IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup No 74 for 1998.11.13

IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup No 74 for 1998.11.13


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 Weekly Roundup No 74 of Main Events for West Africa covering the period (Friday - Thursday) 6 - 12 November 1998

SIERRA LEONE: Intense fighting in north and east

The West African intervention force, ECOMOG, and the Kamajor militia have been involved this week in intense fighting alongside government troops against remnants of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and renegade soldiers in the north and east of Sierra Leone, media agencies reported. News organisations have reported high numbers of casualties on both sides which have not been confirmed by independent sources.

Reuters reported last Saturday that ECOMOG and its allies had captured a string of towns in eastern Sierra Leone, killing some 500 rebels and sending thousands fleeing in two weeks of fighting. According to an unidentified ECOMOG officer speaking to Reuters, the heaviest fighting took place in Pendembu, "where more than 140 rebels died". The rebel strongholds in Quiva, Negima and other towns were taken. However, Sierra Leone's deputy defence minister, Hinga Norman, said the rebel headquarters at Kailahun and the eastern town of Koindu were still in rebel hands.

In the north, some 400 rebels attacked the (northern) town of Pendembu on Monday, Reuters reported. Initial reports put the dead at about 70, but Reuters quoted an aid worker as saying the figure was "close to 100". There was an ammunition dump in Pendembu, sources told IRIN. According to an ECOMOG officer, out of the 100 dead, 20 were ECOMOG and Sierra Leone troops. He added that more than 30 rebels had been killed. A source speaking to IRIN in Freetown said the ECOMOG and government deathtoll was at least 22, adding that up to 50 had been brought to Freetown for treatment.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean rebels killed 40 soldiers in fighting in Kamalo, some 171 km north of Freetown, the capital, AFP reported on Thursday, quoting the Freetown newspaper 'For Di People'. The report said the dead included "allied" soldiers. The same source confirmed the fighting but not the numbers killed.

Another source told IRIN that rebels had a new strategy of attacking villages and civilians, retreating, splintering and then going on the offensive again. This strategy made it very difficult to predict their moves and for ECOMOG and government forces to flush them out effectively in the northeast.

Newly formed contact group supports reconciliation

A British Foreign Affairs official in London told IRIN last Friday that the newly formed Sierra Leone Contact Group had convened to discuss strengthening the reconciliation process in the West African state.

The source said the meeting had endorsed a twin approach using military action and diplomatic channels, as advocated by the West African regional body, ECOWAS, to bring the rebels to the negotiating table with the government. However, he stressed that any negotiations with the rebel fighters had to be based on pre-conditions that they would cease fighting, recognise the authority of the elected government and enter into dialogue with it. The meeting rejected any conditions set by the rebels before entering into peace talks.

At the meeting, the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Japan pledged financial support to ECOMOG.

IMF approves US $16 million loan

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved on Monday a US $16 million loan for Sierra Leone during 1998/99 to repair its damaged economy, Reuters said. Quoting an IMF statement, the report said the loan was drawn from the fund's emergency post-conflict assistance scheme set up in 1995. The nation's foreign exchange reserves have run dry, Reuters said quoting officials, after several years of a civil conflict.

Curfew in territorial waters

The Sierra Leonean government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew last Friday barring foreign and local ships from entering or leaving the port of Freetown, according to news organisations. A humanitarian source told IRIN today that aid organisations had complained to the Sierra Leonean authorities a few weeks ago about the growing number of thefts and heightened insecurity in the Freetown port.

GUINEA: Ten killed in rebel raids

At least 10 people were killed and several wounded in raids in southern Guinea blamed on Sierra Leonean rebels, AFP reported on Monday. Quoting reliable sources in Conakry, AFP said several people were missing in the attacks on Wednesday and Friday on Forkonia, Kobikoro and Sangoya, near Guinea's border with Sierra Leone.

The rebels burnt down shops and gendarmerie offices, stole arms and ammunition. According to AFP, there are frequent cross-border attacks in the area by rebels from Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the last attack in mid-October, five people were reported missing, some 40 houses burnt and cattle stolen.

WEST AFRICA: US envoy tours region

The United States presidential envoy for Africa, Jesse Jackson, arrived in Conakry on Thursday to attend a two-day "peace mission" and summit, AFP reported today, quoting US sources. The Mano River Union summit, which groups Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, would be attended by the leaders of those countries. It would focus on the "shared commitment to stop the fighting and to stop the flow of arms to the region," Jackson said.

Jackson, began a four-nation tour of West Africa on Monday, beginning with Nigeria.

NIGERIA: Oil workers kidnapped in Nigeria

In Nigeria, this week was marked by further unrest in the oil-rich Delta region. Increased militant actions have being undertaken by armed youths, who believe that they have been deprived of the oil-generated wealth reaped by multinational companies in their communities, news organisations reported. Eight Chevron and Texaco oil workers in a speedboat heading for an oil rig in the Delta jointly run by the two oil companies, were kidnapped on Wednesday by armed youths. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom and want the foreign companies to invest more in the local communities, the BBC said.

Ogonis mark activist's execution

Meanwhile, thousands of Ogonis in the Delta region attended a rally in the town of Bori on Monday night to commemorate the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogoni rights activists three years ago, news organisations reported. It was the first time that the executions have been marked publicly. The activists waged a campaign for the protection of their environment.

Shell employees stayed away from work and scores of armed policemen guarded its Lagos headquarters as dozens of placard-carrying demonstrators denounced the environmental damage in the Delta.

Militant youths attack more villages

In an escalation of violence between two rival ethnic groups in the same area, Ijaw youths burnt and looted shops in the villages of Omadino and Obodo of the rival Itsekiri clan near the town of Warri, AFP reported on Monday. Ijaws and Itsekeris have been fighting each other for several months over land ownership and the location of a local government.

