IRIN-West Africa Update 199, 98.05.04

IRIN-West Africa Update 199, 98.05.04

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 199 of Events in West Africa, (Friday-Monday) 1-4 May 1998

(Please note the update for Friday, 1 May, is included in this report)

NIGERIA: Police and protestors clash in southwest

Seven people were killed in clashes on Friday between police and pro-democracy protestors in the southwestern city of Ibadan, news organisations reported. AFP said several people were wounded, while 47 vehicles and several buildings were set on fire during clashes. Some were homes of supporters of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha. Six activists of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), an umbrella organisation of 26 opposition and human rights groups, were arrested. Reports said police intervened when crowds of angry youth supporting the UAD May Day protest tried to force market women in an Ibadan market not to trade.

The UAD called May Day demonstrations in several urban centres to protest againt military rule and what they called the "sham" national assembly elections on Saturday, 25 April. The demonstrations were timed to coincide with a two-day pro-Abacha festival due to be held in the capital, Abuja.

In Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, opposition activists distributed leaflets, but people appeared to have ignored the protest call. The BBC said heavily armed police were out in great numbers patrolling the major roads in Lagos and searching vehicles. The Lagos police chief last week warned he would "deal ruthlessly" with protestors. AFP reported that peaceful rallies by workers were staged in the southeast, east and centre of Nigeria. According to AFP, police dispersed around 2,000 workers gathered in the stadium in Kano, 700 km north of Lagos.

Official says "foreign enemies" supporting violence

Meanwhile, the military administrator of Oyo State, Ahmed Usman, on Sunday accused unnamed "foreign enemies" of supporting the violence in Ibadan, AFP reported, quoting a statement. Usman said "evidence abounds to show that those acts were backed by our foreign enemies as shown by the blow-by-blow account of the incident by CNN, BBC and VOA". He also expressed unhappiness that people would be so "intolerant" of differing opinions as to engage in "barbaric acts of destruction". Usman did not name the "foreign enemies" nor say whether he meant non-Nigerians or Nigerians in exile. Ibadan, 140 km west of Lagos, is the capital of Oyo State.

Prominent opposition member arrested

A prominent leader of the opposition coalition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Bola Ige, was arrested on Saturday at his home in Ibadan, news sources reported. It is not clear whether Ige's arrest was linked to Friday's clashes in Ibadan. Unconfirmed reports quoted by AFP said other opposition figures had also been arrested in Ibadan, where police presence remains strong. Ige led a NADECO delegation which gave evidence on human rights in Nigeria to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 1996.

Authorities warn of bomb alert

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government on Friday announced it had been alerted of plans to bomb public installations, AFP reported, quoting Nigerian state radio. Information Minister Ikeobasi Mokelu said the alleged plans were aimed at "inflicting damage" on the nation's economy, "discrediting" the government and disrupting the transition to democracy, the report said. The statement did not reveal the source nor what action was being taken. There have been two bomb blasts in the southwest in the last fortnight.

Abacha among media watchdog's "press enemies"

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, included Abacha among 10 leaders named as "enemies of the press". The CPJ denounced Abacha's "brutal" tactics which has kept 21 journalists behind bars. It also claimed Nigeria has more journalists in prison than any other African nation. The media watchdog added that the murder of 'The Guardian' editor in front of his family and the life sentence meted out to the editor of the 'Diet' were "warnings to journalists not to criticise the stage-managed referendum to secure his (Abacha's) succession unopposed".

Releases must not overshadow death penalties, AI says

The international human rights NGO, Amnesty International (AI), in a statement on Friday warned that the reported release of 120 detainees in Nigeria should not be a "smokescreen" to distract attention from the fate of the six people sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a coup plot last December. AI called on the Nigerian government not to carry out more political executions, while denouncing the continued harassment of the press. The government confirmed it had released prisoners but made no official statement to that effect. Most detainees were apparently common law prisoners over the age of 60 or had served long prison sentences. Only five were reportedly prisoners of conscience and had been held without charge or trial for months because their papers criticised the government, according to AI. It added that some reports of releases had proved to be false or premature.

SIERRA LEONE: British gun-running investigation

Customs investigators are examining allegations of British government involvement in illegally supplying weapons used to overthrow the ousted Sierra Leonean military government in February, news organisations reported on Monday. The charges centred on claims that United Nations sanctions may have been broken by a shipment of small arms to Sierra Leone by a British firm, Sandline International. The BBC reported that the British Foreign Office is treating these allegations as serious. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, quoted by AFP, ordered the Foreign Office to cooperate fully and openly with the investigation. He added that an internal investigation showed there was "no ministerial approval for any activity by Sandline, no discussion by ministers with Sandline and we will robustly resist any claim that there was." Meanwhile, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, has returned to Britain to cooperate with the inquiry.

Two British papers,'The Sunday Times' and the 'Sunday Telegraph' alleged that Penfold had requested Sandline to supply guns and mercenaries to opponents of the Sierra Leone military regime at the cost of US$ 10 million, an AFP report said. The BBC reported that lawyers acting for Sandline and its director, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, said no offence had been committed. Sandline's solicitor confirmed that his client had supplied arms to the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, that helped restore Sierra Leonean President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to power. Reuters added that the Sandline lawyers believed the company had Foreign Office permission to do so despite the UN arms embargo.

President denies arms involvement

Meanwhile, Kabbah's spokesman, Septimus Kaikai, on Sunday denied Kabbah was involved in the alleged deal to illegally supply weapons to oust the former military government, Deutsche-Presse Agentur reported. According to the report, some press reports alleged Kabbah had paid US$ 10 million by mortgaging diamond concessions to buy weapons and train militia. Kaikai rejected the allegation, adding that Kabbah's government did not breach the UN resolution on the arms embargo or any other resolution.

