Sierra Leone + 8 more

IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 50 covering the period 11-17 Dec 1999

News and Press Release
Originally published
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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SIERRA LEONE: US Congressmen call for UN sanctions on diamonds

Two members of the US House of Representatives have called on the UN to back up its peacekeeping efforts with an embargo on black market diamonds from Sierra Leone, according to US Newswire. Tony Hall and Frank Wolf said after a trip to Sierra Leone that any diamond not certified by that country's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development should be sanctioned under international law.

SIERRA LEONE: Reported abductions exceed number of abductees freed

The Sierra Leonean Human Rights Committee (SLHRC) says in its 'Lome Implementation Bulletin' that the number of reported cases of abductions now exceeds that of released abductees, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reports in its first Human Rights newsletter. However, the bulletin describes the recent appointment of a Constitutional Review Committee as a significant step towards the implementation of the human rights provisions of the peace accord signed in July in Lome, UNAMSIL reports.

SIERRA LEONE: Local NGOs receive international training

Human rights activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been taking part in a series of international training programmes organised with the support of UNAMSIL. The training programmes aim to provide individuals from local NGOs with the skills needed to work in the areas of human rights monitoring, documentation and intervention.

SIERRA LEONE: UNAMSIL training team consults ECOMOG

A three-member team from the United Nations in New York visited ECOMOG on Tuesday to discuss arrangements for a training programme to help incoming members of the UNAMSIL force, an ECOMOG news release said.

The head of the delegation, Emmanuel Erskine, said the training programme was aimed at helping the new UN peacekeepers adapt to their roles in the country. The team will be involved in training a group of trainers who will later train the forces participating in UNAMSIL, ECOMOG reported.

SIERRA LEONE: Strong ECOMOG presence in Port Loko, Kabala calm

ECOMOG has established a strong presence in the northern town of Port Loko, where armed bandits have been harassing civilians since the start of Sierra Leone's disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme, the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) in Freetown says.

HACU also reports that a Sierra Leone Army (SLA) battalion protects the northern town of Kabala and local and international staff there are reportedly safe. The town is not threatened by the RUF, but the presence of some 2,000 ex-SLA poses a potential threat, HACU says in its latest humanitarian situation report. It adds that there have been reports of civilians being harassed in surrounding villages.

Kabala faces another problem. It has no safe water supply, and there are no latrines or water facilities in the camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) there, HACU reports.

The food situation is under control since upland rice was recently reaped and swamp rice is to be harvested soon, but an inter-agency mission that visited Kabala on 23 November found that there were IDPs and other vulnerable groups in and around the town without money to buy food.

Up to 1,500 IDPs have recently registered in the camp, and others are waiting to do so, HACU says.

SIERRA LEONE: Fewer IDPs reported in Kenema

The number of IDPs in the eastern district of Kenema fell from 63,319 at the end of October to 47,199 one month later as villagers took advantage of the dry season to return home and harvest their crops, HACU reports.

SIERRA LEONE: MSF hostages freed

Two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) volunteers seized over a week ago by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in eastern Sierra Leone have been freed unharmed, an MSF source in Freetown told IRIN on Thursday. RUF field commander Sam Bockarie said last week that the two had been abducted to focus the attention of the international community on his dissatisfaction with the disarmament and demobilisation programme.

SIERRA LEONE: Slow donor response to DDR, says Saferworld

Barely half the US $50 million required to sustain the work of Sierra Leone's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme has been donated so far and the response from the EU as a whole has been "poor," Saferworld, a London-based research group, said this week. "All European governments should support this crucial work," Saferworld said in the 16th issue of its arms bulletin, issued on 15 December.

SIERRA LEONE-LIBERIA: Sankoh holds talks with Taylor

RUF leader Foday Sankoh held talks on Tuesday with Liberian President Charles Taylor, sources in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Wednesday. The visit was a casual one, but Taylor wanted to express his wish that the peace process remain on course, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah said. Humanitarian sources in Monrovia quoted Sankoh as saying his relations with field commander Sam Bockarie were "cordial". Bockarie recently accused Sankoh of sending a death squad to kill him.

