IRIN-WA Update 503 for 8 July [19990709]

IRIN-WA Update 503 for 8 July [19990709]

IRIN-WA Update 503 of events in West Africa (Thursday 8 July 1999)

SIERRA LEONE: Peace deal followed by jubilation, then caution

Civil society representatives in Freetown told IRIN on Thursday that after an initial reaction of excitement and jubilation to the signing of the Lome peace treaty, people were responding in a much more reflective manner 24 hours later.

The coordinator of the non-governmental Campaign for Good Governance, Zainab Bangura, said the response on Wednesday was not comparable to that of 1996 when the Abidjan Peace Accord was signed. Then, people danced in the streets as soon as they heard a deal had been struck.

After the initial excitement on Wednesday, she said, a mood of solemnity prevailed and people were anxiously waiting to see what would happen next. "We need to be convinced that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) genuinely desires peace," she said, "and the signing of a piece of paper does not guarantee peace."

The agreement signed on Wednesday by the government and the RUF consolidates a May 24 ceasefire. It provides for the RUF to become a political party and grants it four cabinet posts (one of them senior) and four deputy ministerial positions.

Sankoh, previously sentenced to death for treason, receives amnesty and is to be the chairman of a Board for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, answerable only to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Fighters on both sides are to receive amnesty for offences committed since March 1991.

No amnesty for perpetrators of crimes against humanity, says UN

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Francis Okelo, signed the agreement with a notation saying that the United Nations would not recognise the amnesty in the agreement as applying to gross human rights violations, a UN spokesperson said.

"Our view is that the amnesty and pardons shall not apply to international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of humanitarian law," the spokesperson said.

Under the Lome pact, the constitution is also to be reviewed and an independent national electoral commission created. All combatants are to be disarmed and demobilised in an operation supervised by the ECOWAS Peace monitoring group (ECOMOG) and the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL).

The creation of a new armed force and the reintegration of ex-combatants into society are also included in the agreement, while a truth and reconciliation commission is to be set up to address impunity and break cycle of violence.

The General Secretary of the Inter-Religious Council and the Council for Churches, Alimamy Koroma, said he was optimistic for the future. The power-sharing government, he said, was a result of "serious thinking and analysis and we have to embrace it as the only feasible option at the moment".

The people just want peace, Koroma said, and they see the peace deal as a first step towards that goal.

Similarly, the programmes coordinator for the Network Movement of Justice and Development, Sahr Gborie, welcomed the accord, saying Sierra Leoneans had been severely traumatised and needed peace so as to have the time and space to grieve and reflect.

Support needed from international community

Despite her reservations, Bangura agreed that the treaty was a good opportunity, but that Sierra Leone needed much support from the international community to make it work. "A lot of committees and infrastructures will need to be set up and I worry what will happen if resources are not provided by the international community to service them," she said.

Gborie and Koroma also emphasised the need for the international community to monitor the situation very closely. People also want to see the RUF take responsibility for human rights atrocities that have been committed and show remorse, the three civil society leaders said. "What everyone is looking for is for people to come forward and show remorse, only then will people become more open to the idea of an amnesty," Gborie said.

Another issue uppermost in people's minds, Gborie said, was that all combatants should disarm quickly. Only then, he pointed out, will people feel more comfortable and believe peace really has arrived. "Sierra Leoneans have worked and suffered for democracy," he said, "and we should now co-exist in peace."

Regional analysts see glimmer of hope

Regional analysts told IRIN on Thursday that, if respected, the accord would spur optimism for stability in the subregion and perhaps reopen the way for economic development for neighbouring nations.

"The accord is extremely important for Guinea," one Guinean analyst said. "If it holds, it will help reinforce stability along the 650-kilometre border with Sierra Leone."

Rebels from Sierra Leone, thought to be from RUF splinter groups, have for months been attacking the Guinea border prefecture of Forecariah, pillaging and killing villagers.

But these problems might end soon, since Burkina Faso and Liberia, long accused of supporting the RUF, are now signatories to the new agreement, the Guinean analyst said. "There is real hope that this accord will be respected," he added.

Still, earlier treaties signed in Abidjan and Lome and immediately greeted with euphoria, were just as quickly violated, and another analyst told IRIN: "Despite the accord, Guinea will maintain vigilance on the border".

Dividends for Nigeria

The director of studies at the Lagos-based Independent Journalism Centre, Soji Omotunde, said peace would bring financial and material dividends to Nigeria, the subregion's military and economic power and home to roughly one in two West Africans.

Nigeria has contributed more than any other nation to ECOMOG in Sierra Leone, and before that in Liberia, at a time when its economy has been weakest. Moreover, with the attainment of peace, Omotunde said, the hundreds or thousands of Nigerian merchants displaced by the war could resume trade.

International community lauds agreement

Welcoming the accord, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the parties to honour their commitments and saluted the political courage of Kabbah and regional leaders who backed the peace effort.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku hailed the agreement and urged all parties to commit themselves to its implementation in good faith and in a timely manner. The Commonwealth will do its best to assist in this process, he said.

"Sierra Leone, no less than Kosovo, demands the attention of the world community, and the wholehearted commitment to peace and reconstruction of all those in leadership in Sierra Leone," Anyaoku said. "The people of Sierra Leone, who have borne the brunt of the horrors of this war, will not forgive us if we fail."

NIGERIA: Minister receive deadline for budget revisions

Ministries in Nigeria's new civilian government have until 15 July to prepare their revisions for a supplementary budget being put together by the federal government, news organisations said. The deadline was set at the second Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, presided over by President Olusegun Obasanjo, `The Guardian' reported on Thursday.

Fertiliser subsidy restored

Obasanjo has restored a 25-percent subsidy on some 125,000 mt of fertiliser the state intends to sell to farmers, Reuters reported the Nigerian Television Authority as saying on Wednesday.

Nigeria's previous military rulers scrapped the subsidy in 1997, Reuters said, adding that Obasanjo had often spoken of doing more to help farmers so as to increase national food security and diversify Nigeria's oil-dependent economy.

States probe past governments over corruption allegations

In further moves against corruption, states have launched probes into past military administrations following allegations that they misappropriated funds, 'The Guardian' reported on Thursday

In Bauchi, an ad-hoc committee was formed to probe the various military administrations between 1994 and May 1999, the newspaper said. Legislators in Edo have constituted a similar committee, and other states are set to follow, `The Guardian' said.

Nigerians mark first anniversary of Abiola's death

More than 1,000 Nigerians gathered at the home of the late Moshood Abiola to mark the first anniversary of his death, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Muslim prayers were said at his graveside, it said.

Abiola, widely believed to have won the annulled 1993 elections, was imprisoned in 1994 by former military ruler Sani Abacha for declaring himself president. He died in detention on 7 July 1998.

CHAD: Government denounces FNTR claims

Chad's government on Thursday denied a claim by the Front national du Tchad renove (FNTR) that the rebel movement had killed eight government soldiers and wounded five others in an ambush in the eastern prefecture of Ouaddai.

Communications Minister Moussa Dago told IRIN the governement had received no information about an ambush or soldiers' deaths.

The FNTR said the ambush took place between Goz Beida and Koukou Angarana on 5 July, according to AFP. The rebel group also accused the government forces of summarily executing two women and 10 men suspected of being pro-FNTR between 3 and 6 July.

Dago said that allegation was "completely false".

Abidjan, 8 July 1999; 20:25 GMT


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Item: irin-english-1196

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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