IRIN-West Africa Update 191, 98.4.21

IRIN-West Africa Update 191, 98.4.21

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 191 of Events in West Africa, (Tuesday) 21 April 1998

SIERRA LEONE: UNHCR tells of ousted junta atrocities

At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, UNHCR accused the ousted junta of committing atrocities against civilians in northeastern Sierra Leone. UNHCR spokesperson Judith Kumin said refugees arriving in Guinea reported terrible atrocities by the ousted Armed Force Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against perceived enemies. The flow of refugees into Guinea was now estimated at between 300 to 1,000 arrivals per day, while tens of thousands were blocked at the border with nowhere to go. UNHCR and NGOs would be providing water and medicines, and launching a vaccination campaign. Some 20,000 Sierra Leonean refugees are currently living in three Guinean border villages - Forokonia, Kobikoro, Heremakono. UNHCR said many refugees were suffering from malaria, respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and malnutrition. It said the onset of the rainy season in May would hamper the relocation of Sierra Leonean refugees.

Of the 250,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, 50,000 arrived since the beginning of this year, Reuters reported. 55,000 refugees arrived in Liberia over the same period.

Warnings of humanitarian crisis in east

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted aid workers in the eastern diamond town of Koidu as predicting a "big humanitarian situation" once the fighting subsided. A local humanitarian source told IRIN that only one international NGO had staff in Koidu and was trying to evacuate them. Another source said he had received eyewitness accounts confirming reports of "horrific" scenes of mutilations and killings by AFRC and RUF fighters. The NGO Merlin, in Freetown, told IRIN the situation in the Koidu area was unclear. It said malnutrition centres for children had expanded greatly in Kenema district hospital, which received many casualties from the Kailahun area. Another local source said between 130-150 war-wounded were receiving treatment at Kenema government hospital.

ECOMOG says Liberian fighters destabilising Sierra Leone

The Nigerian commander of the West African intervention force in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG, Maxwell Khobe, reiterated that factional fighters from neighbouring Liberia were embroiled in the Sierra Leone fighting, AFP reported on Tuesday. In a radio interview quoted by AFP, Khobe said there was "abundant evidence" of the involvement of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and ULIMO-K, a wing of the United Liberation Movement. However, Khobe stopped short of accusing Liberian President Charles Taylor and his government of supporting the remnants of the ousted junta. He called on the ousted junta to surrender.

NPFL and ULIMO-K were disbanded and transformed into political parties in 1997.

NIGERIA: Referendum to replace presidential polls

The Nigerian government on Monday announced it would cancel presidential elections slated for August 1998 and hold a referendum instead, news agencies reported. Wada Nas, special adviser to Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, quoted by AP, said it would amount to "a waste of time and resources" to organise elections since the five political parties had endorsed Abacha as their presidential candidate. In the referendum to be held on 1 August, Nigerians would vote for or against Abacha.

International reaction

British Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd said it was difficult to see how an election in which only a single candidate was put forward by all five registered and government-sponsored parties could be judged "free, fair and inclusive", the BBC reported. US State Department spokesman James Rubin accused the Nigerian government of manipulating the transition to democracy to secure Abacha's nomination. Rubin called on "Abacha to live up to his promise to his fellow Nigerians and the entire world and to refuse the nomination." He added that the US would continue to encourage reform and democratic principles in Nigeria.

Nigerian opposition calls for mass action

The chairman of the main opposition movement, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Abraham Adesanya, called on Nigerians to defy Abacha's administration and force him to quit power, AFP reported on Tuesday. Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, Adesanya said the political parties which had endorsed Abacha as their consensus presidential candidate had shown "an unacceptable misuse of state powers, resources and influence" and used "crude manipulation" to enforce a "wicked and pernicious agenda" on Nigeria. Adesanya called on Nigerians to resist through organised civil, constitutional and democratic options ranging from "work stoppage" to "sit-at-home" protest, market closures and rallies. He did not rule out legal action by NADECO and other pro-democracy groups to challenge the adoption of Abacha as the sole candidate in the poll.

The United Action for Democracy (UAD), a coalition of 26 pro-democracy groups, called on Monday for "mass action".

Stocks fall

Meanwhile, the Nigerian bourse index fell sharply on Monday as investors took a dim view of Abacha's endorsement as the sole presidential candidate, Reuters reported. According to the report, analysts said the development meant an extension to Nigeria's lingering political crisis and warned that possible sanctions by Western countries unhappy at the lack of democracy could hurt investment prospects.

Coup trial verdict postponed to next week

The Nigerian defence ministry on Monday announced that the special military tribunal trying Abacha's former deputy, General Oladipo Diya, and 25 others on treason charges, would announce its verdict on 28 April at its closing session, according to news agencies. An initial date of 22 April had been announced earlier. State radio also announced 10 soldiers and six civilians, whose names were not on the original charge sheet and whose trial had not been announced, had been cleared of charges. They were expected to report immediately for duty.

Tension high in north

The BBC reported that at least one man was shot dead on Sunday during protests in the northern city of Kaduna by supporters of a jailed Shia Muslim preacher, Sheikh Ibrahim Zak-Zaky. Parts of the city were cordoned off by security forces and there were reports of further clashes. According to a police spokesman, one man was killed when demonstrators were protesting against the arrest of the Sheikh's wife and children on Friday. A spokesman for the protestors said five people were killed. There have been frequent protests against delays in the trial of the preacher, who was arrested in September 1996.

NIGER: Three opposition leaders arrested

The government of Niger on Monday announced that three regional opposition leaders were arrested after a weekend of political violence, according to news organisations. Addressing a news conference, Minister of Interior Souley Abdoulaye said security forces were hunting four other opposition figures after protesters demanded the resignation of Nigerien President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara. He told reporters the government refused to be dragged into a "cycle of permanent agitation", according to Reuters. Abdoulaye said those arrested would stand trial on charges of inciting violence, assault, arson and damaging public and private property.

In a related development, unidentified individuals fired on the home of Ali Sabo, a leading member of the opposition Mouvement national pour la societe de developpement (MNSD) in the capital, Niamey, AFP reported on Tuesday. An opposition statement said Sabo's car was damaged but there were no casualties.

Meanwhile, a local human rights NGO, the Association du Niger pour la defense des droits de l'homme, denounced acts of violence by opposition activists, Reuters reported on Monday. The NGO called for an inquiry.

CHAD: US Peace Corps withdraws from country

The United States on Monday withdrew all 34 Peace Corps volunteers from Chad because of violence and civil unrest, a Peace Corps statement said. It announced it was "suspending" its programme in Chad and many of the volunteers were now in Cameroon pending redeployment. Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan said no volunteers had been injured but the clashes between the army and rebel forces were a reason for "concern".

LIBERIA: Reconciliation and investment essential for recovery

Reconciliation and Liberia's economic recovery were at the centre of discussions on Sunday hosted by Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, in Chicago, according to USIS. Liberian Finance Minister Elias Saleeby said private investors were "desperately needed" because the country was not "creditworthy" in the international market. The conference attracted high-ranking US officials, including Susan Rice, US assistant secretary of state for Africa, who said the US was ready to assist but it was ultimately up to Liberians to rebuild the country.

Liberia's first lady, Jewel Howard Taylor, pledged her husband's commitment to supporting peace and human rights. The American movement, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, sponsored the two-day conference.

Abidjan, 21 April 1998, 19:15 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]

Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 19:17:17 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 191, 98.4.21 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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