LIBERIA: Government denies human rights violations in Lofa

Liberia's government has denied recent reports by the Liberia National Bar Association and human rights observers of an upsurge in abuses such as harassment, rape and murder by the security forces in the northern county of Lofa. "The reports are a lot of empty noise," Information Minister Joe Mulbah told IRIN on Wednesday. However, he said the government was investigating a report made some two weeks ago of unidentified armed men harassing civilians in Lofa County.

LIBERIA: Rights group advocates truth commission

A child rights advocacy group, FOCUS, says it disagrees with President Charles Taylor's opposition to the establishment of a truth commission, Star radio reported on Tuesday.

FOCUS said on Monday that a truth commission would be a forum for dialogue between victims and perpetrators of atrocities during the civil war, according to Star. It said FOCUS believed such dialogue would foster democracy and sustain peace and respect for the rule of law.

On Sunday, Taylor said he opposed the setting up of a truth commission because it would lead to civil violence and reversal of the reconciliation process.

LIBERIA: Security forces detain human rights advocate

The director of FOCUS, a child rights advocacy group in Monrovia, was arrested on Wednesday by the security forces, the National Coordinator of the National Human Rights Centre (NHRC) of Liberia told IRIN. FOCUS Director James Torh was charged with sedition for remarks he allegedly made at a secondary school in Monrovia, NCRC Coordinator Jappah Nah said. Nah, who visited Torh in police custody, said he denied making any seditious statements.

LIBERIA: Last volunteers for repatriation return from Sierra Leone

A three-day operation to repatriate the last Liberians who had volunteered to go back home from Sierra Leone was completed on Sunday, the UNHCR reported on Tuesday. Some 213 refugees were airlifted from the towns of Bo in the south and Kenema in the east as well as Freetown. More than 1,800 of the approximately 8,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone elected to return home. Most did so after fighting in the capital in January 1999 cut off aid to refugee sites, according to UNHCR.

WEST AFRICA: UNHCR appeals to Guinea, Liberia to open borders

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to the governments of Liberia and Guinea to reopen their countries' common borders to returning refugees.

Between 1997 and August 1999, when border posts were closed following security incidents in northern Liberia, about 75,000 Liberians returned home from Guinea. Returns from Cote d'Ivoire, the other main country of asylum, have continued throughout. Over the past two years, about 340,000 of 480,000 Liberians who had fled their country have returned home.

GUINEA: Amnesty calls for release of opposition leader

Amnesty International (AI) asked the Guinean government on Tuesday to release Alpha Conde, the jailed opposition leader charged with trying to leave the country illegally and seeking to recruit troops to destabilise it.

Conde, who lost the presidential elections of 14 December 1998, to Lansana Conte, was arrested one day after the polls in the village of Pine near Guinea's border with Cote d'Ivoire. AI said his arrest was politically motivated and that "the legal proceedings continued to be severely flawed".

AI said the government has denied his lawyers access to files on his case, failed to begin his trial as expected in September, denied him bail and did not allow him family visits.

According to Amnesty at least 60 members of Conde's Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee were arrested after the elections and imprisoned for four to five years and "most stated they had been tortured in detention".

GUINEA: Health strike ends

Guinea's Federation syndicale professionelle de la sante (FSPS) on Monday ended its week-long strike for better working conditions and career advancement for all health workers. The strike, which began on 6 December, ended after negotiations between union and government representatives resulted in a compromise agreement, a media source told IRIN.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Presidential runoff set for 16 January

The second round of Guinea-Bissau's presidential elections has been set for 16 January, while campaigning will start officially on 30 December and end on 15 January, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Thursday. The second round will pit Kumba Yala of the Partido de Renovacao Social against interim President Malam Bacai Sanha.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Fifty-nine political prisoners released

Guinea-Bissau's assistant attorney general, Mamadou Balde, said on Monday that 59 of the 380 political detainees in the West African nation had been released, a humanitarian source told IRIN. The source said 48 of them were freed conditionally, and the Justice Ministry was to decide within eight days whether or not they will have to stand trial. The detainees are mainly former supporters of deposed president Joao Bernardo Vieira.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Bar association elects new president

Guinea-Bissau's bar association has elected Carlos Pinto Pereira as its new president in what one humanitarian source told IRIN was an indication that the country was returning to normalcy. Pereira was sworn in on Wednesday, according to the source.

"It's a positive step." said the source, who said the association had been less active than it used to be because of the civil war that broke out in the country in June 1998. The revival of the association, he said, would help to provide checks and balances to the power of the office of the attorney general, he added.

