IRIN-West Africa Weekly roundup 53, 98.06.19

IRIN-West Africa Weekly roundup 53, 98.06.19

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 Weekly Roundup of Main Events 53 for West Africa covering the period (Friday-Thursday) 12 June - 18 June 1998

GUINEA BISSAU: Government and rebels fight to control capital

Troops loyal to Guinea Bissau's President Joao Bernardo Vieira battled army rebels for the second week, leaving much of the capital, Bissau, in ruins and tens of thousands of inhabitants fleeing for safety, news organisations reported.

The revolt in the former Portuguese colony started on 7 June after the replacement of former armed forces chief of staff General Absumane Mane. He had been suspended after several military officers were arrested for allegedly smuggling weapons to separatist rebels in neighbouring Senegal's southern province of Casamance.

International relief agencies confirmed that a quarter of a million people had fled Bissau. About 200 people drowned last weekend after setting off in small boats in a bid to flee the fighting. The majority of foreigners and UN staff or dependants were evacuated from the country.

News reports gave conflicting accounts of efforts by government troops to retake control of the sprawling Bra military complex overlooking the city from rebels. The Vatican and two humanitarian reports said the harbour remained the only point of access to the country because the airport was still in rebel hands.

On Thursday, the ICRC reported a further outbreak of sporadic shelling in Bissau despite efforts by Gambia's Foreign Minister, Lamine Sedat Jobe, to meet Mane to seek a settlement between the two sides.

In related developments, news organisations reported an upsurge in clashes between separatist guerrillas and Senegalese government forces across the border in Casamance.

Humanitarian crisis looms

In one of the first independent accounts of the showdown, Red Cross officials told IRIN that local volunteers had taken advantage of a lull in fighting during mediation efforts on Wednesday to evacuate wounded, collect bodies and bury the dead.

Since the fighting started, the city's main hospital has been destroyed. The Red Cross said it feared that a combination of water shortages and heat could trigger a cholera epidemic, and that it was also taking measures to provide cholera prevention kits and other emergency medical supplies for people displaced by the fighting. The Vatican news service said missionaries, too, feared a cholera outbreak. "The situation in Guinea Bissau is no longer an emergency, but a catastrophe," said a dispatch by the Vatican Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) on Thursday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it had been assessing the situation in Bissau and the countryside, where people have sought refuge.

NIGERIA: New leader releases detainees

Nigeria's new military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, freed nine prominent political prisoners, including former head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday, winning cautious praise from critics, news reports said. A presidential statement, quoted by Radio Nigeria, said the move was intended "to facilitate the process of national reconciliation, reconstruction and the successful completion of the socio-political transition programme".

Abubakar, who came to power after the sudden death on 8 June of military ruler General Sani Abacha, also said he hoped the freed detainees would "reciprocate this gesture" by cooperating with the government to carry the political transition programme to a logical conclusion. The cases of other political detainees and prisoners would be given "due consideration from time to time", he added.

Abubakar made no mention of Nigeria's best known prisoner, Moshood Abiola, who claims to have won a presidential election in 1993 which was halted in mid-count by a previous military government. He has been detained since 1994.

The other released detainees were Christine Anyanwu, a well known journalist, and Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, a human rights activist. Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, deposed Sultan of Sokoto, was also released from detention but restricted to the north-central city of Kaduna. Chief Olabiyi Durojayi and Chief Bola Ige of the opposition pro-democracy National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Frank Kokori and Nelson Dabidi, both officials of a Nigerian oil workers' union, and Owen Udah were also released.

Release wins cautious praise

The US, the UN and European Union all sent messages welcoming the release of detainees and urging a quick transition to civilian rule. White House spokesman P.J. Crowley added that the releases were viewed as a very "positive development". US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice reportedly called for Abiola's release, terming this a "fundamental" step. However, news agencies said setting Abiola free could be problematic because of his claim to the presidency. This could disrupt the democracy transition plan initiated by Abubakar's predecessor.

In a statement read out in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the development as a "positive step" towards peaceful political dialogue in Nigeria, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also strongly welcomed Abubakar's decision. But Robinson also called for the early release of other prisoners, including Abiola.

Local reaction to release

Several Nigeria pro-democracy activists also called on the Nigerian military government to release all political detainees, including Abiola. Nike Ransome-Kuti, a pro-democracy activist in her own right, told IRIN that short of releasing Abiola and handing over the government to him, opposition groups would remain "dissatisfied".

Meanwhile, a coalition of 50 pro-democracy and human rights groups campaigning for the release of Abiola and other political prisoners have called for a "freedom day" protest rally next Tuesday, AFP reported. The idea, said the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), was to hold a public reception for those already released. The 23 June date marks the fifth anniversary of the decree scrapping the 1993 elections.

