IRIN West-Africa Update 289, 98.9.07

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IRIN-WA Update 289 of Events in West Africa, (Saturday-Monday) 5-7 September 1998

NIGERIA: Obasanjo enters presidential race

Former Nigerian military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo has decided to run for the presidency despite earlier and frequent vows that he would not do so, news organisations reported yesterday (Sunday). According reports in the 'Sunday Punch' and 'The Sunday Tribune', Obasanjo had always maintained that he had "no appetite" for the presidential race scheduled for 27 February, 1999.

The BBC quoted the papers as saying he would not be able resist popular pressure on him to contest the presidency. Obasanjo, the nation's head of state from 1976-79, is the only Nigerian military ruler to have restored power to an elected civilian government.. He was imprisoned by the late hardline military ruler, General Sani Abacha, for allegedly planning a coup in 1995.

"While Obasanjo keeps denying the ambition, he has actually been stating his presidential ambition to prominent Nigerians who have been pledging their support," said 'The Sunday Tribune'.

The current military ruler, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, ordered Obasanjo's release after Abacha's sudden death on 8 June this year as part of his pledge to return to the country to democratic civilian rule next year.

Abubakar says all political prisoners now free

In a related development, Abubakar told a news conference on his return from the Non-Aligned summit in South Africa at the weekend that there were no longer any political prisoners in Nigerian jails, AFP reported. Citing a report by the privately owned Nigerian newspaper, 'The Guardian', the agency quoted Abubakar as saying that only people convicted of economic crimes were still in detention. Some 163 bank executives were jailed four years ago by the Abacha administration.

Since Abacha's sudden death, Abubakar has released hundreds of thousands of political prisoners. Nigerian media reports said his refusal to release the bank officials has spurred the prisoners to begin a hunger strike.

Israeli parliamentarian in cooperation talks

A member of the Israeli Knesset, Ezra Gideon, has held talks with the Nigerian agriculture minister, Jonathan Madugu, on cooperation between the two nations, the BBC reported today (Monday).

It said Gideon and Madugu discussed cooperation in the farming, health, aviation and energy sectors. Both countries normalised diplomatic relations in 1992. Since then, Israel has been helping Nigeria improve its fishery, beekeeping, mushroom and aquaculture industries.

Shell hostages freed

Eight employees of the Royal Dutch Shell oil company held hostage for three days last week by youths in southern Nigerian have been released following the intervention of a senior army officer, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported on Saturday.

It said the youths, members of the Ijaw ethnic group, had threatened to kill the employees in ritual sacrifices. The army officer, also an Ijaw, pleaded with the youths to let the captives go from the village shrine where they were held near the town of Warri.

NAN said two of the hostages were Ijaws but did not identify the others. There have been frequent incidents of hostage-taking by the local populace in the oil-rich Niger Delta, usually as a means of settling pay disputes and other demands.

SIERRA LEONE: Rebel leader Sankoh on trial

Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh appeared in a Freetown magistrate's court on Friday charged with eight counts of treason, news organisations reported.

In counts carrying the death sentence, he was charged with trying to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone between 1 January 1997 and 13 February 1998. He has also been accused of usurping the executive power of the state, soliciting funds and military logistics for use by forces hostile to Sierra Leone. In addition he is accused of having invaded Sierra Leone.

The magistrate, Patrick Hamilton, took no plea from Sankoh and adjourned the case till 11 September. Sankoh is the leader of the anti-government Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which has been accused of maiming and killing thousands of fellow countrymen over the past seven years. He was arrested in Nigeria and detained early in 1997, allegedly for the illegal possession of weapons.

AFP reported that Sankoh, dressed in a brown suit and matching tie, smiled as he entered the heavily guarded court escorted by policemen. It said that he raised his handcuffed hands and greeted lawyers and police in the court. But they remained silent and he was quoted as telling them: "You look dull. Have you eaten anything this morning?" Hours before Sankoh was brought into court, dozens of heavily armed security men cordoned off the main route to the Law Court Building. Pedestrians and motorists were redirected into side streets.

CAMEROON: Police Arrest Journalist

The Paris-based media rights watchdog, Reporters sans frontieres (RSF) said that Cameroonian police have re-arrested Michel Michaut Moussala, the editor of a privately-owned publication, 'Aurore Plus', who was jailed for six months earlier this year after the publication of an article accusing the director general of the nation's ports department of plotting a coup.

RSF said Moussala was arrested at his home on Thursday last week by police apparently using a warrant issued on 14 January. It gave no further details of circumstances of his arrest. Moussala was sentenced on 13 January to six months' imprisonment after publishing the article alleging that ports director Tchouta Moussa had been "at the centre of a failed coup". Moussa is also a parliamentarian for the ruling Rassemblement democratique du peuple camerounais (RDPC).

GUINEA: Sierra Leonean rebel attacks

Rebels from neighbouring Sierra Leone killed two Guinean soldiers and wounded several other people last week in an attack in the region of Guekedou in southern Guinea, AFP reported at the weekend.

Quoting official sources in Conakry, the Guinean capital, the agency said the rebel attacks were in response to the shelling of their positions in Sierra Leone by Nigerian units of the West African intervention force, ECOMOG. Guinea has troops serving in ECOMOG trying to defeat rebels fighting the government of Sierra Leone.

The last rebel attack in Guekedou, some 600 kilometres southwest of Conakry, was in July. At the time, some 12 people, including a Guinean soldier, were killed.

Following the latest attacks, Guinea, already a refuge for an estimated half a million people who have fled the conflicts in Guinea Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has threatened to retaliate, the report said. BURKINA FASO: Campaore seeks second seven-year term Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore is to seek a second seven-year term in the nation's November presidential elections. News organisations said today he had accepted the nomination yesterday of his ruling Congres pour la democratie et le progres (CDP). If elected, he said, he would focus on women's rights, expanding education and major construction projects, especially a national highway system.

Compaore came to power in a 1987 coup in which he overthrew Captain Thomas Sankara. He was elected president in 1991 in elections boycotted by the opposition. His party holds 101 of the 111 seats in the national assembly.

AFP reported that in a meeting on Saturday, nine opposition parties told Compaore they would boycott the November polls unless changes were made to the national electoral commission, which they considered "too close" to the government.

Those standing against Compaore include Green Party leader Ram Ouedraogo and Deborah Nazi Boni, the first woman to run for the presidency. The BBC said, however, that the opposition candidates did not have the financial means to fight the election.

Abidjan, 7 September 1998, 20:30 gmt


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Date: Mon, 7 Sep 1998 20:32:29 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa Subject: IRIN West-Africa Update 289, 98.9.07 Message-Id:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,