GHANA: Drinking water a priority for flood victims

The priority needs for people in regions affected by recent floods in Ghana include immediate access to drinking water, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its situation report for 5-10 December. A supply of clean water needs to be provided by distributing water tanks and chlorinating contaminated wells, the report said. About ten 50-kg drums of chlorine need to be bought in addition to five pledged by UNICEF.

NIGERIA: Kano parliament postpones debate on Sharia

Kano State's lawmakers on Wednesday adjourned a debate on the proposed introduction of the Shari'a, which has been arousing increasing opposition from Christian and secular groups in the country. News reports said the debate, expected to resume in January, was adjourned because of the death of a relative of Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of the ancient city.

NIGERIA: Women's rights NGOs condemn religious fundamentalism

Women in Nigeria have said they oppose attempts by some states to introduce laws purporting to be "Islamic" or "Christian".

Baobab for Women's Human Rights and 13 other local rights groups who met in November decried the introduction of Shari'a in Zamfara State and threats to apply Christian laws in Cross River. "These moves to (impose) restrictive laws in the name of religion are completely unconstitutional and their provisions violate our rights," Baobab said.

"We call on the president, state governors, and federal and state ministers or commissioners of justice and attorneys general to speak out and take action against these unconstitutional acts," Ayesha Imam, BAOBAB's executive director, said.

SENEGAL: Polio vaccination campaign exceeds target

Senegal attained 106-percent coverage for children 0-5 years old in the second round of a polio vaccination campaign that ended on 4 December, a source at the World Health Organisation office in Dakar told IRIN on Thursday. He said 1.9 million children were vaccinated against polio and given vitamin A, more than the 1.8 million who had been targeted. In the first round, on 4-5 November, 1.94 million were vaccinated.

MAURITANIA: EU provides US $374,444 in aid for flood victims

Two months after Mauritania's government appealed for help, the EU has given the equivalent of some US $374,444 in humanitarian aid to flood victims in the Mauritanian regions of Trarza, Brakna and Gorgol, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) said.

BURKINA FASO: Tens of thousands remember journalist

Tens of thousands of people marched silently through the streets of Ouagadougou on Monday in commemoration of the death of journalist Norbert Zongo, whose charred body and those of three other people were found in his car on 13 December 1998.

Zongo had been investigating the murder of David Ouedraogo, driver of President Blaise Compaore's younger brother, Francois. An independent inquiry identified six presidential guardsmen as being involved in the Ouedraogo's death, but they have not been brought to trial.

AFRICA: Conference ends with call for conflict-prevention network

A colloquium on peace, social stability and lasting development in Lusophone African countries ended on Friday with a call for the creation of a worldwide network for the promotion of peace and conflict-prevention in Africa.

The former presidents, researchers and other academics and politicians from Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome/Principe who participated in the meeting also recommended that a week be devoted each year to the culture of peace and tolerance.

The colloquium, held on 7-10 December in Praia, Cape Verde, was organised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in conjunction with the government and civil society of Cape Verde.

WEST AFRICA: ECOWAS leaders approve plan to speed up integration

West African leaders on Friday agreed on measures to speed up the momentum toward the creation of a single monetary zone by 1 January 2004. In a final communique at the end of their 22nd summit, held in Lome, Togo, on 9-10 December, the nine ECOWAS heads of state and government who attended the meeting backed a Nigerian proposal for an initial group of countries, determined to take the fast track to integration, to take practical measures to integrate their economics.

WEST AFRICA: Leaders to tackle barriers to free movement of people

West African leaders decided at the 22nd ECOWAS Summit to set up a permanent body to eliminate the obstructions to travel between Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries. The meeting noted that although there is an ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of people and property, there are many checkpoints along West Africa's highways. Nigeria announced that it was removing all checkpoints on roads linking it to its neighbours: Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

WEST AFRICA: Protocol on preventing conflicts

A Security and Mediation Council is to be set up in West Africa under a protocol on the prevention, management and settlement conflicts approved at the 22nd ECOWAS summit that ended on Friday in Lome. Ten countries have been designated to sit on the Council: Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. A council of wise men is also to be set up to help preserve peace in the subregion. ECOWAS members were asked to submit nominees for this council to the executive secretariat by 31 December 2000.

Abidjan, 17 December 1999; 17:15 GMT


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