Sierra Leone + 5 more

IRIN Update 631 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 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

SIERRA LEONE: Diamonds fuelled conflict, report says

Diamonds fuelled Sierra Leone's armed conflict and its highly criminalised war economy, say the authors of a new study whose recommendations include the long-term deployment of UN peacekeepers in the country's main diamond-bearing areas.

The report, 'The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone Diamonds and Human Security', was released on Wednesday. Published by the Partnership Africa Canada and jointly authored by Ian Smillie, Lansana Gberie and Ralph Hazleton, it is the product of research conducted in and outside Sierra Leone in February-December 1999.

It recommends, inter alia, that "special long-term UN security forces" be deployed in all major diamond areas in Sierra Leone, and that the government ensure transparency, high standards and rigorous probity in its diamond purchasing, valuation and oversight activities.

[See separate item titled 'SIERRA LEONE: Diamonds fuelled conflict, report says']

LIBERIA: Opposition calls for elected chiefs and mayors

Opposition members of Liberia's House of Representatives say that the government is incomplete without elected chiefs and mayors, 'Star Radio' reported on Tuesday.

The opposition questioned the government's failure to carry out chieftaincy and municipal elections, Star said, quoting a statement delivered at the opening session of the National Legislature on Monday.

Parliamentarians also said that the government's operation should be decentralised to better serve the Liberian people and they accused the executive branch of attempts to "belittle the legislature," Star reported.

The speaker of the house, Nyundueh Monokormana, also urged legislators to prioritise the interests of the people and said their commitment would be shown in laws enacted in the people's favour, Star said.

NIGERIA: The religious factor

A major preoccupation of Nigeria's government seven months into President Olusegun Obasanjo's four-year term is how to keep a firm lid on simmering religious trouble in the West African country.

Religion has always been a sensitive issue in Nigeria, with its more than 108 million people split almost evenly between Muslims and non-Muslims - mostly Christians and followers of traditional African religions.

But relations between Muslims and Christians, the two main religious groups in the country, have become even more delicate since the end of military rule in May 1999 and subsequent moves by some states in the north to implement Sharia, Islamic law.

[See separate item titled: 'NIGERIA: IRIN Focus on religious tension']

NIGERIA: Police find arms cache

An arms cache has been found by police in Lagos following an intensive search for militant members of the Yoruba Oodua People's Congress (OPC) suspected of involvement in the reported murder of a policeman, 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday.

The weapons, reported to be owned by the OPC, were found at a base in the suburb of Bariga thought to be used by the OPC for training, the daily said, quoting police sources. Lagos Police Commissioner Mike Okiro confirmed that a large quantity of weapons had been confiscated. He said Lagos would be turned "upside down and inside out" until the suspected murderers were found.

The victim, Afolabi Amao, a superintendent at Bariga police station, was abducted and reportedly shot and his body thrown into a lagoon following a storming of the station by militant OPC members on Monday. Okiro said efforts were being made to find Amao's body and, according to 'The Guardian', he added that that any such attacks on his men in the future would be "met with equal ruthlessness".

NIGERIA: British help for Niger Delta

Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain announced on Tuesday that Britain would provide scholarships for indigenes of the Niger Delta in an effort to improve the lot of people living in the oil-producing area, news organisations reported on Wednesday.

Three additional scholarships, under an existing worldwide scheme known as Chevening scholarships, are to be offered, probably for post-graduate study on environment-related subjects in Britain, an official at the Deputy British High Commission in Lagos told IRIN on Wednesday.

Communities in the oil-rich Niger Delta region have been demanding a greater share of the area's wealth for several years and acts of violence, including oil installation sabotage and kidnappings of oil workers, have been attributed to militant youths from some of these communities.

Hain arrived in Sierra Leone on Wednesday and was scheduled to fly to Ghana on Thursday.

NIGERIA: Oil fire inquiry ordered

The governor of Rivers State has ordered an inquiry into a fire which broke out on an oil slick on Sunday killing some seven people and burning about twenty-five vessels and other property, the BBC reported.

