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U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
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IRIN-WA Update 467 of events in West Africa (Wednesday 19 May)
SIERRA LEONE: President, rebel leader agree on ceasefire
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone and rebel leader Foday Sankoh have signed a ceasefire agreement in Lome, Togo, news organisations reported on Tuesday.
Tuesday's agreement was witnessed by US special envoy Jesse Jackson and Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who has been leading mediation efforts to resolve the conflict.
According to news reports, the ceasefire would come into effect on 24 May, when foreign ministers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are expected to meet in Lome to discuss Sierra Leone's problems. It was also agreed that direct talks between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) would begin on the following day, 25 May.
The two sides also agreed to safe and unhindered access for humanitarian organisations to all people in need and the immediate release of all prisoners of war and non-combatants. The parties are also to ask the UN to deploy military observers as soon as possible to observe compliance with the agreement, subject to approval by the Security Council.
UN, US welcome truce
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the agreement and called on the RUF, the Civil Defence Forces, the government and the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, to adhere to its terms, the United Nations said in a statement on Wednesday.
The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) will be strengthened to play its role in implementing the agreement and the Secretariat is sending a military assessment team to Sierra Leone to draw up plans for an expanded presence, subject to Security Council approval in the event of a lasting peace agreement, the United Nations said.
US President Bill Clinton also welcomed the ceasefire accord describing it as "an important first step towards peace", Reuters reported.
However, news organisations reported regional analysts as reacting cautiously to the ceasefire, partly because of doubts as to the ability of both sides to control their combattants and allies.
BURKINA FASO: Human rights lobby organises stayaway
A collective of human rights groups, opposition leaders and journalists has called for a nationwide stayaway in Burkina Faso on Thursday, one of its leaders told IRIN.
The protest is aimed at obtaining the release of three members of the 'Collectif' detained by the security forces following protests in Koudougou, home town of Norbert Zongo, an independent journalist found dead in his car on 13 December along with three other people.
An independent commission found that the Zongo "was murdered for purely political reasons" and for his commitment to investigative journalism. It said in its final report that discrepancies in the testimonies of six presidential guards whom it had questioned did not mean they were guilty but made them "serious suspects".
The publication of the report on 7 May led to demonstrations in Burkina Faso's main towns, with protesters, many of them students, demanding that the suspects be brought to justice.
When on Monday, homes were burnt during the protests in Koudougou, three members of the Collectif were arrested. They included opposition parliamentarian Herman Yameogo and Halidou Ouedraogo, head of the Mouvement burkinabe des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP).
Ouedraogo and the third member of the Collectif were later released, but two others were arrested in Koudougou on Tuesday.
"On Thursday the 20th there will be a total work stoppage in the private, public and informal sectors," Ouedraogo told IRIN from Ouagadougou on Tuesday after a meeting of the Collectif at which the strike was decided.
Ouedraogo said the group would meet again after Thursday's
strike to decide on future action. He also accused
the state of diversionary tactics. "They arrested
us to distract our attention" he said, adding
that the Collectif wanted the six presidential guards
However, Security Minister Djibril Bassole said on radio that the state had evidence Yameogo had incited the protests in Koudougou. He told RFI that the opposition parliamentarian had been caught "red handed" but did not elaborate.
NIGERIA: Commonwealth ban lifted
Nigeria is being allowed back into the Commowealth after a suspension of more than three years and will formally rejoin on 29 May, the day the country's new civilian government takes power, according to a statement issued on Tuesday.
"This fresh start is a victory for democracy, a victory for Nigeria and a victory for a fundamental principle of the Commonwealth," the organisation's Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said in the statement.
Nigeria was suspended from the 54-nation group in 1995 after its military authorities executed nine minority rights activists. The Commonwealth decided to act to overturn the suspension after Nigeria began its return to democracy last year. Then, in late April, a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group recommended the lifting of the suspension.
"I am delighted that an unfortunate episode in Nigeria-Commonwealth relations will come to an end and that Nigeria is resuming its rightful place in the Commonwealth," Anyaoku, a Nigerian, said.
Anyaoku is due to attend the inauguration of president-elect Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
GUINEA BISSAU: Junta wants ECOMOG to help organise elections
Military Junta spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Zamora Induta said on Tuesday that the West African Peace Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, will help Guinea Bissau's government prepare general and presidential elections scheduled for 28 November, AFP reported.
Neither ECOMOG nor ECOWAS, the regional economic body that deployed the force, could be reached on Tuesday for a comment on Induta's statement. Induta was speaking in Lisbon, where he and other Junta members had talks with Portuguese government officials.
ECOMOG has 600 men in Guinea Bissau, where it was deployed to oversee a November 1998 peace accord between the now ousted administration of Joao Bernardo Vieira and the Military Junta. Shortly after the Junta seized power on 7 May, critics questioned the need for the ECOMOG force, comprising troops from Benin, The Gambia, Togo and Niger. In this regard, Benin said it would withdraw its men as soon as possible as they were no longer needed.
Conditions difficult for hundreds of prisoners
A total of 500 civilian and military prisoners detained by the Junta are living "in difficult conditions" but their lives are not endangered, AFP quoted the president of the Guinea Bissau Human Rights League, Ignacio Tavarez, as saying. It gave no further details of their situation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was barred from commenting on prisoner conditions because of a standing agreement it has with all countries where it is represented. However, the ICRC's regional delegate in Senegal, Gilbert Delechat, told IRIN on Tuesday that on 12 and 13 May the ICRC registered 572 prisoners, whom it provided with soap, Jerry cans, and other material to clean their cells. "The visits continue," he said.
Fadul apologises for damage to embassies
Guinea Bissau interim-President Malam Sanha apologised formally on Monday for the damage caused to four diplomatic missions and homes in Bissau when Military Junta forces swept Vieira out of power, Lusa reported.
"We presented our formal apologies for what happened," he said after inspecting the damaged diplomatic missions of Cuba, France, Senegal and Sweden.
Sanha was accompanied by interim Prime Minister Francisco Fadul. Sanha said the diplomatic premises had not been targets in the battle for the city early in May. The incidents, he said, should not hurt relations with these countries.
WESTERN SAHARA: UN sets date for referendum
The UN Secretary General has announced 31 July 2000 as the date for a referendum in the disputed Western Sahara, a UN official told IRIN on Wednesday. The poll will decide if the territory will integrate with Morocco or become an independent state.
The referendum had been delayed by arguments over who is eligible to vote with each side accusing the other of swelling numbers to influence the result of the poll, BBC reported.
The former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Abidjan, 19 May 1999, 18:50 GMT
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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