IRIN-West Africa Update 359 for 1998.12.14

IRIN-West Africa Update 359 for 1998.12.14

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 359 of Events in West Africa (Monday 14 December)

SIERRA LEONE: ECOMOG says attacks near Freetown no threat

Officers with ECOMOG's intervention force in Sierra Leone told IRIN today (Monday) that recent attacks near the capital, Freetown, were no threat to the city.

An ECOMOG officer confirmed an earlier news agency report quoting Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe as saying the recent attacks near Masiaka, 96 km east of Freetown, and Lunsar, 80 km northeast of the capital, were isolated events. "They sneak into a place and then disappear," AFP quoted Khobe, a Nigerian who is Sierra Leone's defence chief, as saying.

AFP also quoted Khobe as saying that ECOMOG needed another 5,000 troops and between US $25 million and $35 million to defeat the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and its ousted military junta allies. But ECOMOG officers could not immediately confirm these figures.

Serious food shortages by the middle of 1999 - Bertini

Sierra Leone will experience serious food shortages by mid-1999 unless peace returns, World Food Programme Executive Director Catherine Bertini said in Freetown on Saturday. In a report today, the country's Ministry of Information quoted Bertini as saying this year's harvest was likely to be good but "there could be problems" by the next.

Reuters reported that before the May 1997 coup that ousted President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the government had predicted the attainment of self-sufficiency in rice by 2001. But the rebels have been mutilating the rural population, hacking off people's arms and legs and sending survivors fleeing to towns, making farming difficult.

Bertini said rebel attacks in the north and east of the country last week had increased tension in the capital, Freetown, and that a camp for some 12,000 IDPs in Waterloo, about 25 km south of Freetown, was empty. Although Freetown was bustling with activity, she added, there as "underlying tension".

Bertini said her visit was, in part, to raise morale among WFP employees, particularly local staff, whose security situation was worrying, the ministry said. It said she also visited the towns of Bo, Gerihun and Blama and WFP officials said they saw no signs of fighting during the trip.

Twenty-two civilians to face treason trial

Another 22 civilians appeared in court on Friday charged with treason for helping the military junta that ousted Kabbah in May 1997, news agencies reported. Reuters said that no plea was taken and the accused would appear in court again on 18 December. In another development, AFP reported that a government-appointed committee at the weekend recommended the release of at least 30 other civilians suspected of collaborating with the junta. The committee said it was unable to find "any evidence of connivance" with the junta, AFP said quoting state radio.

GUINEA: Tight security for elections

Voting in Guinea's presidential elections was reported calm today following a weekend of pre-poll clashes in the capital, Conakry, a diplomatic source told IRIN. He said voters had been queuing to cast their ballots since the polling booths opened at 8 a.m. in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The source added that joint military-police units were patrolling various neighbourhoods in Conakry to ensure law and order. He added that by early afternoon no violent incidents had been reported in the capital or interior of the country.

An official of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Conakry told IRIN today that 125 Guinean Red Cross volunteers who had monitored the voting confirmed that election day went smoothly with no incidents to report.

The government announced on Saturday the closure of all land borders, airports, and seaports, while armed soldiers took up positions in Conakry. It also announced measures to defuse tension by allowing people on the electoral list who were not issued registration cards to vote if they had the required identity papers. Reuters said the issue of voter cards was the most contentious of the campaign. The opposition called last week for the vote to be put back, saying that less than half the voters had received cards.

Meanwhile, Guineans residing in Abidjan, the capital of Cote d'Ivoire, were able to cast their vote, a Guinean diplomatic source told IRIN today. An estimated one million Guineans live in Cote d'Ivoire. According to AFP, most Guineans living outside the country tend to support the opposition.

The incumbent, President Lansana Conte of the Parti pour l'Union et le Progres (PUP), is seeking a new-five year mandate against four other candidates: Alpha Conde, leader of the Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee (RPG); Mamadou Ba of the Union pour le progres et le renouveau (UPR); Jean-Marie Dore of the Union pour la prosperite de la Guinee (UPG) and Charles Pascal Tolno, leader of the Parti du peuple de Guinee (PPG) Pre-poll clashes

Violence erupted on Saturday when fighting between rival parties in Conakry forced the police to intervene with tear gas, news organisations reported. The clashes erupted in an opposition stronghold in Conakry between rival parties armed with machetes and stones. Reuters reported that state television showed footage of cars with their windscreens smashed and wounded people in hospitals. Residents said shops were looted in several heavily populated districts.

