IRIN-West Africa Update 364 for 1998.12.21

IRIN-West Africa Update 364 for 1998.12.21


Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

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IRIN-WA Update 364 of Events in West Africa (Monday 21 December)

SIERRA LEONE: Rebels take part of Koidu as ECOMOG pulls out

Revolutionary United Front rebels and allied military renegades occupied the northern part of the eastern diamond mining town of Koidu on Saturday after West African troops withdrew to avoid civilian casualties, an ECOMOG source told IRIN today (Monday). The source said ECOMOG would retake the north of the town as soon as civilians were safely out of the area. "The rebels' stay in this place is temporary," the source said.

The source declined to give casualty figures for the rebels, civilian and ECOMOG. However, Reuters quoted medical sources as saying yesterday (Sunday) that dozens of wounded civilians had reached Makeni hospital, some 160 km west of Koidu.

Reuters, quoting aid workers, said at least 10,000 people had reached Makeni since Friday. An official with the UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Unit (HACU) in Freetown told IRIN that "large numbers" of people were leaving Koidu for Makeni. The official said arrivals appeared in a harrowing state after walking for days. Although some children showed no visible signs of malnutrition, the official added, this usually surfaced within two days if no immediate action was taken.

Defence Ministry arms militia

Sierra Leonean Defence Minister Sam Norman has begun arming the country's Civil Defence Forces (CDF) in Kenema, news reports said yesterday. The Sierra Leonean Ministry of Information said the measure followed legislation passed on Tuesday, the first time the government had taken this action. Norman said the CDF would now be allowed to support ECOMOG in operations against the AFRC/RUF.

SIERRA LEONE: Sanctions ineffective in Sierra Leone, UN envoy says

Sanctions are not being effectively implemented in Sierra Leone and the humanitarian situation there continues to worsen, the Chairman of the Security Council Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, Swedish Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, told the Council on Friday. Reporting on a four-day mission to the country and Liberia, he said it was hard to find words strong enough to describe the atrocities committed by rebel forces. They had cut off body parts of victims with large knives and burned alive men, women and children, he said according to a UN press release.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) by a further six months to 13 July 1999. In his third report to the UN Security Council on the work of UNOMSIL, Annan condemned rebel atrocities against ordinary people. "The enormity of the human rights abuses the rebels have perpetrated on the people of Sierra Leone and the large scope of human rights tasks to be performed have underlined the need for a strong human rights component" in UNOMSIL, he said, adding that the number of human rights officers in the provinces would be doubled to 10.

"The restoration of stability in Sierra Leone will be a long and arduous process and will continue to require military support as well as various other forms of assistance," the Secretary-General said. In particular the government needed help in its efforts to establish a new professional armed force under civilian control as well as an effective and well-motivated police force.

The full press release on the Security Council meeting can be found on the Reliefweb website at http:\\

LIBERIA: Government closes border with Sierra Leone

Liberia has closed its border with Sierra Leone and deployed army units to forestall a possible spill-over of the fighting, Presidential Press Secretary Reginald Goodridge said in a statement. AFP reported yesterday that the statement urged the Liberian army to work with ECOMOG. Recently, ECOMOG has accused Liberia of helping the anti-government rebels in Sierra Leone. Liberia has consistently denied this.

LIBERIA: Commission calls for 6,000-man multi-ethnic army

A government commission on restructuring the Liberian army has called for an immediate redocumentation of the military to determine who would be demobilised or retired, independent Star Radio reported at the weekend.

Blamo Nelson, who heads the 24-member commission set up in May, recommended a 6,000-man army. The recommendations, which he presented to President Charles Taylor on Thursday, said the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) disintegrated during the civil war because it was dominated by one ethnic group - the Krahn of late President Samuel Doe. Now the commission wants recruitment centres established across the country, to ensure a more even ethnic balance in the military.

Under the Abuja peace accord that ended seven years of civil war in Liberia, the West African Intervention force ECOMOG was supposed to build and train a new national army, based on an even ethnic representation. But Liberia balked at this saying only the government would determine the make-up and training of its military. Star Radio reported on Friday that Taylor said on Thursday his government would work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - which commands ECOMOG - the OAU and the UN for professional advisers, trainers and for funds so the military could be rebuilt.

