IRIN-West Africa Update 362 for 1998.12.17

IRIN-West Africa Update 362 for 1998.12.17

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

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IRIN-WA Update 362 of Events in West Africa (Thursday 17 December)

BURKINA FASO: OAU summit on the DRC

African leaders convened today (Thursday) in Ouagadougou for a two-day summit under the aegis of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) aimed at ending the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), news organisations reported. The summit brings together the main players from seven African nations embroiled in the conflict and a host of other African leaders. President Laurent Kabila of the DRC, who arrived yesterday (Wednesday), said he would not negotiate with the rebels, but added he was hopeful that a solution would be found to the conflict, Reuters said.

After the Franco-African summit in Paris in November, Kabila announced that he expected to sign a ceasefire but this was rejected by the rebels. Kabila has also accused Rwanda and Uganda, who helped propel him to power in the former Zaire in 1997, of fomenting the revolt and supporting the rebels. He demands that the ceasefire calls for the rebels' withdrawal.

Curfew in dead journalist's hometown

A curfew was imposed yesterday evening in Koudougou, 150 km west of the Burkina Faso capital, after violent protests following the death over the weekend of a well-known journalist, Norbert Zongo, news organisations reported. At least 16 people were said to have been injured in Zongo's hometown. Zongo's charred body was found in a car with three other passengers. He was the editor of the weekly `L'Independent' and a staunch critic of the government.

The government of Burkina Faso issued a statement deeply regretting Zongo's death and appealed for calm. Radio Burkina quoted a statement issued by the ministry of territorial administration, as saying that the government had "reiterated (the) appeal for calm, and informed the entire population that firm instructions have been given to the security forces to check any act of vandalism, demonstrations, or gatherings in unauthorised public places".

MAURITANIA: Government denies arresting human rights defender

Mauritania human rights activist Mohamed Ould Maloum has neither been placed under house arrest nor otherwise detained, AFP quoted Communications Minister Rachid Ould Saleh yesterday as saying in Nouakchott.

The Paris based SOS-racisme, AFP reported, had accused the government of placing Maloum under house arrest in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, and of seizing his passport. Maloum, who lives in France, heads the Mauritanian chapter of SOS-racisme. "These accusations are baseless and nobody has neither been questioned nor arrested in Mauritania," AFP quoted Saleh as saying.

However, another Mauritanian human rights defender told IRIN today that Maloum's passport was seized. The activist described the measure as a government tactic "to try and scare" Maloum and stop him from meeting people. He said Maloum had joined demonstrators at the France-Africa summit in November in Paris, calling for the arrest and trial of Mauritanian President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya for crimes against humanity, a factor which could explain the government's action.

Three arrested, saying government agreed to take Isreali nuclear waste

Mauritania's leading opposition political figure, Ahmed Ould Daddah, and two of his party militants were arrested on Wednesday and will be charged with tarnishing the country's image by saying the government had agreed to accept Israeli nuclear waste, AFP said quoting an official source.

The source said that Daddah, president of l'Union des forces democratique (UFD); former minister Mohameden Ould Babah and Mohameden ould Icheddou, a lawyer, were arrested following a public rally in which Daddah told 10,000 people that the government had agreed to accept nuclear waste from Israel's Dimona facility.

Reports of this first appeared in the Moroccan media, a Mauritanian peace activist told IRIN today, and after Mauritania's current prime minister, Cheikh El Avia Ould Mohamed Khouna, visited Israel as foreign minister.

Communications Minister Saleh described the reports as "ridiculous", and the peace activist said the deal was unlikely. He said that two or three years ago Mauritania refused a similar request form another Western nation.

The arrests might trigger violence in Mauritania because all three men were well known and had hundreds of thousands of supporters, the activist said. Daddah, the brother of Mauritania's first president Moktar Ould Daddah, also told the rally that his party had discovered that just US $200,000 of $2.0 billion aid received since 1985 could be accounted for. He accused the Taya family of corruption and called for democracy and freedom in Mauritania.

