IRIN-WA Update 511 for 20 July [19990722]

IRIN-WA Update 511 for 20 July [19990722]

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Coordination 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 511 of events in West Africa (Tuesday 20 July)

GHANA: About 2,000 gold workers stand to lose their jobs

At least a fifth of the 10,000 employees of Ashanti Goldfields, one of sub-Saharan Africa's largest companies, could lose their jobs in the next few weeks because of depressed world gold prices, a company official was quoted as saying on Monday.

AFP reported that the official, who asked not to be named, said a "firm decision" had already been taken and "some of the casual workers have already gone home".

AFP quoted the official as saying, "These are permanent lay-offs."

The general secretary of the Ghana Mine Workers Union, Robert Cole, said Goldfields' management cited rising production costs as the reason for the lay-offs.

However, Ghana joined South Africa at the weekend in protesting the decision by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Britain to sell gold reserves, depressing the world price to a 20-year low, AFP reported.

[See separate item titled 'At least 2,000 gold miners to lose jobs']

SIERRA LEONE: Government denies RUF claim of ceasefire violations

Sierra Leone's government has denied an allegation by rebel leader Foday Sankoh that the pro-government Kamajor militia attacked Revolutionary United Front (RUF) positions less than two weeks after the Lome peace accord.

"Government troops are doing everything possible to uphold the ceasefire agreement and the provisions of the accord itself," presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told IRIN on Tuesday.

In an interview with AFP, Sankoh said that Masingbi and Gold Town, two villages between the northern town of Makeni and Kono in the east, were attacked on Sunday.

[See separate item titled: Government denies RUF claim of ceasefire violations]

LIBERIA: Churches worried about insecurity in troubled region

The Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) has expressed concern about reports of insecurity in the north-western county of Lofa, Star Radio reported on Monday.

The LCC called on Liberia's government to ensure stability in Lofa, especially in the county's main town, Voinjama, which is nearly 400 km north of Monrovia.

A number of people fled Voinjama after ethnic violence broke out there on 21 April. Star reported that many have not returned to the city and that those who remained have complained of constant harassment by the security forces.

President Charles Taylor pledged last week to deal with the security problem in Lofa, the radio station reported.

GUINEA BISSAU: Prime Minister calls for veto of new constitution

Guinea Bissau Prime Minister Francisco Fadul has asked interim President Malam Bacai Sanha to veto an amended constitution approved on 7 July by parliament, Lusa reported.

The new constitution states that the "positions of president, speaker of parliament, chief justice, prime minister, attorney general and armed forces chief be held only by native-born citizens whose parents are also native-born citizens"..

Lusa said Fadul, whose family is of Lebanese origin, warned in a letter sent on Monday to Sanha that the country's fundamental values were under threat and that "such measures will only lead us to isolation and atrophy".

The president has 30 days to veto the amendments, which also include the abolition of the death penalty and limits to presidential terms.

According to OCHA's latest humanitarian situation report for Guinea Bissau, only 13 of the country's 30 ethnic groups are considered "national", and they represent about half of the population. The report, which covers 1-15 July, said the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea Bissau (UNOGBIS) has raised the issue with junta leaders, the government, judiciary and other key actors.

At a news conference on 14 July, the Guinea Bissau human rights league, LGDH, condemned the requirement as discriminatory. The league said the amendment violated principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that it intended to use legal means to fight it.

MSF concludes emergency operations

MÈdicins Sans FrontiËres (MSF) concluded its emergency operations in Guinea-Bissau in June, according to the OCHA report, which said that during the previous year, US $1.4 million were invested in MSF programmes funded mainly by USAID/OFDA, ECHO and Norwegian Aid.

MSF helped provide safe water and sanitation to displaced persons, distributed drugs and basic equipment to health centres and provided technical support for immunization campaigns against meningitis and measles.

MSF will continue to support health workers with a project related to cholera control in health centres and technical support and expertise for epidemiological surveillance, according to the OCHA report, which said that the project will be implemented with the Ministry of Health.