GUINEA BISSAU: Food aid likely to be needed in Guinea Bissau, report says

Guinea Bissau is unlikely to have a good harvest this year and there are some areas of very bad crops throughout the country, a joint OCHA, FAO, Association Francaise des Volontaires du Progres (AFVP) report says. The report, received by IRIN today, says that in a normal year the country only produces enough cereals to cover 69 percent of its needs, which means it imports 64,000 mt of rice on average each year. "A deficit (this year) can therefore be foreseen and the need for food aid should be established in relation to the level of the harvest, the recovery of the rural economy and the imports guaranteed in the framework of the 1999 cashew nuts campaign," the report says.

It recommends among other proposals joint action by humanitarian aid agencies, work to repair damaged dams and dykes which is essential if next year's rice crop is not to be compromised and supplies of seed for food-producing plants in consultation with the local people so that the varieties and amounts distributed relate to their ability to grow crops.

GUINEA: Two killed in protest for jailed leader

At least two people were killed in Guinea during a demonstration against the detention of opposition leader, Alpha Conde, in the eastern part of Guinea, news organisations reported today. Several thousand people took part in the protest in the town of Sigiui, near the Malian border, to protest against Conde's continued detention. In a related development, dozens of people were detained by security forces in pro-opposition districts of Conakry while they were preparing to hold a march protesting Conde's arrest, AFP said. It said there were also clashes on Saturday at Mamou in central Guinea between security forces and demonstrators challenging the results of the presidential poll.

Conde was picked up by the police last Wednesday "disguised as a marabout", according to a government statement. He is accused of trying to cross the border into Cote d'Ivoire, which had been closed for the elections.

Conde came third in the 14 December presidential elections, which the opposition said were rigged. Outgoing President Lansana Conte was re-elected for a second five-year term.

BURKINA FASO: Government orders investigation

Burkina Faso has ordered an independent investigation into the death of an outspoken local journalist, Norbert Zongo, an official communique published in the local press today said. Three places on the commission would be reserved for representatives of international media associations and human rights organisations. A member of an Amnesty International group in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, told IRIN today that no specific body had been named in the government statement.

Zongo's charred body was found on Sunday in his car with no external burn marks on the vehicle, AFP reported at the weekend. Zongo, publisher of the weekly 'L'Independent', was known locally for his investigative reporting. His death and that of three others has sparked demonstrations in the country by thousands of students and pressure from international bodies such as Amnesty International for a full, independent investigation.

UNITED NATIONS: UNHCR reports on refugees in Africa

There were 7.2 million people of concern to UNHCR in Africa at the beginning of 1998, the UN refugee agency said in its December Africa Fact Sheet. Of these 3.5 million were refugees, 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 2..2 million former refugees who have recently returned home. The largest group of refugees in Africa is from Sierra Leone, UNHCR said, putting the number of Sierra Leoneans who have fled their country at 440,000, most of them in Guinea which is now home to 470,000 refugees of various nationalities. Another 419,000 refugees come from Somalia, 374,000 from Sudan, 320,000 from Eritrea and 300,000 from Burundi, UNHCR said.

The full report is available on the IRIN-EXTRA service.

MALI: World Bank approves US $40 million for health programme

The World Bank has approved funding of US $40 million for a Health Sector Development Programme in Mali. It said in a statement that the programme would expand Malian access to affordable, quality health care, with a special focus on primary health. This would include preventive, social, and curative services with emphasis on maternity care, integrated management of childhood illnesses, family planning, and nutrition.

The US $227 million Health Sector Development Programme will be financed by a US $40 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's lending arm for the poorest countries. The IDA credit is on standard terms of 40 years maturity, including 10 years grace. Other financiers include UNFPA, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and several bilateral donors. The balance of the programme will be financed by the government.

NIGERIA: Petrol prices double

Petrol prices in Nigeria more than doubled today, the first increase in four years, news organisations reported. Although there has been no official announcement, paraffin, diesel and aviation fuel have also leapt in price. Last week, the military government said it would no longer fix fuel prices and would allow the market to set the level. The BBC said attempts by previous governments to increase fuel prices led to serious unrest. Despite being Africa's biggest oil producing state, fuel shortages have severely affected the market.

MAURITANIA: Opposition says leaders not seen

An opposition group in Mauritania, the Union des forces democratiques (UDF) has said nobody has been allowed to see four of its members held by the government last week, AFP reported yesterday. UDF officials also said their leaders, whom they considered "abducted" by the government, were being held in Tichitt, in the central desert. They were arrested for saying at a public rally that the government had agreed to take Israeli nuclear waste. The government has denied the accusation.

AFP added that lawyers for the four men had been unable to meet the interior ministry for explanations of the arrests and had appealed to international rights groups to press for their release.

Abidjan, 21 December 1998, 17:45 GMT


Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 18:02:37 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 364 for 1998.12.21

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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