IRIN-West Africa Update 297, 98.9.17

IRIN-West Africa Update 297, 98.9.17

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

tel: +225 21 73 54 fax +22521 63 35 e-mail irin-wa

IRIN-WA Update 297 of Events in West Africa, (Thursday) 17 September 1998

BURKINA FASO: Burkina sets seal on international landmine ban

Burkina Faso today (Thursday) became the 40th nation to ratify the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines. Statements by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Burkina's signature would now enable the treaty to become binding under international law by 1 March 1999. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: "Today, the world has taken a step towards becoming a safer and more humane place."

Although the treaty was signed last December by 130 nations, UN officials pointed out at the time that it had to be ratified by 40 nations and their parliaments before it could come into force. It requires countries to stop the use and production of landmines, destroy their stockpiles over the next four years, and clear mined areas within the next 10 years. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that by ratifying the treaty, the 40 nations had ushered in a new humanitarian ethical standard to end "indiscriminate cruelty" caused by mines and hasten their elimination.

"We stand at an historic moment in the struggle to end the anguish that these weapons have already inflicted on tens of thousands of the world's children, their families and their communities," she said in a statement.

The world's major landmine-producing nations, the United States, China and Russia, have so far refused to ratify the Ottawa Convention.

Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the ICRC, said the adoption of the Ottawa Convention following Burkina's ratification marked the first time in history that a weapon in widespread use had been outlawed. The Red Cross has estimated that there are an estimated 100 million landmines around the world and that they kill or maim someone every 20 minutes. Sommaruga said the ratification "demonstrates that, for once, in the face of atrocious suffering, humanity has been neither powerless nor incapable of achieving results."

Jody Williams, ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said: "It is fitting that this treaty will enter into force faster than any other major treaty in history." Annan pledged UN cooperation in its implementation.

GUINEA BISSAU: Talks in deadlock; fresh troop movements

After 34 hours of talks, foreign minister representing West African and Portuguese-speaking nations failed to reach a compromise aimed at consolidating the ceasefire between government forces and army rebels in Guinea Bissau. Diplomats told IRIN today that a further attempt to reach a solution would be made in fresh talks on 18 October. But they also confirmed news reports of "significant" troop manoeuvres in Guinea Bissau.

A diplomat said there was concern that the army mutineers might stage limited hostilties to press their objections to the presence of Senegalese troops in any West African peacekeeping force deployed in the country. The three-month conflict, which ended with a truce in July, started after President Joao Bernardo Vieira sacked his armed forces chief, General Ansumane Mane, on charges of smuggling weapons to separatists in Senegal's southern province of Casamance. Senegalese forces immediately responded to a call by Vieira to help support him against the mutineers.

Consensus on observer team but not buffer force

Officials said Senegal's position was that it would only withdraw if specifically asked to do so by the Vieira government. The talks in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP), only reached consensus on sending a small ECOWAS/CPLP observer team, diplomats said. The main objective of a larger joint "interposition" force failed because of differences between the two blocs over the role of Senegal and Guinea (Conakry) which also sent troops to support Vieira.

The diplomat said the impasse came just as mediators were getting ready to wind up the talks on Wednesday afternoon. A telephone call was received from Mane agreeing to the plan. But by the time the document was placed before his representatives in Abidjan, they said that the Senegalese and Guinea (Conakry) troops stationed in the country had to leave.

The ECOWAS and CPLP mediators even extended the talks, which had started on Tuesday morning, in a final bid to break the deadlock. The Portuguese daily, 'Diario de Noticias', commented that a last-minute instruction from Mane "ruined the entire negotiating effort".

"The deployment of an observer group was agreed by everyone," a diplomat said. "But it cannot be considered a signed agreement because signature was conditional on the creation of the buffer force."

NIGERIA: Head of state to meet Blair and Chirac

In the latest signal of Nigeria's return to the international fold, the Nigerian head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, is scheduled to meet the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and French President Jacques Chirac in their respective capitals next week, news agencies reported. AFP quoted an official at the Nigerian presidency as saying that this was the "sign we are acceptable again".

Diplomatic sources in Lagos, AFP said, confirmed the plans for the meetings in London and Paris on Abubakar's way to the current session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York. The source added that each visit would be short and not last longer than a day. No official announcement has been made yet.