TOGO: Reconciliation talks begin

Talks between Togo's government and opposition parties aimed at resolving an ongoing political crisis opened on Monday, but in the absence of President Gnassingbe Eyadema's main rival, Gilchrist Olympio, news organisations reported.

The government's spokesman, Kofi Panou, told IRIN on Tuesday he hoped that Olympio, leader of the main opposition Union des Forces pour le Changement (UFC), would attend the meeting after being urged to do so by international mediators.

Olympio, who has been living in exile in Ghana for the past seven years, refused to enter Togo on Sunday after arriving at a border post, saying his security was not guaranteed. The UFC's representative at the talks is its secretary-general, Jean-Pierre Fabre, news organisations said.

According to Panou, an executive committee comprising eight representatives of the government and the opposition were meeting on Tuesday to organise the agenda for the discussions, expected to last about 10 days.

Togo's opposition boycotted parliamentary elections in March 1999, charging that the 1998 presidential election, which Olympio says he won, was rigged.

The reconciliation talks, which the two sides agreed to at a meeting in Paris in June, are taking place in the presence of international facilitators from the European Union, the Francophone group of countries, France and Germany.

Amnesty accuses Togo

Meanwhile Amnesty International (AI) said at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday that it had decided to intensify its campaign against impunity in Togo. "It is time that those responsible for human rights violations be brought to justice," AI said.

It added in a news release that "hundreds of extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations have been carried out in Togo but until today these crimes have been left unpunished by the Togolese authorities." It asked the French government to demand that Lome end reprisals against and harassment of human rights defenders.

It also urged countries that have ratified the UN convention against torture to "bring to justice members of the Togolese regime suspected of crimes of torture and disappearances" who are present on their territory.

It also called on the Togolese exile community to compile information and lodge complaints against those responsible for human rights violations.

AI published a report in early May which accused Togo's government of hundreds of political killings, disappearances and torture during the 1998 elections. The government denied the allegations and said it would sue the human rights organisation.

MALI: Union calls strike

Mali's main trade union, l'Union nationale des Travailleurs du Mali (UNTMA) launched a 48-hour nationwide general strike on Tuesday after inconclusive talks with the government on its demand for salary increases, news organisations reported.

The union called for a 10-percent wage increase, but the government was only prepared to give five percent, news reports said. It also called for a cut in water and electricity tariffs, government action on the rising cost of basic foods and career structures for the civil service.

Trade union leaders said up to three-quarters of union members had stayed away from work in the capital, Bamako, according to the BBC.

GABON: Congolese refugees now number about 20,000, UNHCR says

The number of refugees from the Republic of Congo now in Gabon has reached 20,000, mostly women and children, UNHCR said on Tuesday.

Just two weeks ago, when aid workers, including UNHCR staff and government officials, were able to travel to border areas, the refugees' number had been estimated at 1,500. Fighting in Congo worsened late last month and more arrivals are feared after the main port, Pointe Noire, was reportedly shelled on 17 July, UNHCR said.

The UN agency has distributed limited quantities of medical supplies, food and blankets and is arranging for more local food purchases. UNHCR staff reported that some refugees had been accomodated by locals, but that many were sleeping in the open or in packed shelters they themselves had built. Some have begun moving to towns such as Libreville, Port Gentil and Franceville, UNHCR said.

The refugee agency said one of the most urgent needs was for safe drinking water. It said it was planning to place six wells in main shelter sites and trying to obtain purification kits for use elsewhere, while WHO and UNICEF were preparing to vaccinate the most vulnerable recent arrivals.

Additional UNHCR personnel have arrived in Gabon and more may be sent, UNHCR said. The local Red Cross will help distribute relief items, while Medecins Sans Frontieres has sent a team from Paris to evaluate the refugees' situation, it added.

Abidjan, 20 July 1999; 17:45 GMT


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Item: irin-english-1272

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

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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