IRIN-WA Update 534 for 23 August [19990824]

IRIN-WA Update 534 for 23 August [19990824]

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

Tel: +225 21 73 54 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail:

IRIN-WA Update 534 of events in West Africa (Monday 23 August)

LIBERIA: Thousands displaced in Lofa, NGOs say

Over 25,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Voinjama and Kolahun in upper Lofa County, according to a report from an interagency humanitarian assessment mission.

The mission's findings are based on a one-day visit on 20 August to several villages in Zorzor district in the southeast of Lofa County, some 330 km northeast of Monrovia.

Konia, a village about 50 km south of Voinjama, was the nearest the mission got to the scene of the fighting that broke out about two weeks ago in upper Lofa between government troops and armed dissidents who, the government said, invaded Liberia from Guinea.

The mission reported that 7,000 displaced were in Voinjama district and 18,000 were in Zorzor.

The team included representatives of several humanitarian organisations such as the Lutheran World Service, International Rescue Committee, Liberian Red Cross and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission.

[See Item: irin-english-1461 titled 'IRIN Special Report on displacement in Lofa County']

Lofa and surrounding counties on "full alert"

Security forces in Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties remain on full alert following the rebel invasion of Lofa, Information Minister Joe Mulbah told IRIN on Monday. However, he said it was "as quiet as a graveyard in Lofa". A mopping-up operation is continuing, but the situation is "under control", he said.

A Star Radio correspondent in Nimba, which borders Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, said local authorities have advised residents to report any strange movements to security forces. Following President Charles Taylor's call just after the rebel invasion for able-bodied people to sign up and fight alongside government forces, former combatants are arriving at Sanniquellie and Ganta to volunteer for duty, Star reported on Saturday.

Human rights group warns against arming "wrong people"

However, a local human rights group has urged the government to be careful in recruiting militiamen, Star Radio reported on Friday. The Liberia Human Rights Watch (LHRW) said the warning was necessary to avoid giving arms to the wrong people.

Defence Ministry to investigate reports of refugee deaths

The Ministry of Defence has said it will investigate reports that Sierra Leonean refugees have died in the upheavals in Lofa, Star Radio reported on Friday.

However, Cleophus Pearson, information officer of the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), told IRIN on Monday that he received no reports of refugee deaths during a recent visit to Vahun and the road to Voinjama.

He added that an assessment mission would go later this week to Kolahun to investigate the reports.

Taylor asks for blood

During a visit to the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia on Friday, Taylor appealed to the public to donate blood to Liberian soldiers injured during the fighting in Lofa, the BBC reported on Friday. His appeal came shortly after doctors told him about blood shortages at the hospital.

Taylor also announced that special salaries would be paid to soldiers fighting in Lofa and that the critically wounded would be flown abroad for treatment, the BBC said. Mulbah told IRIN on Monday that there were 11 or 12 injured soldiers in hospital in Monrovia who had been transported from Lofa County but he was unable to give any details of fatalities.

Meanwhile, Taylor said on Friday that Chris Farley of the former Liberia Peace Council (LPC) and a commander of the former Ulimo-K movement had been seen in the region, the BBC reported.

Guinea reacts to Taylor's speech

State radio in Conakry on Friday reported Guinea's foreign minister as saying Guinean territory would never serve as a rear base to destabilize a neighbouring country.

His statement, made at a meeting in Conakry with heads of diplomatic missions and representatives of international institutions, came in reaction to allegations by the Liberian government that Guinea helped prepare and carry out armed attacks in Liberia.

New police chief

Taylor has appointed a former aide of an exiled civil war rival as his new director of police, news organisations reported on Sunday. Paul Mulbah, who was chief of protocol for Alhaji Kromah's Ulimo-K faction during the civil war, will replace Joe Tate who was killed in a plane crash on 10 August.

Mulbah was previously head of the government procurement agency, the General Services Agency, news organisations reported.

