Sierra Leone + 5 more

IRIN Update 641 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: Cautious optimism on humanitarian access

A senior UN relief official has expressed "cautious optimism" that progress in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to needy populations will continue.

"We have been having discussions with the relevant government authorities on security, humanitarian assistance and DDR on the one hand and the RUF on the other on the specific measures to be taken to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance," Kingsley Amaning, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone, told IRIN.

Amaning, who is also UNHCR's representative in Sierra Leone, said that these measures included the creation of "liaison structures" at the local level to facilitate and monitor aid delivery in the countryside. It is important that these structures are acceptable to both the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the central government, he added.

Road blocks set up by ex-combatants have hampered aid agencies' access to needy populations, according to a communique issued on Monday by the joint implementation committee of the Lome peace agreement. The Organisation for the Survival of Mankind (OSM), the RUF's humanitarian wing, has also placed operational constraints on aid agencies. "The OSM has insisted that aid be delivered through them in areas which they control," an aid official told IRIN. "This causes problems for the humanitarian community."

Banditry and lawlessness, particularly along the road between Lungi and Port Loko and between Port Loko and Kambia, has also created problems for aid agencies.

Port Loko is east of Lungi, which lies to the north of Freetown. Kambia is north of Port Loko.

SIERRA LEONE: Some refugees return from Gueckedou

Some Sierra Leonean refugees in camps in Gueckedou, eastern Guinea, started to return to their home areas at the end of last week, UNHCR quotes its NGO implementing partners in Gueckedou as saying.

"The numbers involved are relatively small," Daisy Dell, UNHCR's Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, told IRIN in Abidjan. "It is often a case of family heads checking up on their villages and then going back to Gueckedou."

UNHCR's representative in Sierra Leone, Kingsley Amaning, told IRIN he was unable to confirm the reports as UNHCR did not have a presence in the eastern part of Sierra Leone to which the refugees purportedly returned.

There are some 305,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the Gueckedou area. Many of them fled Sierra Leone at the start of the eight-year civil war.

SENEGAL-CHAD: Rights groups call for Hissene Habre's arrest

A coalition of human rights groups filed a complaint in a Senegalese court on Wednesday urging it to arrest former Chadian leader Hissene Habre, 57, for human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based NGO, said the complaint was being made "on behalf of hundreds of victims of torture, political murder and disappearances".

The NGO, together with Chadian and Senegalese activists, accused Habre of crimes against humanity and torture during his 1982-1990 rule. Habre has lived in Senegal since his ouster in December 1990 by Idriss Deby, who is Chad's current president. "Hissene Habre is Africa's Pinochet," Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Brody, who is now in Dakar, said by bringing Habre to justice, Senegal could take "an historic step towards ending the cycle of impunity that has plagued the continent".

The coalition provided the investigating judge in Dakar with details of 97 political killings, 142 cases of torture and 100 cases of disappearances. HRW said nine individual Chadians are named as private plaintiffs, as is the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime, which represents 792 victims of Habre's brutality.

HRW added that the exact number of Habre's victims was unknown. However, it said, a truth commission established by the Deby government accused Habre's administration of 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture. Most were allegedly carried out by his 8,000-member secret police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la SÚcuritÚ (DDS).

Joining Human Rights Watch in Wednesday's actions, HRW said, were the Senegalese NGO Rencontre africaine pour le defense de droit de l'homme (RADDHO), the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, the Chadian Human Rights League (LTDH), the National Organization for Human Rights (Senegal), the London-based Interights, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the French organization Agir Ensemble.

"This is the first case of African victims asking the court of another African country to prosecute a former African dictator," Alioune Tine, who heads RADDHO, told IRIN.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Army pledges loyalty to new government

The leader of Guinea-Bissau's former military junta has said that the army will stay out of politics and remain loyal to the government of President-elect Kumba Yala, news organisations reported.

In a statement broadcast over Bissau radio on Monday, Brigadier General Ansumane Mane pledged "loyalty and subordination" to the incoming president. This was the junta's first reaction to Yala's landslide victory in a 16 January runoff vote against Malam Bacai Sanha, the caretaker president it appointed after ousting former president Nino Vieira in May 1999.

MALI: Banditry on the increase in the north

Heavily armed bandits wounded six people and made off with vehicles and other booty in three attacks in as many days in northern Mali, according to local media and humanitarian sources.

On Saturday, two heavily armed masked men held up three employees of a Chinese company that is digging wells in the desert, the official 'Essor' daily reported on Tuesday. The workers were boarding their Toyota pickup with purchases they had just made in the market in the north-eastern town of Kidal when the men forced them out of the vehicle and drove off with it, the daily reported.

Two days later, eight armed bandits aboard a Land Cruiser intercepted a convoy of vehicles belonging to the German cooperation agency, the Malian public works department and two private firms between the north-western towns of Timbuktu. Five people were injured when the attackers fired on cars that tried to escape, according to 'Essor'.

Bandits attacked a US Agency for International development (USAID) convoy in the same area on Monday, wounding a driver and a stealing one of the two vehicles, a USAID source told IRIN on Tuesday.

A humanitarian source told IRIN the bandits later took a radio set from the German cooperation agency GTZ in Tinaisha, located on the road that leads from Timbuktu to Mauritania.

MAURITANIA: Action plan against drugs to be unveiled

Mauritania is about to unveil its first anti-drug action plan which, donors hope, will stem the growing tide of substance abuse and trafficking in the country, sources told IRIN on Wednesday.

The European Union, through its Projet Africaine Anti-Drogue(PAAD) operated out of Abidjan for all 16 ECOWAS countries, is funding the Mauritanian effort with over 20 million French francs (US $3,053) a PAAD official told IRIN.

The official said the EU was helping Mauritania develop a coherent anti-drug policy. When it is ready, the national anti-drug committee would identify its priorities, which the EU would present to potential donors at a meeting in June, most likely in Brussels.

An official of the UN International Drug Control Programme in Dakar, Senegal, told IRIN that Mauritania was a cannabis-growing country whose crop is being sold within West Africa and in Europe. Mauritania is also a transit point for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe.

"About two years ago officials discovered a very large drug corruption network among the police and magistrates," the UN official said.

In order to highlight the problem of drugs in West Africa, the EU began an African youth soccer tournament against drugs in 1999. The participants, 15 years and below, are drawn from poor neighbourhoods in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritania, Senegal and Togo. The finals will be held in Abidjan in May and will, the EU official said, attract ranking personalities such as ministers.

By April, the EU expects to receive 10 national anti-drug plans to be presented for donor support, the official added.

Abidjan, 26 January 2000; 18:45 GMT

[ENDS]

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