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IRIN-WA Update 391 of Events in West Africa (Friday 29 January)
SIERRA LEONE: Refugees flee northern insecurity
Growing insecurity in northern Sierra Leone is leading more people to seek safety in neighbouring Guinea, UNHCR said yesterday (Thursday). In a statement received by IRIN, UNHCR said 1,360 refugees had arrived in Guinea's Kindia prefecture, some 150 km east of the capital Conakry, between 7 and 25 January. The statement said most had fled the Makeni and Kamakwie areas of northern Sierra Leone after rebels had attacked their villages, burning homes and looting food supplies. The attacks took place after the rebels had been pushed out of Freetown by ECOMOG, it added. Another 1,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who had fled to Guinea from Freetown and other areas of the country since 6 January were staying at the Forecariah camp some 100 km from Conakry, a UNHCR spokesman in Abidjan told IRIN today (Friday).
Risk of cholera in Freetown
Lack of drinking water, uncollected corpses and a shortage of latrines in areas where displaced people have gathered could lead to an outbreak of cholera in Freetown, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) said. An ACF assessment team that visited Freetown on Monday said the security situation remained precarious. An ACF nutritional centre had been moved from Kissy to the more secure western part of the city, and some 50 severely-malnourished children were being assisted there, ACF said in a statement received today by IRIN.
ECOWAS, UN officials hold talks with Kabbah
The head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate, travelled to the capital Freetown yesterday to meet Sierran Leonean President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, news reports said. AFP cited an ECOWAS statement as saying ECOWAS envoys had recently met both Kabbah and rebel leader Foday Sankoh "with a view to finding a lasting solution to the crisis." The Nigerian-led West African intervention force ECOMOG in Sierra Leone operates under an ECOWAS mandate. Meanwhile, news reports said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, had held talks with Kabbah yesterday in Freetown.
Abubakar, Rawlings discuss crisis
Nigerian head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar met Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings in the capital Accra yesterday, Ghanaian radio, monitored by the BBC, said. The two leaders deplored the support allegedly provided to the rebels by some ECOWAS member states, the radio said. It quoted a statement issued at the end of the talks as saying they also reiterated their determination to work together to "contain activities which constitute a stab in the back of ECOMOG."
US proposing ECOMOG support
US President Bill Clinton is seeking congressional approval to provide US $1.7 million worth of logistical support to ECOMOG, State Department spokesman James Foley said yesterday. He said the US had over the past year given ECOMOG over US $5 million for, among other things, the purchase of equipment and maintenance of vehicles. The US had also recently sent a medical team and four tons of supplies to NIgeria to treat wounded Nigerian troops, Foley said. The US support to ECOMOG is to enable it to "do the job they need to do to counter these horrendous brutalities perpetrated by these insurgents," Foley said.
NIGERIA: Delayed poll to take place in Bayelsa state
Voters in the oil-producing Niger Delta region go to the polls tomorrow (Saturday) for state governorship elections delayed by anti-government protests earlier this month, Reuters reported today. "Everything is prepared here, the electoral commisssion is prepared. It is very calm. It is as though there was never any trouble in Bayelsa state, " Reuters quoted a spokesman for the military administrator as saying.
At least 30 Ijaws, Nigeria's fourth largest ethnic group, were killed by government troops sent to quell protests in Bayelsa over the New Year, Reuters said. The protestors were demanding a greater share of the region's oil wealth and the departure of the multinational oil firms. In recent months, oil firms have been hit by a number of sabotage attacks which have adversely affected output, Reuters added.
Other Nigerian states voted on 9 January in elections which were generally peaceful.
Nigeria expected to buy 500,000 mt of oil products
Meanwhile, European traders said that Nigeria is expected on the market soon to buy about half a million tonnes of oil products over three months starting in March, Reuters reported. The purchase would be carried out under the terms of Nigeria's new liberalised petroleum scheme, though tendering for the contracts is unlikely to be open. An announcement was made by the Nigerian authorities earlier this week, signalling a near end to the fuel crisis.
INEC to screen presidential candidates in Abuja
Presidential candidates of the three political parties will be screened by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the independent 'Guardian' newspaper said today. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) which is reportedly merging with the All People's Party (APP) has already named Chief Olu Samuel Falae as its candidate.
However Steve Osemeke, INEC's director of public affairs, told IRIN today that a meeting will take place on Monday to discuss the merger of the two parties, which, he said, INEC is still "unhappy" with. The People's Democratic Party (PDP) is expected to choose its candidate on 6 February at the party's convention in Jos, Plateau State, the 'Guardian' reported. It added that the AD and the APP have yet to fix dates for their conventions as they are still discussing the possibility of nominating a joint candidate for the presidential election.
