IRIN-West Africa Update 342 for 1998.11.19

IRIN-West Africa Update 342 for 1998.11.19


Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

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IRIN-WA Update 342 of Events in West Africa (Thursday 19 November)

SIERRA LEONE: ICRC halts flights after shooting

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Abidjan told IRIN today (Thursday) it had suspended medical evacuation flights in Sierra Leone after one of its helicopters came under fire on Tuesday. It is unclear who shot at the helicopter which was carrying seven ICRC relief workers and two NGO staffers. Nobody was injured. The ICRC said several bullets hit the helicopter's cockpit, but it was able to continue to Makeni, its destination, and then fly back to Freetown. Makeni is located 140 km northeast of Freetown.

Sierra Leone's resident minister for the Northern Region, Y.M. Kroma, expressed regret over the incident, but said "it would be helpful if relief agencies flying over war zones alerted (the West African peacekeeping force) ECOMOG, of such flights," according to AFP. ICRC said it routinely informed ECOMOG of all its flights.

The report quoted a diplomatic source in Freetown as saying that the incident was "likely a mistake as frequent reports have been coming in of a strange white helicopter similar to the one used by the ICRC delivering arms to rebel forces in the north".

The ICRC told IRIN the incident was being investigated and it would not resume its flights until it had been determined what had happened.

Rebel leader threatens to destroy the country

A senior rebel leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Sam Bockari, threatened to destroy every living thing if anything happened to its leader, Foday Sankoh, AFP reported, quoting the Sierra Leonean daily 'For Di People'. The report quoted Bockari as saying that: "I am ready but I am waiting until something happens to Sankoh" adding that "when I take Freetown, I shall clear every living thing and building". He added that only Sankoh could give orders to stop the mayhem. Sankoh was sentenced to death earlier in the month for treason.

The RUF, whose members have been fighting successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991, rallied around the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which seized power in May 1997 in a coup d'etat. The junta was then toppled in February 1998 by the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, forcing the rebels to flee into the interior. The rebels then launched a campaign dubbed 'Operation Spare No Living Soul' during which they have been maiming civilians, destroying villages and wreaking havoc.

GUINEA: UNHCR moves refugees away from border

A UNHCR spokesman told IRIN today that the agency had started moving thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea away from the border to safer settlements inland.

UNHCR Regional Information Officer Khassim Diagne said the first of 9,500 refugees were moved on Wednesday from Tomadou, two km from the border with Sierra Leone, to a site 37.5 km farther north.

This follows a Sierra Leonean rebel attack on Saturday on 20 refugees who had returned to their country in search of food. The rebels, belonging to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), amputated the hands of five of them. Diagne said UNHCR was forced to move the refugees because of frequent rebel raids on settlements near the border. The rebels, who have been fighting successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991, have committed numerous atrocities on civilians.

GUINEA BISSAU: Humanitarian assistance needed

A WFP report said UN agencies had visited Guinea Bissau last week and confirmed that the peace agreement signed in Abuja on 1 November between the warring parties was holding. The mission said the port in the government-controlled area, and the airport in the military junta area were again open. However, the airport only received humanitarian flights. The mission confirmed that there was no famine or starvation in Guinea Bissau.

The mission visited the towns of Cumura, Prabis, and Safim on the outskirts of the capital, Bissau, where most displaced people have sought refuge. In Cumura, 25,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), supported by the Catholic mission staff, were in camps without proper shelter. It noted, however, that many of these persons had been hosted by local communities in smaller towns or rural areas.

The report confirmed that an estimated 350,000 people needed humanitarian assistance but added that 100,000 IDPs could survive on crops from a recent harvest. Another 100,000 people were living in small towns across the country and urgently needed assistance.

The Guinea Bissau National Commission of Humanitarian Assistance chaired by the ministry of health has asked WFP to provide food to 181,000 war-affected people in the towns of Gabu, Bafata, Oio and Cacheu, the report added. It said it was extremely difficult to register the displaced people because of their frequent movements.

Niger to send troops

The parliament in Niger agreed yesterday (Wednesday) to send a contingent of 500 soldiers to Guinea Bissau as part of the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, to monitor the implementation of the peace accord on 1 November, media agencies reported.

The accord called for West African troops to replace Senegalese and Guinean troops in Guinea Bissau and along the border with Senegal.

SENEGAL: Rights body says 80 percent of Casamance mined

Anti-personnel mines planted south of the Casamance river in southern Senegal have made 80 percent of the land unusable and killed scores of people in the year to August 1998, an official of a local human rights organisation told IRIN today.

Alieu Tine, who heads the Rencontre africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme (RADDHO) in Dakar, capital of Senegal, said 200 localities in the region had become "ghost villages" since 1998 because of mines. In addition, 120,000 people had become refugees or internally displaced (IDP) because of the 15-year civil war in the area. The separatist Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) has been fighting the Senegalese army in Casamance for independence of the agricultural area.

Senegal has ratified the Ottawa Convention banning the use of antipersonnel mines and Tine said he hoped to get the MFDC also to stop using them.

LIBERIA: UN extends mandate of Peace-building office

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, announced yesterday that the UN peace-building support office in Liberia (UNOL) would continue to function in Monrovia until the end of 1999 in view of its positive role in consolidating peace in the country.

A UN press release said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, Felix Downes-Thomas, had been active in efforts to reduce tensions between Liberia and some of its neighbours as well as those which have arisen between the Liberian government and ECOMOG.

It added that it continued to be involved in efforts to promote reconciliation clashes between government security forces and supporters of Roosevelt Johnson, a former wartime faction leader, in Monrovia in mid-September. More than 50 people were killed in the fighting.

ICRC visits detainees

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced in a statement received by IRIN today that its delegates had visited people arrested in connection with the September clashes in Monrovia and held the city's central and military prisons to assess general conditions of detention.

In the military prison, the ICRC delegates said water supply, sanitation and waste disposal needed improving. The ICRC intends to provide blankets, personal hygiene items and water containers for the newly registered prisoners.

BURKINA FASO: Incumbent heads for election landslide

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, seeking a second seven-year term, won 87.53 percent of the votes in weekend elections, according to provisional results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The commission said yesterday (Wednesday) 56.08 percent of the 4.2 million eligible voters cast their ballots. Compaore, 47, was opposed by Ram Ouedraogo, leader of le Parti des verts du Burkina (PVB), and by Frederic Guirma of the Front de refus-Rassemblement democratique African (FR-RDA). Ouedraogo won 6.61 percent of the votes and Guirma 5.86. The results have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The main opposition parties boycotted the elections saying the electoral commission was pro-government. They also boycotted the elections in 1991, when Compaore won unopposed on a voter turnout of 25 percent.

GABON: Tepid response to strike call

Just a few hundred members of Gabon's 36,000 civil service union heeded a strike call yesterday aimed at pressing demands for higher wages, better conditions of service and an overhaul of the government administration, AFP reported. Union leader Christiane Bitougat blamed the poor turnout on the lack of coverage the media gave to the call for a "general and unlimited" strike.

Abidjan, 19 November 1998 17:30 GMT


Date: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 18:18:59 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 342 for 1998.11.19 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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