New leader meets party chiefs

Leaders of four of Nigeria's five officially registered political parties told Abubakar that the military government should remain in power for up to 12 months longer than planned so as to ensure a properly organised election and a smooth return to civilian democracy, news reports said Thursday. Only the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) opposed the move, saying the military government should abide by the October deadline.

A presidential statement said it would study the request for a delay before deciding the issue, AFP reported.

SIERRA LEONE: UN Aid Coordinator concerned

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said last Saturday he was concerned at the influx of Sierra Leonean refugees to Liberia and Guinea. Speaking in Freetown at the end of a four-day assessment mission, de Mello also condemned atrocities committed against civilians by former soldiers loyal to Sierra Leone's ousted military junta and their allies from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel movement.

According to de Mello, donors expected the government of Sierra Leone to present a co-ordinated strategy for recovery. "Donor fatigue" was a world-wide syndrome, he said. Therefore the donor community had to be persuaded of the need to support humanitarian assistance activities and longer term initiatives in Sierra Leone.

UN to organise conference

US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Julia Taft, quoted by AFP, said a New York meeting on Sierra Leone was planned so that authorities and concerned governments can focus attention on needs in the country. She said "the biggest challenge remains the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation."

Taft said the US would spend some US$53 million on assistance programmes in Sierra Leone this year of which most would go to USAID's Food for Peace programme. Meanwhile, the European Union has approved an aid package for Sierra Leone worth US$1.1 million, AFP reported.

UK government restricted humanitarian aid, agency says

The London-based international charity, Action Aid, told a British parliamentary select committee that the UK government restricted humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone earlier this year for its own political purposes.

Action Aid told IRIN on Thursday it informed Parliament the restoration of Sierra Leone's democratically elected government was undoubtedly in the country's long-term interests. But aid must be free from "political conditions", it said. Action Aid charged Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) with "de facto restricting aid" to Sierra Leone following last year's coup, when there was clearly a great need for humanitarian aid.

Situation was assessed

However, a DFID spokeswoman told IRIN aid to Sierra Leone's military regime would have been "inappropriate". DFID said it had carried out an assessment of the situation, but there was no humanitarian crisis. "We supported the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone, and we had a bilateral partnership with them," she said.

ECOMOG will train new army

The West African intervention force, ECOMOG, has screened some 5,000 volunteers for places in the new Sierra Leonean army, AFP reported on Wednesday. The news agency quoted ECOMOG's commander in Sierra Leone, Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe, as saying the men would form the "core" of a new defence force. The former national army was disbanded when ECOMOG ousted Sierra Leone's military government last February.

TOGO: Opposition blocked by state media

In the last few days of campaigning for Sunday's presidential elections, a Paris-based press rights group, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), and an official of the opposition Comite d'action pour la renouvellement (CAR), Wouenou Madija Akpan, have accused Togo's state media of bias towards the ruling party in its coverage of the presidential campaign, according news agencies. RSF was quoted as saying Togo's state media was "totally" biased in favour of President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who is running for a last term in office. RSF said some candidates were "properly treated", however others were "practically ignored".

LIBERIA: ECOMOG agreement signed

The controversy over the future role of the West African ECOMOG peacekeeping force in Liberia appeared resolved last Friday, when the Liberian government signed a long-awaited "status of forces" agreement with the regional political body, ECOWAS, Star Radio reported. Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan was quoted as saying the agreement signed at the OAU conference in Burkina Faso officially placed ECOMOG under the authority of ECOWAS heads of state. Captan said the agreement would also bar the peacekeeping force from getting involved in civil disputes and commercial activities.

Six missing, feared dead

Six members of an officially disbanded Liberian faction were missing feared dead on Monday, media reports said. According to AFP, the former fighters were from the Krahn wing of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO-J), a civil war rival of President Charles Taylor's winning National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL). Relatives of the six told newspapers in the capital, Monrovia, they had not been seen since 7 June.

WEST AFRICA: Humanitarian community supports International Criminal Court

A statement by the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) said it supported the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The IASC strongly believed that "wilful denial of humanitarian assistance, direct attacks against civilians, forceful deportations" or other serious violations of international humanitarian law should be included in the jurisdiction of the ICC. The establishment of the ICC is currently being discussed in Rome, Italy.

The IASC is a UN inter-agency body represented by heads of humanitarian agencies which discusses and designs humanitarian policies.