Government sets up new panel to oversee handover to democracy
A new committee has been set up to coordinate the 29 May handover to a democratically-elected government, Major-General Mamman Kontagora, the federal capital territory minister said yesterday. According to the 'Guardian', he told the North Korean ambassador during a meeting that the handover ceremony would be held at the Eagle Square in Abuja. Kontagora added that his office had been "saddled with the responsibility" of organising the activities for the ceremony and all structures had been put in place to ensure a smooth transition to democracy, the 'Guardian' said.
EU and OAU to send election monitors
The EU will send 100 monitors to the legislative and presidential elections planned for 20 and 27 February, a spokesperson announced yesterday in Brussels, according to AFP. Observers sponsored by the OAU from within the continent will also monitor the forthcoming elections, the 'Guardian' reported.
SAHEL: Food aid programme ending
A food aid programme supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Sahelian countries is coming to a close after helping tens of thousands of people survive in the lean period between harvests, a Federation report said. In the report, received by IRIN today, the Federation said 130,000 food rations had been distributed to children and other vulnerable groups by national Red Cross societies in Burkina Faso, Chad, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, where each year food shortages are at the root of outbreaks of disease, malnutrition and migration to urban centres. Relief activities did not take place in Nigeria, where effects of the drought were less drastic than anticipated, it said.
Chronically poor harvests in the Sahelian belt were made worse in 1998 by the El Nino phenomenon, affecting an estimated three million people, it said. The 10-month Red Cross programme, which included health and nutrition education activities, reduced suffering and averted further migration in the target communities. It also highlighted the need to develop a regional approach to food insecurity by reinforcing community coping mechanisms and reducing dependence on external assistance, the report said.
GUINEA: Amnesty urges release of political prisoners, alleges torture
The human rights organisation Amnesty International has urged President Lansana Conte to free all political prisoners and prosecute those responsible for torture and ill-treatment. In a "solemn appeal" to the president yesterday on the eve of his inauguration following dubious polls in December, Amnesty "deplored" the arrest of hundreds of people during both the campaign and the election itself. The appeal, received today by IRIN, said many political detainees had been tortured in secret detention centres, including the notorious Camp Boiro. Prominent detainees include Marcel Cros and Alpha Conde respectively leaders of the two main opposition parties, Parti democratique africain de Guinee (PDAG) and the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee (RPG).
TOGO: African countries call for major debt relief
Leaders of eight West African countries yesterday called for significant debt relief at the end of a one-day summit meeting in Lome, AFP reported. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo - which make up the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) - urged developing countries to declare all African states severely indebted, making them eligible for more aid. The UEMOA countries, which use the CFA franc as their currency, stated their own efforts to improve their finances would probably be inadequate, AFP said. Earlier, opening the meeting, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema urged a faster pace of integration among the eight countries, PANA said.
LIBERIA: Dysentery confirmed in Nimba
Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of dysentery in Nimba county, a regional WHO official in Abidjan told IRIN today. He said the strain of dysentery found in Nimba was resistant to many antibiotics and further tests were underway to determine the best treatment for patients. A total of 39 deaths have been attributed to the disease, the official said. He said the disease had spread into several districts due to poor hygiene and sanitation practices, which had led to the contamination of food and drinking water.
GHANA: Cholera in Accra
Some 240 cholera cases were reported in the capital Accra between 1 and 26 January, a regional WHO official told IRIN today. Nine deaths have been attributed to the disease, he said. News reports said the disease had surfaced in the western part of the city.
BURKINA FASO: Judge named to head probe into journalist's death
Burkina Faso's Independent Commission of Enquiry has appointed a judge to head an investigation into the controversial death of journalist Norbert Zongo, Justice Minister Paul Tchembe announced yesterday. According to AFP, the minister said Judge Kassoum Kambou, a human rights expert, would lead a 10-member commission including representatives of the government, human rights groups and national journalists' unions. The charred corpse of Zongo, who was managing editor of the daily 'l'Independant', and three other people were found in suspicious circumstances last month on a deserted stretch of road, 100 km south of Ouagadougou, AFP recalled. The BBC meanwhile reported that a new national press centre, named after the dead journalist, has been inaugurated in Burkina Faso.
Abidjan, 29 January 1999, 17:35 gmt
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 17:40:08 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 391 for 1999.1.29
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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