Sierra Leone + 2 more

IRIN Update 686 of events in West Africa

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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SIERRA LEONE: Donors pledge US $158 million

Donors at the high level conference in London pledged some US $158 million on Monday to peace building measures in Sierra Leone, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) reported.

A concluding statement from the chair of the conference, jointly hosted by the UN, World Bank, and Britain's Department of International Development (DFID), said donors discussed the funding requirements as well as the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme (DDR).

They agreed that the DDR process, and its financing, needed to be accelerated. The ways for achieving this, the statement said, would include shortening the length of stay of ex-combatants in DDR camps and strengthening district level reintegration.

Support for the effort was pledged by Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, the African Development Bank and the European Commission.

SIERRA LEONE: Traumatised children show signs of healing

A group of children who took part in a recent trauma healing programme in Sierra Leone are now showing signs of mending following their ordeal, according to a study released recently by an international child sponsorship organisation.

Childreach, the organisation which conducted the study, said children who witnessed extreme atrocities during the January 1999 rebel invasion of Freetown had shown a "dramatic improvement" in traumatic stress symptoms and had a restored sense of hope.

"The cruelty and sadistic nature of the atrocities committed during the three-week invasion of Freetown are among the worst crimes against innocent children and women in the past 15 years," Leila Gupta, a doctor and expert on the psychosocial effects of war related violence on children, said.

She is also an assessor of the effectiveness of the trauma healing programme.

From October 1999 to January, 315 children were interviewed before and after a four-week programme which tended to the emotional health of children as well as their educational needs. Initial interviews revealed that the children, 93 percent of whom were aged between eight and 13 years, had witnessed or committed highly traumatic events such as maiming, killings and rape, Childreach said.

Through storytelling, drawing, music and play, children confronted their bad memories. The findings of the report pointed to a "significant reduction in sleep disturbances, bad dreams/nightmares, intrusive images, anxiety about future well-being, and a 70-percent improvement in the ability to concentrate in school.

SIERRA LEONE: Former RUF spokesman to contest elections

The leader of the National Reconstruction Party of Sierra Leone, Omrie Golley, has registered his party to contest the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), reported on Tuesday.

Golley, former spokesman for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), said that the party wanted reconciliation, reconstruction and community rebuilding of Sierra Leone through hard work. The party has offices in Freetown and is establishing branch offices in the south, east, and the north of the country to fulfil the requirements in forming a national political party. Its focus would be on youths whom, SLENA reported him as saying, are marginalised in the community and feel disenfranchised from the mainstream.

NIGERIA: Government will not oppose Sharia in court

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said his government will not use the courts to halt the introduction of the Sharia Islamic penal code in northern Nigeria.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast on Wednesday, he said full-blown Sharia - seemingly at odds with the country's secular constitution - was an issue of fundamental human rights, but the government would not take a political position on the question.

Nigeria's independence constitution, approved by a panel of international Islamic jurists, allows states to incorporate Sharia, but only in the area of civil law. Rather than the amputations and floggings decreed by Sharia, under the current federal constitution, Islamic courts can only implement fines and prison sentences for Muslims contravening the tenants of the religion.

[For full story see 'NIGERIA: Focus on government's stand on Sharia']

NIGERIA: Borno clash claims 15 dead

Fifteen people are reported to have died since clashes between Muslims and Christians began two days ago in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday.

The dispute, which began on Monday in Damboa Council area, arose from a disagreement between some Muslim youths and Christians over the siting of a church in a Muslim dominated area. 'The Guardian' reported that the land was sold to a Christian group on condition that it would not build the church. However, the agreement was breached and angry Muslim youths reportedly burnt it down.

Many residents fled, some taking refuge in police stations as fierce fighting raged, the daily reported. Additional police were sent to the area on Tuesday to stop the rioting.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Soldier killed in barrack disturbance

Army chief of staff Colonel Soumahila Diabagate has denied media reports that soldiers who took part in a barrack disturbance over pay on Tuesday were involved in a mutiny.

He told IRIN on Wednesday that the incident at an army barrack in the town of Daloa, some 320 km northwest of Abidjan, was the result of a "misunderstanding" and that order had been restored.

Media reports said that one soldier died as his group tried to persuade others to give up the armoury they had seized in demand for more pay.

Four soldiers were reportedly arrested and brought to Abidjan.

The events in Daloa come three months after an army mutiny over pay in Akouedo barracks in Abidjan escalated into a coup d'etat that brought General Robert Guei to power.

WEST AFRICA: Meningitis outbreak

A meningitis outbreak has been reported in three West African countries where scores of people have died of the disease, according to news reports.

Niger Public Health Minister Ousmane Adamou said on Monday that 132 of the 1,195 cases had died in Niamey, and the districts of Birni NKonni (some 400 km east of Niamey) and Tera (some 150 km west of the capital).

Niger, which has joined neighbouring Chad in an international appeal for help, says its needs five million doses of vaccine to overcome the epidemic.

"A vaccination campaign is underway," Adamou Yada, an epidemiologist at the WHO office in Abidjan, told IRIN.

In 1995, AFP reported, 4,000 of Niger's 42,000 cases of meningitis died.

Fear of an imminent attack of cerebrospinal meningitis, which reportedly also broke out recently in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, has caused fear among the city's residents, 'The Guardian' of Lagos reported on Tuesday.

There is also fear that the disease, whose cause has been linked to excessive heat during the dry harmattan months from December to March in Nigeria, might linger, the newspaper said.

Cerebrospinal meningitis, caused by the bacterium meningococcus, is the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain or the spinal cord. It manifests itself in fever, vomiting and stiff necks and affects inhabitants in a swath of arid land from Somalia to Cape Verde. Experts say that numerous factors, one of which is climate change, has extended the reach of the disease beyond this belt.

"For the past ten years, it can be found in the forest zones up to the Congo (DRC)," Garba Soga, a doctor and advisor with WHO Niger on disease prevention and control, told IRIN on Wednesday.

ECOWAS scraps checkpoints, residency permits

West African leaders decided on Tuesday to dismantle immediately all checkpoints on their international highways, and adopt other far-reaching measures aimed at ensuring greater social and economic integration among the 16 countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The ECOWAS secretariat told IRIN today that the leaders agreed at their daylong mini-summit that ended on Tuesday in Abuja, Nigeria, that mandatory residency permits were to be abolished.

The measure is aimed at creating a borderless ECOWAS region whose highways have multiple checkpoints, many of which were illegal, that limit the free movement of people. Nigeria has already dismantled those in its territory.

Other measures adopted by the summit included the elimination of rigid border formalities and the use of modern passport-scanning machines. Ranking immigration officials, many of whom attended the meeting with customs officers, have been told to accord the maximum 90-day period of stay to ECOWAS citizens by 15 April. Border posts are to be manned only by essential workers such as customs and immigration agents.

Joint border patrols will be carried out by the police forces of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. The internal security agencies of these countries are also to collaborate more closely in sharing information, staff exchange and the holding of training courses and meetings.

An ECOWAS official told IRIN that these countries were those that had "decided to take the fast-track approach to integration" in the subregion.

An ECOWAS passport for the subregion has been agreed to and details of its contents are being worked out.

On infrastructure, the leaders decided to modernise and link up railways from Lagos through Cotonou (Benin) to Lome (Togo) and Accra (Ghana). A similar link from Lagos, Niamey (Niger) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) is being considered.

Abidjan, 29 March 2000; 18:10 GMT [ENDS]

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