspects had been charged with 18 counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They pleaded not guilty to murder but were remanded in a Port Harcourt prison, capital of neighbouring Rivers State, until 7 March.

After the policemen were killed the government ordered federal troops into Odi, Bayelsa's second largest town, to arrest the culprits. However, the soldiers left death and destruction in their wake, burning hundreds of homes.

NIGERIA: President to build 1,500 homes in Bayelsa

The federal government has agreed to build 1,500 homes comprising one and two-bedroom apartments, Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha said. However, he said, construction was being delayed by the state government's wish to review the designs and ensure they conformed to the terrain and culture of the state. One-third of the homes will be built in Odi, where houses were destroyed when federal troops went into the town to arrest the suspected killers of 12 policemen. The remaining houses will be distributed to other local governments in the state.

NIGERIA: Bayelsa youths run for peace

'The Guardian' reported that over 150 youths from communities in Bayelsa started on Wednesday what they termed a Niger Delta peace and non -violence run. They were led by the former president of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Wariebi Agamene.

The run from the Patani bridge in Yenagoa went through Odi, Otuasega, Sagbama, Kaiama and back to Yenagoa. The newspaper said that eight of the formerly troubled communities took part in the run, organised by the Bayelsa Youths Federation.

MALI: Abundant rain leads to higher fish catches, FEWS says

The quantity of fish off-loaded at the river port of Mopti in Mali have increased sharply as a result of recent rains, according to the US Agency of International Development (USAID).

There was more fish in the Niger River in Mali because of higher water levels in December, one of the busiest months for fishing in places such as Mopti and Segou, USAID says in its latest Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) bulletin, issued on Monday.

Despite a 10 percent to 20 percent fall in fish prices compared to last year, FEWS says, "fishing revenue will be substantially higher than last year given the good production".

Abidjan, 3 February 2000; 17:20 GMT

[ENDS]

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