SIERRA LEONE: UNOMSIL observers increased

In a bid to further underpin the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the UN Security Council has authorised the provisional expansion of its Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to 210 military observers.

The motion, adopted on Friday, triples the previously authorised number of UNOMSIL military observers in the country. The Council also agreed to strengthen UNOMSIL's political, civil affairs, information, human rights and child protection elements.

The Security Council also called for "urgent and substantial" humanitarian help for Sierra Leone, especially parts of the country that relief agencies have not been able to reach. The Council said generous long-term aid was also needed for reconstruction, and for Sierra Leone's economic and social recovery.

In its expanded role, UNOMSIL will monitor the cease fire and handle the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants into society.

Amnesty for war criminals criticised in Council

Fighters who brutalised Sierra Leoneans during the eight-year war, hacking limbs and perpetrating other atrocities should be tried rather than granted amnesty, which forms part of the Lome peace agreement, the Dutch representative at the United Nations told the Security Council on Friday.

"There is no peace without justice," Arnold Peter Van Walsum of the Netherlands said in an open debate before the Council's 15 members.

The RUF has been blamed for the widespread killing, rape and amputation of civilians. Van Walsum said international tribunals had been set up to remedy the culture of impunity and "Council owed it to the people of Sierra Leone to allow them recourse to the same remedies now open to victims of similar crimes elsewhere".

Argentina's Fernando Enrique Petrella also said:"Granting a wide-ranging general amnesty raised very important question marks."

In a reservation attached to his signature of the accord, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sierra Leone noted that crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law could not be covered by the accord's general amnesty.

The war, which began in 1991, claimed at least 20,000 lives, AFP reported, and forced at least half of the country's 4.5 million people to flee their homes.

Ex-SLA now accept Lome peace

An ex-Sierra Leonean army (ex-SLA) officer whose group seized hostages early in August, charging that it had been left out of the Lome peace accord, now says the former soldiers are satisfied their interests were included in the agreement, Reuters reported.

"We former soldiers are now convinced that former soldiers are definitely involved in the Lome (Togo) Peace accord," Bazzi Kamara, a former officer, told reporters in Liberia.

He was speaking after talks with former Sierra Leonean military junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and Liberian President Charles Taylor, Reuters said.

The ex-SLA seized 37 Western hostages on 4 August thinking their ally, the Revolutionary United Front, had seized Koroma, their leader, and sidelined them in the peace deal. The last hostages was released on 10 August.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Former minister found dead

A former minister in the government of deposed president Nino Vieira was found dead in his home in Bissau on Sunday, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Monday from the Guinea-Bissau capital.

Nicanda Barreto was found dead naked and gagged, with signs of blows on his body, the source said. His death, which some sectors in Bissau regard as a political killing, "has already created a general panic among the political class that could have a negative impact on the peace process", the source added.

Barreto held various posts, including those of attorney-general, minister of justice and home affairs minister, under former president Nino Vieira, ousted on 7 May by a Military Junta which had mutinied against him 11 months before.

An investigation has been ordered into the cause of his death, the source said.

NIGERIA: Military cuts not expected to affect peacekeeping

Nigeria plans to cut the size of its armed forces to 50,000 troops from the current 80,000 over the next four years, but officials say this will not compromise the country's peacekeeping role.

"The end result should be a highly technical, highly professional army capable of rapid response to its responsibilities," a senior military official told IRIN.

[See Item: irin-english-1462 titled 'IRIN Special Report on plans to trim the armed forces']

Church, hotels torched in Katsina

Seven hotels and a church were torched by members of a Shi'ite Moslem sect protesting against the sale of alcohol in Katsina on Friday, 'The Guardian' newspaper reported.

'The Guardian' reported a witness as saying that the protesters, some of whom carried petrol in jerry cans and chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), moved unhindered towards the targeted buildings and set them on fire.

Non-indigenous people who owned shops in Katsina metropolis hurriedly shut them and fled. Anticipating renewed attacks in the night, some moved their families to the local military headquarters while others took refuge in police barracks.

The police have, however, beefed up security in most of the churches in the metropolis to pre-empt any further attacks, while Katsina Governor Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has appealed for calm and understanding among the various ethnic groups in the state and urged them to continue to live together in peace and unity.

Government deploys troops to stop Taraba communal clashes

In Taraba, another northern state, the federal government has deployed soldiers to help restore peace at Takum town following violent clashes between two ethnic groups, the Jukun and Kutep, over chieftaincy titles and boundary adjustments.

'The Guardian' reported that Governor Jolly Nyame disclosed the deployment at a news conference at the weekend in Kaduna. He said the clashes had been recurring for about 10 years and had disrupted economic activities in the area.

"While we continued peace initiatives between the two aggressive groups, we brought in the military to disarm them because of deadly weapons being used by their youths," Nyame said. He said half of its residents had fled.

Nigeria human development report

President Olusegun Obasanjo said his government was committed to implementing anti-poverty policies and programmes as he launched the 1998 Nigeria Human Development Report in Abuja on Friday, Nigeria Television reported.

Estimates, Obasanjo said, showed that nearly 49 percent of Nigerians lived below poverty line. Quoting other statistics from the report, he noted that the life expectancy was just 50 years, only 55 percent of adults were literate, some 49 percent had access to safe water and health services, and just over 33 percent expected to live to the age of 40 years.

"... no country can maintain a peaceful and stable democratic polity without a certain degree of sustainable development," he said. "Nigeria should, within a reasonable period, produce a picture of human development that truly reflects the country's potentials.

"We are determined to succeed in this national endeavour.

TOGO: UN Subcommission calls for respect for human rights

The UN Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on Friday called on the Togolese government to strive to ensure that all human rights are respected and protected in Togo.

It also endorsed a proposal from Togo's government requesting the secretaries-general of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity to create a commission of inquiry to help it comply with international human rights standards.

In May, Amnesty International had claimed in a report that hundreds of opposition activists had been killed in Togo after disputed presidential elections in mid-1998.

The Togolese minister for the promotion of democracy and rule of law, Harry Olympio, dismissed the allegations in the Amnesty report, which he said "was characterized by its frivolousness" and said an inquiry should be set up under UN and OAU auspices.

NIGER: Fraud commission recovers US $3.2 million

Niger's commission on economic crime has recovered US $3.2 million of public funds stolen by public officials, AFP said quoting the body's chairman.

The official, Colonel Lawel Kore, said at news conference on Saturday that 800 people would appear before the commission. In June, at least two former ministers, who had served under the late Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, were jailed for economic crimes.

SENEGAL: Heavy rain kills three, many homeless

Heavy rain in central Senegal has killed at least three people and made many homeless, news organisations reported officials as saying on Saturday.

According to a paramilitary gendarme, at least three people have been registered as killed and many houses, mainly mud huts, were destroyed by the heavy rain, Reuters reported.

The private newspaper 'Walfadjiri' reported that around 30,000 people were made homeless in the worst affected region around Kaolack, some 200 km southeast of Dakar. The rains began falling in much of the country around the 13 August, it added.

WEST AFRICA: Twelve journalists killed this year, RSF says

Half of the 20 journalists killed in the course of their work in the first eight months of this year died in Sierra Leone, and two in Nigeria, according to Reporters sans Frontieres.

Ten journalists were killed in Sierra Leone, "the most dangerous country for journalists at the moment", RSF said in a news release. Eight were murdered by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in January, when it overran Freetown, one was shot dead by the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG. A third died in detention from tuberculosis contracted while in prison.

Two journalists were killed in Nigeria as they were covering clashes between rival ethnic groups, according to the RSF news release, issued on 16 August.

Abidjan, 23 August 1999; 18:36 GMT


[IRIN-WA: Tel: +225 217366 Fax: +225 216335 e-mail: ]

Item: irin-english-1468

[This item is delivered in the "irin-english" service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information or free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: or fax: +254 2 622129 or Web: . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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