Abidjan, 19 June 1998, 17:30 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-weekly]

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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

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

[This brief is intended as background information for the humanitarian community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN]

IRIN-West Africa: Special briefing on presidential elections in Togo, 98.6.19

Togolese voters go to the polls on Sunday, 21 June, to elect a new president for the next five years. Five candidates are in the running. According to analysts, the three main contenders who have emerged are: Gnassingbe Eyadema, the incumbent and leader of the ruling Rassemblement du peuple togolais (RPT); Yao Agboyibo, the head of the Comite pour l'action pour le renouveau (CAR); and Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the Union des forces du changement (UFC) and son of the first president of Togo, who was assassinated in 1963. Informed sources expect Eyadema to win the elections in the first round because the opposition was weak and divided. If re-elected this will be Eyadema's second and last elected term in office. However, Olympio is said to enjoy popular support despite the fact he had lived in exile for the past 35 years.

Eyadema in power since 1967

In power since 1967, Eyadema, 62, is the longest serving head of state in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the weekly 'Le Nouvel Afrique Asie', much of Eyadema's long reign has been largely based on "a system of fear and repression". But in the last decade the opposition and the international community have put pressure on his government, allowing for a relative improvement in human rights in Togo. A recent US State Department report said his grip on power was based on the army, made up predominately of men from his own northern ethnic group, the Kabye. The army has been overwhelmingly loyal to Eyadema over the years and is under his direct control.

Presidential polls in 1998

In sharp contrast to the 1993 presidential elections, which were boycotted by opposition parties and marred by social unrest, the government has taken pains to ensure that Sunday's election is conducted in a free and fair environment. Even Olympio acknowledged in a recent interview with 'L'Autre Afrique' that all seemed to be in place for the elections to take place smoothly.

The ministry of interior, which organises the elections, moved the date from 14 June to 21 June to allow more time to finalise preparation of registration lists, voters' cards and other material for the polls. However, the opposition complained on 16 June that the state media had blocked its attempts to promote its candidates on national television. The first national secretary of the opposition CAR, Wouenou Madija Akpan, said in an interview with Africa No 1 Radio that the state media's editing of the opposition statements amounted to censorship.

Meanwhile, the National Electoral Commission's (NEC) powers have been extended by a new electoral law which gives it greater independence. The new law provides for the eight commission members to be nominated by the majority party and the opposition on a 50-50 basis. The election will be monitored by some 100 observers from the European Union (EU), the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Francophonie secretariat. Germany and the United Kingdom helped in preparing the elections.

The European Union has said it will only resume aid, which was cut off in the early 1990s, if the election is deemed free and fair.

The absentee candidate

One of the best known opposition politicians who will not be standing in the election is Edem Kodjo. A former OAU secretary general, Kodjo was appointed prime minister in 1994 by Eyadema in recognition of a slender opposition majority in national assembly elections. But he announced earlier this year that he would not run on Sunday because he felt the presidential election should be a race between two candidates only.

Main opposition candidates

In contrast to Eyadema's northern Muslim constituency, his opposition is predominately made up of the better educated and commercially-oriented ethnic groups in the mainly Christian south, especially the Ewe from around Lome, the capital. Indeed, all the opposition leaders listed below are from the south.

Gilchrist Olympio

Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the Union des forces du changement (UFC), is viewed as the main challenger to Eyadema even though he has lived in exile in Ghana since 1963 - the year his father, Togo's first president Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated.

He currently shares his time between Ghana and Britain and has campaigned so far only during flying visits home. Sentenced to death in absentia for allegedly planning to overthrow Eyadema, he has been able to return because he was amnestied in 1994.

Olymprio is said to enjoy huge popular support in part because he is the son of a respected former president, according to 'L'Autre Afrique'. When he arrived on a brief visit in April to launch his campaign, he was greeted by a crowd of 150,000 supporters.

Yao Agboyibo

Former president of the Bar and leader of the Comite d'action pour le renouveau (CAR), Yao Appolinaire Agboyibo, 54, has been described in the weekly 'L'Autre Afrique' as the "mouthpiece of the poor and the disenfranchised". His party won 36 seats out of 81 seats in the 1994 parliamentarian elections. Agboyibo was the opposition coalition's candidate for the premiership in 1994, but was brushed aside in favour of Kodjo, UTD leader. As a human rights activist, he has been able to push the issues of fundamental freedoms to the forefront of the political agenda. His home in Lome was burned down a number of years ago and numerous attempts on his life have been reported.

Leopold Gnininvi

Leader of the Confederation democratique des peuples africains (CPDA), Leopold Gnininvi, a physicist, has unsuccessfully attempted to garner support for a sole opposition candidate. He returned to Togo in May after three years in exile.

Jacques Amouzou

Jacques Amouzou, head of the Union des Liberaux Independents (ULI), is widely perceived to be a front for Eyadema, according to media reports.

Zarifou Ayeva

Zarifou Ayeva, president of the Parti pour la democratie et le renouveau (PDR), is a northerner and could take some votes from Eyadema's own constituency.

Abidjan, June 1998


[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-weekly]

Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 18:12:38 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly roundup 53, 98.06.19 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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