IRIN-West Africa Update 369 for 1998.12.29

IRIN-West Africa Update 369 for 1998.12.29

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: +225 21 63 35 e-mail:

IRIN-WA Update 369 of Events in West Africa (Tuesday 29 December)

SIERRA LEONE: ECOMOG commander accuses Liberia of arms shipments

ECOMOG Force Commander Major General Timothy Shelpidi told IRIN today (Tuesday) in Abidjan that the international community, especially the United States, should review policy towards Liberia to force Monrovia to stop helping rebels in Sierra Leone. "Charles Taylor does not understand diplomacy," Shelpidi said, suggesting the US and other states suspend aid to Liberia and even consider imposing sanctions. He said Liberia had been breaking a UN embargo on arms supplies to Sierra Leone at will.

He said helicopters had been operating into Sierra Leone for "a very long time" and mostly at night, in violation of the embargo, supplying arms to the rebels. He said prisoners captured in March by ECOMOG, the West African intervention force in Sierra Leone, had said the helicopters, manned by Liberian troops, had supplied them with arms, food and petrol, and took back with them diamonds from Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the ousted Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels have been operating around Sierra Leone's rich diamond fields.

Liberia has consistently denied involvement in Sierra Leone and said so again yesterday (Monday) at an emergency meeting of the ECOWAS special committee on Sierra Leone in Abidjan. Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan called for an international investigation to settle whether or not Monrovia was supplying the rebels. Shelpidi said Liberia would easily mask its involvement by only showing investigators the major routes across the border and not the numerous small paths which could be used for arms smuggling.

Makeni in rebel hands

ECOMOG has made a tactical retreat from the northeastern town of Makeni following a battle lasting several days with RUF rebels, General Shelpidi told IRIN. He said the withdrawal was made because ECOMOG supply lines had become overstretched.

The capital Freetown was safe, he said. The rebels had been split into small groups by ECOMOG attacks and were now raiding people's houses for food.

He confirmed that Nigeria had sent additional reinforcements to Sierra Leone at the weekend and that Gambian troops would soon be joining the coalition force. So far, only Ghana and Guinea have sent troops. He said Guinean troops who had pulled out of Makeni for duties in their country during the presidential elections would be returning to Sierra Leone.

Reuters reported yesterday that the rebel army numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 and that many of its soldiers were youngsters press-ganged into fighting. ECOMOG has not disclosed its troop strength but news reports have estimated there are between 5,000 and 12,000 men in the country. A military analyst told IRIN yesterday in Abidjan that ECOMOG would need at least a 6:1 superiority to overwhelm the rebels. Not all the troops in the country were actively involved in fighting the rebels, the analyst said. Many were tied up guarding strategic positions while the rebels were free to attack at will.

West African Ministers condemn rebels

West African foreign ministers ended their extraordinary meeting in Abidjan yesterday strongly condemning the rebel atrocities against the civilian population. In a communique issued at the end of the day-long meeting, the ministers also appealed to the rebels to accept the legitimacy of the government in Freetown, stop fighting and take advantage of an amnesty offer by President Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

The Sierra Leone Committee expressed "total support" for the government in Freetown. It called on the UN Security Council to reaffirm support for the government and for the international community to ensure that the rebels knew they would "never be accorded recognition as the legitimate government of Sierra Leone".

The Committee appealed to all countries that have pledged troops to honour their commitments immediately and to the UN, OAU, EU, and the Contact Group on Sierra Leone to provide transport and communications to ECOMOG to improve mobility and the force's effectiveness.

The ministers condemned the presence of mercenaries in Sierra Leone and countries providing support to the rebels.

The ministers called on Togo, the Chairman of ECOWAS, to take the initiative in developing "genuine rapprochement" between the presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

(Your attention is drawn to the full ECOWAS communique, a US statement on Sierra Leone and a statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the situation in the country which have already moved on the IRIN-WA-Extra service.)

Humanitarian situation

An estimated 8,000 IDPs have arrived in Segbwema, 250 km southeast of Freetown, over the last three weeks, an official at the United Nations Humanitarian Assitance Coordination Unit {HACU), who was relocated to Abidjan recently, told IRIN today.

The official said that movement of IDPs into this area began around the time rebels attacked the northeastern district of Kono in mid-December. There has also been a steady stream of IDPs into the southeastern city of Bo, Sierra Leone's second largest town. The official said only 300 of the 1,020 newly arrived IDPs will be housed at an MSF camp normally used for cholera cases. Only the most vulnerable are to be sheltered.

ECOMOG has been refusing IDPs entry into Bo for fear of rebel infiltration so the IDPs are stopping at Daballa, close to Bo, the official said.

US, China, UN condemn RUF

The United States condemned Sierra Leonean rebels yesterday for their brutality and urged Liberia to take "all necessary measures to stop support for RUF activities emanating from its territory".

In a statement, the acting spokesman for the US Department of State, Lee McClenny, said: "In their effort to gain power, the insurgents have mutilated, raped and killed thousands of innocent civilians."

He said the United States government stood firmly with the democratically elected government of President Kabbah. "We cannot countenance any renewed attempt to overthrow the Kabbah government by force," he said. "Nor will the people of Sierra Leone accept another coup."

The sentiment was shared on Sunday in a statement by UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, who also condemned the RUF and its junta allies for insisting on continuing military action. In Beijing on Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, told a bi-weekly news briefing that the international community should support Sierra Leone in its bid to achieve peace and stability.

At home, public support for Kabbah's government and anti-rebel sentiment was demonstrated yesterday in a march in Freetown during which another three rebel suspects were reportedly lynched.

BURKINA FASO: Commission probes journalist's death

A grouping of civic organisations and opposition parties in Burkina Faso set up an independent commission yesterday to investigate the death of journalist Norbert Zongo in unclear circumstances earlier in December, Reuters reported. In a statement, the commission said it would take the opportunity to investigate "all other unpunished crimes in Burkina Faso" adding that it would draft a report with recommendations on how to proceed in Zongo's case.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based press watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), criticised the police for the way they were handling the inquiry into Zongo's death. RSF said the police had not performed an autopsy, had not questioned witnesses or Zongo's family and had not compiled a report on the car in which Zongo's body was found. Zongo and three other people were found burned to death in a car near the capital, Ouagadougou.

Zongo was an editor of the weekly 'L'Independent' and was known for his critical views of the government. His death prompted demonstrations in several towns in Burkina Faso.

NIGERIA: Government unable to pay salaries

The Nigerian government announced it would be unable to pay civil servants the salaries agreed in a new pay structure as pledged in October because state coffers were empty, Nigerian television said yesterday. Mallam Mohamed, the press secretary to the presidency, was quoted as saying that if no remedy was found to the critical financial situation, it would be a "time bomb for the new civilian regime". He added that there would be a pay increase but it was unclear by how much. The Nigerian head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, had promised a salary increase of 300 percent.

In an interview with a Nigerian newspaper over the weekend Abubakar said the fall in crude oil prices had cost the oil-rich west Africa country at least 200 billion naira (US $2.3 billion) in 10 months.

Abidjan, 29 December 1998, 17:30 GMT


Date: Tue, 29 Dec 1998 18:05:18 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 369 for 1998.12.29

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific