IRIN-West Africa Update 370 for 1998.12.30

IRIN-West Africa Update 370 for 1998.12.30

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 370 of Events in West Africa (Wednesday 30 December)

SIERRA LEONE: Nigeria reinforces ECOMOG

More Nigerian reinforcements have arrived in Freetown to strengthen the West African intervention force in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jimoh Okunlola told IRIN today (Wednesday).

He would not disclose numbers but news reports said the 1,000 troops who arrived on Tuesday brought to 3,000 the number of Nigerian reinforcements flown in since Sunday. Okunlola said the reinforcements were being deployed where needed. The town of Lunsar, about 80 km northeast of Freetown, has been reinforced. ECOMOG has been consolidating its positions since its recent tactical withdrawal from Makeni, another 80 km northeast of Lunsar.

Okunlola said the rebels did not have the capacity to hold ground after their attacks. Makeni was occupied by the government's Civil Defence Forces (CDF) and civilians were beginning to return to their homes. ECOMOG troops would return to Makeni "in a very short while", he said. They had withdrawn because supply lines had become too stretched.

Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the former military junta have increased their hit-and-run attacks since rebel leader Foday Sankoh was sentenced to death for treason in October.

Suspected Ukrainian mercenaries detained

Military officials said 25 suspected rebels and eight Ukrainians, thought to be mercenaries, had been detained for questioning, Reuters reported today. An ECOMOG officer told IRIN that the Ukrainians were being held by the government of Sierra Leone. ECOMOG confirmed the presence of European mercenaries in the battle for Makeni but today's report was the first of their capture.

LIBERIA: Liberia threatens to pull out of Sierra Leone peace committee

Liberia said yesterday (Tuesday) it might withdraw from the ECOWAS Committee of Six on Sierra Leone if governments continued to accuse it of arming and feeding RUF rebels.

In a government policy statement received by IRIN today, it said the "crisis of confidence" surrounding Liberia's involvement in the Sierra Leonean war made it difficult for Monrovia to contribute effectively to the sub-region's effort to end the conflict. The statement follows renewed allegations, the latest made on Monday during an ECOWAS emergency meeting on Sierra Leone in Cote d'Ivoire, that Liberia was supplying the rebels, in defiance of an UN arms embargo.

Liberia said it had made several overtures to disprove its involvement in the war but its approaches had been ignored. One of the proposals was for joint patrols of the Sierra Leone/Liberian border by ECOMOG and Liberian forces. Another, it said, was an invitation to the UN Secretary-General to deploy UN observers along the border.

"Liberia's denial of involvement is not new," the ECOMOG spokesman told IRIN.

The Liberian statement also said that successive governments in Sierra Leone, including that of President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, had used Liberian mercenaries to augment their national security capacity. "Even now, the Kamajor militia are using Liberian mercenaries to assist in their fight against the Junta/RUF forces," the statement said. "We view the constant arming and use of these mercenaries as a threat to our national security and to the stability of the sub-region."

In the communique issued at the end of Monday's meeting, West African foreign ministers called for an end to the use of mercenaries in Africa.

SIERRA LEONE: WFP worried about effects of new fighting

Renewed fighting in Sierra Leone will seriously affect humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of needy people throughout the country the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a news release received by IRIN today.

WFP deliveries to war-affected people in the interior had been halted for two weeks because the main road linking Freetown to the rest of the country was unsafe, WFP said, but it had managed to move 90 mt of food out of Freetown for delivery to the southern towns of Bo and Kenema on Monday.

There was enough food in the two towns to meet needs over the next month, it said, but it did not have access to depleted stocks in Makeni, affecting food distribution to 24,000 people.

"WFP and its food aid partners have sufficient food stocks for all the country in Freetown but with the increased rebel activity, trucking companies face serious security constraints to deliver our food to vulnerable people in the interior," said Patrick Buckley, WFP Representative in Sierra Leone.

WFP said the upsurge in rebel attacks in northern and eastern parts of Sierra Leone and near the capital, Freetown, had resulted in the displacement of an estimated 80,000 people over the past few days.

The full text of the WFP statement has moved on the IRIN-Extra service.

France concerned about increased fighting

A French foreign ministry spokeswoman, Anne Gazeau-Secret, said yesterday in Paris that France was concerned about the increased fighting in Sierra Leone and the worsening humanitarian situation.

France, she said, "supported efforts by the Economic Community of West African States to restore peace" in the country. She added that France backed the appeal by the Committee of Six to the rebels to join in peace talks and accept the government's offer of amnesty.

NIGERIA: Government to review fuel price hike

The Nigerian government set up a committee yesterday to review a recent increase in fuel prices that outraged labour unions, according to the Nigerian daily 'The Guardian'. Information Minister John Nwodo said the committee would review the hike and arrive at a "consensus" price on fuel products. The Nigerian Labour Congress withdrew threats to strike but warned that the government would face "workers's wrath" unless it reversed the higher prices.

The price of petroleum products soared last week. The price of a litre of kerosene went up from seven cents to 27 while gasoline jumped from 14 cents to 29. Transport fares have quadrupled, AFP reported.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian currency has been under intense pressure following economic concerns and an unusual year-end rise in the demand for US dollars. Bank traders said one dollar was selling for between 92 and 93 naira up from 90 last week, Reuters reported yesterday. The economy has been under serious strain as a result of falling world oil prices.

Oil company expects peaceful end to ultimatum

A Shell company spokesman in Nigeria said yesterday it was working towards a peaceful end to an ultimatum for oil multinationals to leave Ijaw areas in the main southeastern oil region, Reuters reported. "We are in dialogue with their representatives. All parties are reasonable and we expect a peaceful end." the spokesman said. Ethnic Ijaw groups scattered across Nigeria's oil delta area issued a joint ultimatum early in December to oil firms to leave their land by 30 December or face unspecified action over alleged pollution of land and deprivation of oil wealth. However, the Ijaw National Congress (INC), an umbrella body for various Ijaw interest groups, dissociated itself on Tuesday from the ultimatum. It said in a statement that the decision to ask multinationals to leave was "never tabled before the highest decision-making body of the Ijaw nation".

An upsurge of violence by armed militants, including sabotage and seizure of oil installations, has affected Nigeria's oil output in recent months.

GUINEA BISSAU: France ponders support for ECOWAS peace effort

The French foreign ministry said in a press statement today it was evaluating how it could support the Abuja peace accord on Guinea Bissau and that Paris welcomed the decision by the Economic Community of West African states to deploy an interposition force, called ECOMOG, in the country.

In the Gambian capital, Banjul, the French ambassador, Andre Lewin, told reporters yesterday that France was ready to help Gambia fulfill its commitment to send troops to Guinea Bissau, AFP reported. He did not say how France might help.

An advance party of 120 Togolese troops, has already arrived in Bissau to secure and open the airport. The deployment of ECOMOG troops is one of the aspects of the Abuja accord signed in November and is a requirement for the withdrawal of Senegalese and Guinean troops. Senegal and Guinea sent soldiers to Guinea Bissau to support the government of President Joao Bernardo Vieira who was almost toppled by the self-styled Military Junta headed by General Ansumane Mane.

Abidjan, 30 December 1998, 17:30 GMT


Date: Wed, 30 Dec 1998 17:50:21 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Update 370 for 1998.12.30

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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