Sierra Leone + 2 more

IRIN Update 665 of events in West Africa

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
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SIERRA LEONE: Sankoh returns to Freetown

Former Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh, who left the country in defiance of a UN Security Council travel ban, arrived back in Freetown on Monday, a UN spokesman in New York said.

Sankoh had travelled to South Africa but his visa was withdrawn on 19 February after the UN Security Council Committee on Sanctions determined that he had violated a Security Council travel ban imposed in June 1998 on leading members of the RUF and the former military junta, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Sankoh arrived in Abidjan on 21 February.

Sankoh has rejected allegations that his recent visit to South Africa was made for the purpose of buying arms in exchange for diamonds.

"We did not preach against corruption and a rotten system only to turn around and corrupt ourselves to the detriment of the people of Sierra Leone," Sierra Leone Web cited Sankoh as saying in a 24 February letter to the moral guarantors of the Lome peace accord.

Information Minister Julius Spencer told IRIN on Tuesday that Sankoh had told the government of Sierra Leone that he would produce evidence proving that his trip to South Africa was for medical reasons. Spencer said that he was unable to comment on whether Sankoh had travelled to South Africa to purchase weapons.

NIGERIA: Violence in south-eastern city of Aba

Many people are believed to have died in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the southeastern city of Aba on Monday in apparent reprisal for last week's religious riots in the northern town of Kaduna, news organisations reported.

During the disturbances in the trading city of Aba, local Igbo youths burned the central mosque and, according to 'The Guardian,' witnesses said some victims were set on fire. A media source in Nigeria told IRIN on Tuesday that news reports put the casualty figures in Aba at between 20 and 60. Police reinforcements have now been drafted into the town and a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been declared, the source said.

Local Igbo youths in Aba are reported to have attacked people they thought to be Muslims in angry response to the return of bodies of victims to Aba from Kaduna, 'The Guardian' reported on Tuesday. Some Igbos, who originate mainly from the southeast of Nigeria, were caught up in the religious violence in Kaduna and it is thought this led to heightened tensions in Aba, according to the BBC.

Hundreds of people are reported to have died in Kaduna during several days of fighting between Muslims and Christians over the proposed introduction of Islamic Sharia law. Most Muslims live in the north of the country, although Kaduna's population is approximately equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

NIGERIA: President blames leaders

President Olusegun Obasanjo has expressed shock and condemnation over the number of deaths and widespread destruction in Kaduna and has blamed Nigerian leaders for failing to prevent the violence there, 'The Guardian' reported.

"One thing is clear, Chritianity or Islam, whatever religion we proclaim our leaders have failed," Obasanjo said during an assessment tour of the badly damaged areas of the city on Monday. "I feel very sad for what I have seen because I could not imagine the magnitude of destruction that took place." He urged all leaders, religious, traditional, and political, to start on reconciliation moves at the local and state levels to restore confidence between the affected communities.

Obasanjo said that the events in Kaduna have implications for the whole country and questioned the moral values of a nation which allowed a boy of 13 or 14 to take up a machete and hack someone to death, according to 'The Guardian.'

NIGERIA: Violence spreads to state capital

Meanwhile in Owerri, the capital of Imo State, some 60 km from Aba, a dusk-to-dawn curfew has also been put in place following demonstrations on Monday over the news that bodies of Igbo victims from Kaduna had arrrived in Aba, 'The Guardian' reported on Tuesday.

A media source in Lagos told IRIN that two people had been killed but according to the Nigerian daily, no casualties were recorded as the police quickly brought the situation under control. It added that northerners in the town fled their shops and houses, some of which were looted by the rioters.

Meanwhile the town of Kachia, some 50 km south of Kaduna, was also hit by religious violence at the end of last week with up to 90 people dead, 'The Guardian' reported on Monday.

The clashes in Kachia between Muslims and Christians were a spillover from Kaduna, a media source told IRIN. The situation is now calm and a dusk-to-dawn curfew is in place, he added. In a related development, local news reports said on Tuesday that hundreds of Igbos in Kano have started leaving the city for the southeast as they fear future violence there.

SENEGAL: Incumbent forced into second round presidential polls

Veteran politician Abdoulaye Wade might finally get a shot as Senegal's president if projections confirm the need for a second round run-off poll against incumbent Abdou Diouf, political analysts told IRIN.

"According to projections, there will be a second round of elections," El Hadj Mbodj, a member of the National Electoral Observatory, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Diouf's Parti Socialiste (PS) said he failed to secure the necessary 50 percent votes to win the tightly-fought first round poll on Sunday. The PS claims Diouf won 43 percent of the votes and Wade 30 percent, but figures from other sources vary.

Provisional results are for release on Friday. Then, the constitutional court will meet three days later to confirm the results. If the court determines the necessity for a second round of elections, that run-off will be held on the second Sunday after the declaration of final first round results.

Elections monitor Alioune Tine, the executive secretary of the Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, told IRIN that in the event of a second round Diouf can expect a stiff fight. Moustapha Niasse, who is considered the third strongest candidate, has said he would not support Diouf in a second round contest. The other significant Diouf opponent, Djibou Ka, has not yet said who he will support in a second round face-off.

WESTERN SAHARA: Polisario releases 186 Moroccan POWs

The Polisario Front, fighting for independence for Western Sahara, has released 186 Moroccan prisoners of war some of whom have been held for 25 years and are aged and ill, the ICRC told IRIN on Monday.

The ICRC said that of the POWs repatriated over the weekend, 83 were initially freed in April 1997 "but were just stuck" because Morocco wanted back all its POWs.

The ICRC said there were still 1,686 Moroccan POWs in captivity but has been able to visit them regularly and deliver medicines and mail from their families.

Polisario has been fighting Morocco over the former Spanish colony which Rabat has annexed. The belligerents have agreed to a UN-organised referendum to decide on sovereignty for the northwest African territory, but are in dispute over who is entitled to vote.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Twenty-three mine fatalities since June 1998, says local NGO

Twenty-three fatalities and 14 other incidents caused by mines and unexploded ordnance have been reported since June 1998, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) quoted ANDES, a local NGO, as saying in its latest update covering the period 16 January to 20 February.

HUMAID will purchase protective gear and finance a demining training course from a US $35,000 grant received from Great Britain. The demining NGO will seek more resources to launch a publicity campaign and to buy anti-fragmentation suits, gloves and vehicles for demining teams.

Meanwhile, Handicap International, a French NGO, is visiting Bissau to examine potential assistance to local centres for disabled and mine victims, OCHA said.

Abidjan, 29 February, 16:30 GMT


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