The diplomatic source told IRIN that the campaigning had been generally peaceful and the Saturday incident was "an isolated event triggered off by street boys and over-zealous opposition supporters".

GUINEA BISSAU: President and rebel leader arrive for Togo talks

Guinea Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira and rebel leader Ansumane Mane were due to begin talks today (Monday) in Lome, the Togolese capital, aimed at implementing a peace accord signed early November in Nigeria, the Togolese Foreign Ministry told IRIN.

Mane and Guinea Bissau Prime Minister Francisco Fadul arrived on Sunday. Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar has also arrived for the talks arranged by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who is the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States.

The main issues on the table are the appointment of ministers to the government of national unity and the deployment of ECOMOG troops in Guinea Bissau, as envisaged under the Abuja peace deal signed in the Nigerian capital. Nigeria provides the leadership and the bulk of ECOMOG troops, whose units are currently active in Sierra Leone.

NIGERIA: By-elections and run-offs held on Friday

Run-off and by-elections were held in 98 local government council areas last week Friday marking the end of the local government elections in Nigeria, according to a state-run television station in Lagos. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will now compile the final results to determine which of the nine provisionally registered parties qualify to compete in the next round of polls for state assemblies. A party qualifies for final registration if it clinched at least five percent of the vote in 24 states out of 36. The first round of the local government elections took place on 5 December.

GABON: Opposition calls for strike action to protest election results

The presidential runner-up and opposition leader, Pierre Mamboundou, accused supporters of President Omar Bongo of rigging the 6 December presidential poll and vowed to challenge the results with strikes and court action, news agencies reported over the weekend. Reuters quoted Mamboundou as calling for a "ghost town" protest, meaning a stay at home action, the first stage of a "graduated response to the second electoral coup d'etat". Speaking at a news conference, he said the opposition rejected the results announced by the interior ministry and would not "recognise the government that emerges from this process". He added that he would urge the constitutional court to scrap the poll.

Bongo's spokesman Andre M'ba Obame retorted that: "The campaign was of high quality and the Gabonese showed maturity and serenity which can only add credibility to the Gabonese political system," Reuters said. Foreign electoral observers said the election, despite its shortcomings, was free and fair.

Mamboundou, leader of the Haut conseil de resistance (HCR), clinched 16.54 percent of the vote, while Bongo won 66.6 percent. The 1993 polls were also hotly contested by the opposition and triggered violent incidents.

AFRICA: OAU refugee conference hears warning of "imminent catastrophe"

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, speaking yesterday (Sunday) at the Opening session of a three-day OAU ministerial conference in Khartoum, warned that Africa's refugee problem was an "imminent catastrophe," while international assistance was diminishing, news agencies reported. In his opening address, OAU chairman and Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, deploring the number of armed conflicts on the continent, called on Africans to "return to reason, respect human rights and protect minorities," news agencies said. Delegates from 45 African countries are attending the meeting, aimed at finding durable solutions to the problem of refugees, returnees and displaced persons on the continent.

LIBERIA: Government releases 32 inmates

In a bid to spruce up its human rights image the Liberian government has released 32 inmates, Justice Minister Eddington Varmah said, independent Star Radio reported at the weekend. It quoted Varmah as saying that the government intended to adopt other measures to improve the criminal justice system.

IDPs unable to return home

Nearly 11,000 IDPs are unable to return to their homes in Liberia because the government has not provided any money for their repatriation, the head of the Liberian Refugee Repatriation Commission, Adezana Kullu, has said, according to a report today by Star Radio. Most of the IDPs are from grand Geddeh County, home region of former minister Roosevelt Johnson. President Charles Taylor had ordered refugees and IDPs out the capital by the end of this year. However, humanitarian agencies estimated in July that by the end of the civil war more than 130,000 IDPs had crowded around Monrovia and were unable to go home because there was little or no infrastructure outside the capital.

Abidjan, 14 December 1998 17:30 GMT


Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1998 14:09:37 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 359 for 1998.12.14

Editor: Ali B. Dinar,