IRIN-West Africa Update 189, 98.4.17

IRIN-West Africa Update 189, 98.4.17

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 189 of Events in West Africa, (Friday) 17 April 1998

SIERRA LEONE: Sierra Leoneans fleeing at an "alarming" rate

UNHCR told a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that 100,000 refugees have fled fighting and instability in Sierra Leone since January. The exodus was assuming "alarming proportions". Many of the refugees have been on the road for four months and were suffering from malnutrition or respiratory illnesses. UNHCR Spokesman Kris Janowski said 1,000 people per day had crossed the border into Guinea during the last week. According to eyewitness accounts, tens of thousands more were on their way to the towns of Forokonia and Kobikoro in Guinea. UNHCR said it had already moved 15,000 refugees into camps in Boodou and Nyaedou in Guinea.

Meanwhile, the influx from Sierra Leone to Liberia has dwindled to a trickle apparently because of the presence of the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, along the border. There are some 55,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Vahun, in Lofa county, Liberia, UNHCR said.

Some 80 civilians "massacred" in east

Some 80 civilians were "massacred" last week by remnants of the ousted Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in Golahun in the Kailahun district, 300 km east of the capital, Freetown, AFP reported on Friday, quoting a local pro-government daily 'Freedom Now'. The paper reported that AFRC combatants, dressed as Kamajors, the pro-government militia, had attacked the town with mortars. In a related development, the same newspaper said 10 Kamajors had been killed by ousted junta forces in Mende Kelema, in Kenema district, 240 km east of Freetown. The report said a large number of civilians, some with amputated limbs, were brought in to a Freetown hospital for urgent treatment. There has been no independent confirmation of these reports.

ECOMOG base may move to Freetown, Kabbah says

Sierra Leone President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah hinted on Thursday that the West African intervention force, ECOMOG, may move its base from Liberia to Freetown, news agencies reported. Addressing his newly appointed ministers, Kabbah said Nigerian Colonel Maxwell Khobe would continue to be in charge of ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone as well as the country's security until ECOMOG Commander Major General Timothy Shelpidi relocated to Freetown. Khobe is expected to retrain the army. Shelpidi told IRIN last month that only the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was mandated to instruct such a move.

NIGERIA: Leading party adopts Abacha as candidate

Nigeria's strongest registered political party, the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), has adopted Nigerian head of state General Sani Abacha as its candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for August, news organisations reported on Thursday. The announcement was made at the UNCP party convention in Kaduna, 650 km north of Lagos. The UNCP national chairman, Mohammed Isa, said the decision to invite Abacha to run on its ticket was based on his "achievements", according to Reuters. Isa recalled that Abacha had pulled the country back "from the edge of the precipice in 1993", when it was on the "brink of disintegration", AP reported. Presidential elections in 1993 were annulled prompting unrest in Nigeria. AP quoted several UNCP members as saying that the decision was "imposed on the party by the government". The UNCP swept the polls in recent local and state elections, albeit amidst allegations of vote-rigging and a very low turnout, new agencies said.

The BBC reported that three of the other four political parties have indicated that they would adopt Abacha at their conventions later this week paving the way for him to stay on in power. The only party considering viable alternative candidates has been the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM), which has refused to go along with a presidential consensus candidate.

Meanwhile, Abacha has not stated publicly that he wants to stand for president. The BBC said Abacha would probably state in due course that he had no choice but to stand because of the clamour of support for him.

Reaction to UNCP's announcement

Reacting to the UNCP announcement, the Nigerian opposition coalition, the National Democratic Convention (NADECO), in a statement on Thursday, said Nigeria might "break up" if Abacha was drafted as a civilian president, according to Reuters. "It is immoral, unethical... and against the wish of the majority of Nigerians. It can only lead to disintegration," the statement added. Another leading pro-democracy group, the Civil Liberties Organisation, warned that Abacha's candidacy would spark anger and unrest among the country's repressed opposition. Prominent lawyer and activist Gani Fawehinmi said UNCP's decision would lead to "crisis, chaos and instability", according to AFP. The decision was "a recipe for disaster", he added.

Reuters also quoted Susan Rice, US Assistant of State for Africa, as saying in Washington on Wednesday that the transition process so far was "flawed and failing" but she hoped that in the brief time which remained, steps would be taken to restore "a degree of credibility".

Pro-democracy coalition admits to Wednesday rally

The United Action for Democracy (UAD), an opposition coalition of 26 groups, admitted staging a "mass action" on Wednesday against pro-Abacha campaigners in the southwestern city of Ibadan, AFP reported. Hundreds of people protested against a pro-Abacha rally being held in Ibadan. Three people were killed when police fired on the crowd. A UAD statement said mass action against military rule would continue in various parts of the county and on dates to be announced. According to the UAD, the people of Ibadan had given "firm expression to their rejection of General Abacha's inordinate ambition to succeed himself." The BBC correspondent said it was a sign that as the date for the handover to civilian rule was approaching, tensions were rising, not subsiding.

Meanwhile, the human rights NGO Amnesty International (AI) has expressed its concern over the conditions of detention of over 100 activists arrested at the rally by security forces.

Four oil workers released

Police in southern Nigeria said they freed four British oil workers taken hostage by local staff demanding money, Reuters reported on Thursday. The report said the hostages were released unharmed on Thursday night after being held for four days. Details of the operation to free them were not given. Hostage-taking and demands by local workers are not unusual in the volatile and impoverished oil-producing Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria, Reuters said.

Meanwhile, the oil company, Shell, announced that a mechanical failure had caused last month's 20,000 barrel crude oil spill in Jones Creek in southern Nigeria, Reuters reported on Thursday, quoting the official News Agency of Nigeria. It said the equipment failure was discovered by an investigating team over the last weekend. The spill at the creek forced the closure of the nearby flowstation on 26 March. Shell has been under pressure from the international community and local residents to improve its environmental record.

WEST AFRICA: Togo, Benin, and Nigeria in power crisis talks

The Presidents of Togo and Benin are in Nigeria for talks on power shortages with the Nigerian leader, General Sani Abacha, news organisations reported on Thursday. Togo and Benin have been hit by an unprecedented power crisis caused by drought. Nigeria has itself been plagued by severe fuel shortages and power failure. The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) in Nigeria called on the government on Wednesday to provide US$ 5.5 billion for repairs to its four thermal power plants, Nigerian News Du Jour reported. The government reportedly said it did not have access to the funds, saying "when private investment comes in, they will put things right."

NIGER: Publishing house attacked

The director of Niger's biggest publishing house, the Nouvelle Imprimerie, Mamane Abou, said armed men had raided the company's premises on Wednesday night and attempted to set it on fire, media organisations reported. Eyewitnesses said attackers doused the printing equipment with petrol but fled when police nearby raised alarm. Abou, publisher of the pro-opposition daily newspaper, 'Le Republicain' and other publications, described the attack as a "political act" targeting business interests and his political views, the BBC reported.

Refugees return from Algeria

Some 482 refugees, who originally fled fighting between Niger security forces and Tuareg rebels in the early 1990s, returned home from southern Algeria on Wednesday. A local humanitarian source told IRIN that 3,000 Nigeriens should be repatriated by the end of May. The repatriation operation, the third in a series of five this year, was facilitated by UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Some 460 refugees had returned to Niger in the earlier repatriations.

Abidjan, 17 April 1998, 18:15 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: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 18:13:02 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 189, 98.4.17 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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