Suspected Liberian junta supporters arrested

Security forces in Sierra Leone said they captured 36 Liberians suspected of being loyal to the ousted junta and belonging to a defunct Liberian faction, news organisations reported on Sunday. The forces said the men, allegedly belonging to President Charles Taylor's now defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), were captured in an ambush in Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone by ECOMOG troops, AFP reported. The Liberian government has consistently denied allegations that its troops have been fighting alongside the forces of the former military regime.

In a related development, peacekeeping forces and local militia forces captured more than 60 fighters loyal to ousted junta in February, AFP reported, quoting local correspondants on Friday. ECOMOG also arrested 52 former junta soldiers at Tombodu and Yomandu in the eastern district of Kono, AFP reported quoting sources in Kenema. Another 15 men were taken prisoners at the Madina Taindokom in the northeast on the road linking Lunsar and Makeni. There was no independent confirmation of these reports.

CHAD: Libyan leader on official visit

Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi arrived by road in Chad on Thursday for an official visit and to lead the main Friday prayers with other heads of state, news organisations reported.

Speaking before the Chadian parliament on Saturday, Gaddafi warned legislators to be wary of US involvement in oil exploration citing his country's experience, news sources reported. Reuters quoted Gaddafi as warning about "America's plot against Africa" through the globalisation of the economy and its duplicity in business. He claimed that American companies had misled Libya about the true location and the extent of Libya's oil deposits. Gaddafi also criticised France for its military role in Africa, adding that the continent needed development aid and investment. He called on France not to interfere in the internal affairs of Africans.

The BBC reported that Gaddafi met Nigerian President Sani Abacha and President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone in private talks.

Chadian President denounces "Western" imperialism

Deby, on Saturday, denounced what he called the "pre-packaged democracy" being foisted upon African states by wealthier nations, news organisations reported. AFP quoted him as saying it was up to Africans to reflect on another form of organisation of their society while preserving their "own values of freedom". He also accused human rights organisations and the international media of orchestrating a campaign to stop the development of petroleum resources in Chad, Gabon's Africa No. 1 reported.

Mini-summit cancelled

A mini-summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan states (COMESSA), consisting of Libya, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad, scheduled for Saturday was cancelled, news organisation reported. The BBC reported that Libya has been the driving force behind this new regional economic organisation whose aim, as described by its foreign minister, is "to halt the decline in African economies".

France redeploys military "temporarily"

Meanwhile, France temporarily moved several warplanes, including five Mirage jet fighters, from N'Djamena to Cote d'Ivoire during Gaddafi's visit, AFP reported on Thursday. A source at the French embassy in Cote d'Ivoire confirmed that the aircraft and 100 military personnel had been redeployed.

Nigerian and Chadian soldiers clash

Heavy fighting broke out last week between Nigerian and Chadian soldiers on their Lake Chad border, news sources reported. In an interview with Radio France Internationale on Sunday, Chadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahamet Saleh Annadif described the clashes on the island of Tetewa as a minor incident and not a border dispute. The matter had been brought up with Abacha during his visit to Chad, he said. Annadif said the incident was closed. Reuters said few details have emerged on the incident and it was unclear how many people were killed. Chadian soldiers had reportedly angered Nigerians by removing a Nigerian flag on the island.

NIGER: Further protests

The opposition coalition Front de restauration et de defense de la democratie (FRDD) staged further protest rallies in Niger's second largest city, Zinder, on Saturday, AFP reported. Witnesses quoted by the report said the protest was peaceful and police did not intervene as demonstrators barricaded roads. A second demonstration scheduled for Sunday was banned in the capital, Niamey, on grounds of "the risk of public disturbance", AFP said. Niger has been hit by a series of violent protests since 12 April when the FRDD announced its campaign to force President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara to resign.

Attack on opposition activist's home

The home of a detained opposition activist in Maradi, 550 kms east of Niamey, was machine-gunned Thursday by unknown assailants, news agencies said. No injuries were reported although members of Ziti Maiga's family were in the house during the attack. Maiga, a member of the Mouvement national pour la societe et le developpement (MNSD), and some 15 other opposition members have been detained since 19 April following violent opposition demonstrations in Maradi, Radio France Internationale added. A similar shoot-and-run attack occurred two weeks ago in Niamey against the home opposition activist Ali Sabo. No group has claimed responsibility for the two attacks.

LIBERIA: Demobilised soldiers storm training centre

Over 300 demobilised soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) stormed the Barclay Training Centre (BTC) barracks in Monrovia demanding their retirement benefits, Star Radio reported on Sunday. The former soldiers set up road blocks, attacked taxis and seized wares and money from market vendors. A spokesman for the group, retired Lieutenant Y.D. Garley, said the demonstration was over the government's failure to settle benefits and the defence ministry's threat to evict them. Garley said the retired soldiers would only evacuate the barracks if they were given their benefits. There are over 1,000 retired soldiers at the BTC. Two weeks ago, the government promised over 4,000 retired soldiers what it called retirement benefits. At the time the soldiers had complained that the compensation was far less than what they had anticipated.

Taiwan to rehabilitate seaport and airport

Taiwan on Friday agreed to rehabilitate the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts international airport, AFP reported. It also agreed to rehabilitate the state-run University of Liberia College of Agriculture. Liberia and Taiwan established a joint commission to review Liberia's post-war reconstruction programmes and implement bi-lateral agreements.

Abidjan, 4 May 1998, 20:00 gmt


[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel: +225 21 73 66 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail: for more information or subscription. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this report, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the Web at: or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to . Mailing list: irin-wa-updates]

Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 199, 98.05.04 Message-Id: <Pine.LNX.3.95.980504201056.29033A-p://

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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