The trouble began on Friday, when the Marine Police intercepted three barges carrying stolen oil and towed them to their station at Abonema Wharf. One of the vessels was leaking and the area was engulfed by fire after a match was carelessly discarded, the BBC said.

NIGERIA: Memorandum of understanding signed with China

China and Nigeria on Tuesday signed an agreement to establish a consultation mechanism between their foreign ministries, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported.

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Nigerian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia signed the document.

The mechanism is designed to "enhance mutual understanding and promote the current friendly bilateral cooperation," Xinhua reported. It allows for consultation on bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of common concern.

The 10-member Chinese delegation led by Tang was scheduled to leave Nigeria on Wednesday following its three-day official visit.

NIGERIA: Benin Embassy press attache killed

The press attache to Benin's embassy in Nigeria, Sunday Adelakoun, was shot dead by robbers at the weekend, news organisations reported. Adelakoun, whose body was found on the road between Abuja and Cotonou, was formerly an announcer at Benin's State Broadcasting Service and had been in Nigeria since October, according to AFP.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: MSF pulls out

The international non-governmental organisation, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has suspended its operations in Equatorial Guinea, citing as its reason the manipulation of humanitarian aid by the government, which has denied the accusation.

According to AFP, Equatorial Guinea's Health Ministry expressed surprise on Monday at MSF's move. "The government is surprised by this decision," it said in a statement on state radio, "as it has always given the necessary assistance to this organization to develop its activities across the country."

The decision to pull out was taken in October, according to a news release issued by MSF on 31 December 1999 and which was faxed to IRIN this week along with a report titled "Guinea Ecuatorial: El Espacio Humanitario Imposible' (Equatorial Guinea: Impossible Humanitarian Space).

In the report, MSF said it found it impossible to carry out its humanitarian work in the country. It said that obstacles imposed by the government denied it access to "people who are suffering the direct consequences of the corruption of a regime which does not seem to care about the consequences of its greed".

It cited the case of a medical centre it had helped to set up in the town of Bata, which was doing well under sound management. The government, it charged, revoked the appointments of the centre's staff, whom MSF has identified on the basis of their competence and productivity, and replaced them with public servants close to the government "attracted by the financial flows the centre was administering".

It called on the Spanish government, Malabo's main bilateral partner, to revise its cooperation with the Equatorial Guinean government, conditioning it on respect for human rights and an end to corruption that makes humanitarian action impossible".

However, AFP quotes the Health Ministry as saying in its statement: "It's a campaign against our government, because the reasons given are unfounded and the government has never been officially approached by MSF over the problems it finds on the ground."

COTE D'IVOIRE: France scales down military cooperation

The French government has decided to put some of its military cooperation with Cote d'Ivoire on ice following the military coup on 24 December last that ousted President Henri Konan Bedie.

Government officials in Paris said the work of 16 of the 37 French military advisers in the West African nation had been put on hold but that they remained in the country.

French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne Gazeau-Secret was quoted by AFP as saying that training, health and air traffic safety programmes were going ahead on the military front. She said civilian programmes that directly benefit the people, those linked to economic rehabilitation and regional programmes would also continue, AFP reported.

GUINEA: Government plans tough measures following bloody clashes

Guinea's government announced on Monday that village chiefs who had failed to stop clashes between two communities in which about 30 people were killed had been suspended and a number of people arrested, news media reported.

"We will take stern measures to curb such activities in the future," Reuters quoted Territorial Administration Minister Moussa Solano as saying on state television on Monday.

The clashes occurred last week between two communities, one Christian and the other Muslim, in Bazilia, western Guinea.

"Our investigations have proved that the reasons for the clashes go beyond a land dispute," Reuters quoted Solano as saying, without elaborating, after a weekend visit to the two villages.

Abidjan, 12 January 2000; 17:30 GMT

[ENDS]

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Item: irin-english-2268

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