GUINEA: Incumbent Conte ahead in poll

Guinean President Lansana Conte took a huge lead over his three main challengers in partial official results reported today, news agencies said. Interior Minister Zainoul Abidine Sanoussi announced on state television and radio that according to partial results Conte was leading in the poll in all but three of 18 constituencies. AFP said Conte had won 64 percent of the vote. A media source in Conakry told IRIN today it was "too early to comment on partial results" but said if there was no second round it could spell trouble. The opposition has accused the government of massive electoral rigging.

International observers who monitored the ballot endorsed the conduct of the poll in a statement released before the partial results were announced, adding that shortcomings had been noted but were not widespread enough to affect the outcome of the vote, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Barry Ibrahima Sory, a journalist working with the weekly `Le Lynx' in Conakry, told IRIN today the detention of chief opposition leader Alpha Conde on Tuesday could escalate tension in the country. He said yesterday he had attended a press conference organised by Conde's party, the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinee (RPG), during which speakers said Conde had been under threat of detention since he returned to Guinea earlier in the month from self-imposed exile. This situation prompted his trip to a remote part of Guinea. The RPG campaign director rejected charges that Conde was trying to cross the border when he was arrested, Sory added. He said the government accused Conde of hoarding arms and recruiting mercenaries.

UNITED NATIONS: Insufficient meningitis vaccine in Africa, WHO says

The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) warned yesterday that there were not enough vaccines for the forthcoming meningitis season in African countries affected by the disease. The Geneva-based organisation said in a statement that a minimum global stock of seven million doses was needed, but only six million were available to deal with the current epidemic which began in 1996. In West Africa, there have been 300,000 cases of meningitis in Senegal alone.

Lindsay Martinez, Director of WHO's Department of Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response, said countries still being hit by the current epidemic needed an effective international response which meant maintaining sufficient vaccine stocks and a smoothly functioning system.

Martinez warned that given the fact that several African countries affected by meningitis had not yet experienced an upsurge in this epidemic cycle, the number of cases might increase dramatically in the near future. Approximately 280 million people are at risk across the "meningitis belt", which extends from Ethiopia in the east to Senegal in the west. WHO said that the countries worst affected so far included Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

SUDAN: African countries urged to tackle refugee issues

A three-day OAU conference on refugees, returnees and displaced persons ended in Khartoum on Monday with a call on African countries to tackle the root causes of the problem, PANA news agency reported. An 18-point `Khartoum Declaration', adopted by 42 participating countries, expressed grave concern over the continent's refugee problems and called for measures to strengthen refugee protection. The declaration also expressed concern over the presence of "armed elements" among civilian refugees and stressed they should be separated in the camps.

AFRICA: UN appeals for 1.3 billion in humanitarian aid

United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello appealed yesterday for US $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid for countries in crisis, the world body said. The appeal is for 13 countries, among them Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone.

The appeal for 1999, on behalf of UN agencies and programmes, was the first made on a single occasion by the UN in its annual humanitarian programme. The UN said this arrangement "reflected enhanced efforts in accordance with the Secretary-General's reform programme to have a more coherent approach in dealing with humanitarian crises".

De Mello, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said by rationalising the consolidated appeals process the UN had reduced its relief aid requirements from $2.2 billion for 1998. He said the challenges to providing humanitariasn aid were enormous, ranging from safety problems to the need for a high level of coordination among humanitarian partners, within and outside the UN system.

Okelo objects to continued detention fo Sierra Leonean journalists

The Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-general for Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, has complained to the government about the continued detention of three local journalists, the chief UN spokesman said yesterday.

The spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said Okelo complained to the government on the grounds that action against the journalists violated the right to freedom of expression. Winston Ojukutu Macauley and Sylvester Rogers of the BBC were held on 8 December under the emergency powers regulations which places limits on media coverage of the civil war. Sulaiman Momodu, of the Concord Times, was arrested the following day after being interviewed by the BBC on the other arrests.

Eckhard also said that Okelo's office, the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), offered the government help in interpreting the emergency power regulations, which have been in effect since March, "in a manner consistent with the right of freedom of expression".

Abidjan, 17 December 1998 17:30 GMT


Date: Thu, 17 Dec 1998 18:02:31 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 362 for 1998.12.17

Editor: Ali B. Dinar,