In July, European Union (EU) officials agreed to allow visits by high-ranking Nigerian military officials on a case-by-case basis in view of Abubakar's moves to return the country to democracy. Senior members of the Nigerian army were officially banned from entering the EU under sanctions imposed over the poor human rights record held by the previous hardline military administration.

Election commission sacks, redeploys officials

The Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced yesterday it had suspended or redeployed 31 officers after complaints had been lodged against them for misconduct, AFP reported. An INEC statement said: "Following a series of complaints and accusations of misconduct against some staff, ... (it had) taken a number of disciplinary actions to restore public confidence." Twenty electoral officers and 11 administrative secretaries had been affected by the decision. No further details were made available.

Justice Ephraim Akpata, INEC chairman, had warned last week that he would not accept any hint of malpractice or dishonesty from officials in his team.

Thirty Shell workers locked in offices

Police in Nigeria's eastern city of Port Harcourt intervened to secure the release of 30 employees of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, who were locked in their offices by a group of angry youths, AFP reported today.

A spokesman for Shell, Bisi Ojediran, said the workers were trapped and threatened earlier in the week in a Shell building by some 60 youths demanding US$ 125,000 in compensation for environmental damage in their communities. The report did not say how long the employees had been held.

Nigeria, the sixth oil exporter in the world, earns about US$ 10 billion annually from oil exports but local communities in oil-producing areas have little to show for all the money they generate, according to media reports

LIBERIA: Heavy rains leave thousands homeless

Heavy rains in Liberia's eastern Grand Cape Mount county have left thousands homeless, independent Star Radio reported today. The Monrovia-based broadcaster quoted the commissioner for Cape Mount's Garwula district, Mabu Soni, as saying torrential downpours had submerged towns and villages after Lake Piso burst its banks. He said some 2,000 people from 19 local villages and towns had been made homeless.

Dutch give US$ three million

The Dutch government has donated US$ 3 million to support health, education and youth projects following the end of Liberia's civil war, Star Radio reported today. It quoted Liberia's planning minister, Amelia Ward, as saying the Netherlands had agreed to make the money available as soon as the government had finalised project plans.

The Dutch government would also be funding some 25 percent of the cost of a new tug-boat for Monrovia's Freeport, Ward added.

MALI: World Bank reduces debt burden

The World Bank announced yesterday that Mali had negotiated a US$ 250 million reduction in its debt to international lenders, AFP reported.

The news agency said the World Bank itself would be contributing US$ 95 million and the IMF some US$ 18 million in debt relief as part of an initiative to help the world's poorest countries.

Nevertheless, there would be no actual reduction before Mali implemented the last of a series of economic reform measures at the end of 1999, AFP quoted the World Bank as saying. Mali also had to "make substantial progress in the areas of health, education, and poverty reduction," the Bank said. Other West African countries, which have benefitted from World Bank debt reduction programmes, include Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire.

World Bank will hold talks with Chad and Cameroon

The World Bank has also announced it would be holding talks later this month with Chad, Cameroon and a consortium planning an oil pipeline between the two countries to discuss the environmental impact of the project, Reuters reported. The news agency quoted the Bank's resident representative in Cameroon, Robert Lacey, as saying the project offered a "unique opportunity" to pump oil from landlocked Chad to the sea and cut poverty in Chad, while also generating income for Cameroon.

But he said help from the Bank was dependent on strict respect for environmental and compensation concerns.. The Bank has classed the project as Category A, its highest in terms of environmental risk. Earlier this month, the Bank also expressed concern at renewed attacks in southern Chad by separatist rebels which, it said, could make environmental assessments more difficult.

ECOWAS sets up regional drug fund

The United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) office in Abidjan told IRIN today that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had agreed to set up a regional fund to tackle the increasing drug problem in the region.

The ECOWAS Anti-Drug Fund (ECODRUG) would support institutions established to fight the scourge of narcotic drugs and train laboratory technicians in drugs analysis methods. ECOWAS has allocated US $150,000 for start-up costs.

The ECOWAS meeting held under UNDCP auspices in Banjul, The Gambia, from 7 to 11 September agreed to implement a new plan of action against drugs adopted last year by ECOWAS heads of state.

Abidjan, 17 September, 1998 18:00 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: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 18:17:12 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> To: Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 297, 98.9.17 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific