Mauritania + 3 more

IRIN Update 795 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 22-41-9339
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Government rejects demands of West Side Boys

Sierra Leonean Information Minister Julius Spencer said in a BBC interview aired on Thursday that the government would not accede to the demands of the West Side Boys, a group of outlawed fighters who are holding six British troops and a Sierra Leonean soldier hostage.

The outlaws are demanding the release of their leader, 'Brigadier Bomb Blast', from prison; a review of the Lome peace accord that was meant to end the nine-year civil war, the setting up of an interim government, and that they be integrated into the new Sierra Leonean army.

"There is very little chance of this because they are hard core criminals," a source at the state-owned radio and television service told IRIN on Friday.

A spokesman for the militia identifying himself as 'Colonel Cambodia' made his demands to the BBC on a satellite phone provided by the British military for better communication to negotiate on the hostages, the BBC said.

The group was thought to comprise mainly ex-Sierra Leone Army (ex-SLA) soldiers who had been loyal to the junta that ruled Sierra Leone from May 1997 to February 1998. However, the media source described the West Side Boys as "rejects in society" without any credibility to negotiate, adding that the ex-SLA soldiers now reintegrated into the army under a British-run training scheme "hate the West Side Boys".

The source said relatives of the West Side Boys had left the capital on Friday for the Occra Hills, the group's stronghold east of Freetown, to join British officials, the Sierra Leone government and the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in discussions to free the detainees.

SIERRA LEONE: Aid agencies continue to aid war-affected despite insecurity

Humanitarian agencies continue to reach tens of thousands of war-affected people despite the prevailing "extraordinary tension" and "a highly precarious security environment", the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its situation report for 8-27 August.

It said that fighting and harrassment of civilians by armed groups in the eastern and northern parts of the country had resulted in continued displacement of people, some of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Internally displaced people now exceed 300,000 while the UNHCR has registered nearly 15,000 new arrivals in Guinea during the same period.

OCHA said relief organisations continued to consolidate methods to improve emergency response to key areas of concern especially food aid and shelter. Among the new mechanisms is the establishment of a standing security assessment team and a cross-sectoral emergency response team. These will make rapid reviews and make recommendations for action.

Under the period of review, humanitarian conditions in Kabala and Bumbuna - in the Northern Province - and Daru in the Eastern Province deteriorated due to increased population pressure, food insecurity and poor health facilities. Human rights conditions have deepened the humanitarian crisis, OCHA said. In Port Loko and Kambia districts, abductions and the forced recruitment of civilians have continued.

"Fresh cases of branding of civilians with RUF initials have been reported in both Port Loko and Kabala," OCHA said.

It added that the anti-government RUF and West Side Boys, as well as the pro-government Civil Defence Forces had been looting villages.

SENEGAL: Hundreds of stranded airline passengers due for relief today

Air Afrique, the multinational carrier, has told its 400 stranded passengers that they will be flown to their destination in France later today, ending a weeklong drama for many.

Some of those who had been stranded in Dakar for as many as eight days were so irate that they blocked the check-in counter at the airport, according to news reports. They were given lodging in a Dakar hotel but some feared the delay would cost them their jobs on their return to France.

"A plane has been leased and there is enough space to pick up all 400 passengers," Awa Kone, the spokeswoman for Air Afrique, told IRIN on Friday. She said it was scheduled to arrive in Dakar on Friday evening.

NIGERIA: Ex-Im Bank considers US $250 million-loan for medical purchases

The Export-Import Bank is considering lending Nigeria up to US $250 million annually to buy US medical equipment and services, the bank said in a statement on 26 August.

The equipment and services are to go to potential private sector buyers in Nigeria under a contract with the country's Ministry of Health. The National Hospital Abuja and Federal Medical Center Gombe stand to benefit through a long-term contract for the management of the two hospitals.

The Ex-Im Bank also announced that it would support the state government of Jigawa, in northern Nigeria, to purchase US $6 million of US-manufactured broadband wireless Internet access equipment, which will in part be used for health care services. The equipment also is to be used for education, training and commerce. It is Ex-Im Bank's first medium-term guarantee approved in Nigeria in almost 10 years.

"This telecommunications project is going to bring vital services to Jigawa, leading to more economic opportunity," James Harmon, the bank's chairman, said.

MAURITANIA: Ban on trawler fishing

An annual suspension of trawler fishing along Mauritania's coasts, initiated in 1993 to allow over-exploited species to regenerate, entered into effect on Thursday, PANA reported an official source in Nouakchott as saying. The suspension coincides each year with the September-October spawning season. Mauritania's waters are considered among the world's richest in fish.

MAURITANIA: Four weeklies seized in one week, RSF says

Mauritania's authorities have this year seized seven weeklies, including four in the last week of August, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said in a 31 August news release. The media watchdog called on the government of Colonel Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya to have the article under which the periodicals were seized repealed.

If the government continues to use Article 11 of the 25 July 1991 Edict-law on press freedom as it has in recent weeks, the future of the private press appears uncertain in Mauritania, it said. In 1998-1999, Mauritanian newspapers were seized 12 times and suffered seven suspensions of one to three months.

Article 11 allows the Interior Ministry to "forbid the circulation, distribution or sale of newspapers that undermine the principles of Islam or the credibility of the state, damage the general interest or disturb public order and security", RSF said. Subjects that lead to suspension include corruption, drugs, slavery, the Western Sahara situation, human rights, relations with Israel and Islamic militant networks, RSF said.

WEST AFRICA: Japan donates US $100,000 for peace

Japan has donated US $100,000 to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for initiatives to promote peace in West Africa, Voice of Nigeria radio reported on Thursday.

Japanese Ambassador Takahesa Sasaki said the grant was in appreciation of ECOWAS' successes in regional conflict resolution. He said that since military conflicts were counterproductive and undermined development, it was necessary to support organizations such as ECOWAS, which dedicated themselves to conflict prevention and resolution, the radio reported.

Abidjan, 1 September 2000; 19:12 GMT

[ENDS]

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