US envoy meets with Delta leaders

Meanwhile, Jackson met Delta leaders on Wednesday in a closed-door meeting in Lagos, Nigeria's 'The Guardian' reported. He told them not to "recycle the passions and memories" of the past but to make positive suggestions to resolve the crisis with the government and Shell, the paper said, quoting a source close to the meeting.

Jackson also met the Nigerian leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and presented him a list of Ogoni concerns, AP reported. Jackson did not give details of the meeting but said Abubakar promised to discuss the issues with the Ogonis.

Abubakar says privatisation now on course

Abubakar told an economic conference in the capital, Abuja, on Wednesday that 46 foreign and local investors had indicated interest in eight state-owned firms earmarked for privatisation, Reuters reported.

The investors had been given six weeks in which to undertake their own investigations and submit their bids, he said. The bids would provide the basis of negotiation for 40 percent of the government stake reserved for foreign investors. A 20 percent stake has been set aside for local investors.

Government recovers stolen US $750 million

Nigeria said it had recovered US $750 million of state funds in different currencies from Ismaila Gwarzo, Abacha's former security adviser, media reports said on Wednesday. Reuters, quoting presidential spokesman Mohammed Haruna, said the sum included US $625.2 million and 75.3 million pounds sterling (US$ 125.4 million).

LIBERIA: Treason trial starts

The trial of 32 people, mainly ethnic Krahn supporters of the former Liberian faction leader, Roosevelt Johnson, charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor, opened in Monrovia on Thursday, Reuters reported. Johnson and another former faction leader, Alhaji Kromah, were among those accused of treason, but both would be tried in absentia.

Earlier in the week, Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah, quoted by Reuters, said all the accused could hire lawyers to defend them and the state would provide defence lawyers for those unable to pay for their own.

A political analyst in Monrovia told IRIN that the courts had announced that the trial would be open to the press, but warned them to stick to the facts when reporting. The source said this move was an attempt to give the process greater transparency and "legitimacy", though many of the defendants would not be in the court as they had fled the country.

Johnson was Taylor's main rival during the Liberian civil war. Over 50 people were killed in an outbreak of fighting between security forces and Johnson's supporters in Monrovia in mid-September.

European rights groups urge Taylor to stop intimidation

A consortium of the European Justice and Peace Commissions, in a letter to Taylor, called on the Liberian government to cease harassment and intimidation of human rights advocates, the press and other civil organisations, the Liberian 'The News' reported on Monday. The letter made specific reference to harassment and intimidation of Koffi Woods, the JPC head in Liberia.

In a related development, the JPC in Monrovia issued a statement on Tuesday announcing that Woods had returned to the country after several weeks abroad owing to security concerns. Woods described the allegations linking him to an alleged coup plot as "tragic and irresponsible".

Peace missions to Grand Gedeh and Cote d'Ivoire

Taylor, meanwhile, has sent two missions to investigate "rumours of harassment and intimidation in Grand Gedeh", an area mainly inhabited by the Krahn ethnic group, and to Cote d'Ivoire, host country to a new influx of Krahn refugees, according to yesterday's 'The Inquirer'. Taylor instructed the missions to "reassure the residents of Grand Gedeh county, particularly those of Krahn origin, that the government was duty bound to ensure their safety at all times".

CHAD: Government admits to casualties in DRC

The Chadian minister of defence admitted on Tuesday that two Chadian soldiers died of injuries sustained during an ambush by rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 10 days ago, Radio France Internationale reported. They were among a dozen Chadian soldiers injured in the ambush. However other reports put the death toll much higher.

The Chadian government sent 1,000 soldiers last month to bolster the government of DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila in its battle against rebel fighters.

BURKINA FASO: Presidential campaign slated for Sunday

President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is expected to face little contest in the presidential polls slated for Sunday, 15 November, as the key opposition umbrella coalition, the Groupe de 14 Fevrier, has decided to boycott the elections, media organisations reported. His challengers are Ram Ouedrago, leader of le Parti des verts du Burkina (PVB) and Frederic Fernand Guirma, leader of the Front de refus - Rassemblement democratique African (FR-RDA).

[This update is accompanied by an IRIN special brief on the presidential elections in Burkina Faso. Subscribers who may not have received this report can request it by e-mail to with "burkina faso elections" in the subject line.]

GUINEA BISSAU: Joint peace accord committee named

Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Costa of Guinea Bissau's self-styled Military Junta and a government minister, Malal Sane, have been named to the joint committee that will oversee implementation of the Abuja peace accord signed earlier this month, ending five months of civil war, the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, reported on Thursday.

First aid plane arrives in Bissau

The first plane carrying aid arrived in the Guinea Bissau capital on Monday, news organisations reported. The plane carrying 300 kg medicines sent by the European Union (EU) was the first aid delivery flight into Bissau's rebel-controlled Bissalanca airport since the government and rebels signed a peace agreement on 1 November. The agreement calls for all ports and airports to be re-opened.

In a related development, a Portuguese cargo ship, the "Ponta de Sagres", unloaded around 30 containers of humanitarian aid in Bissau at the weekend, AFP said. The ship had been waiting for months in the port of Praia, capital of Cape Verde, it added.

Access to humanitarian organisations impeded, UN says

Meanwhile, an OCHA report last week said the problem of access by road to Guinea Bissau had been a daily concern for humanitarian aid organisations over the past three weeks. Many humanitarian deliveries had been stopped at Wassadou, in Senegal, near the border with Guinea Bissau. The Missionary news agency, MISNA, also reported that Senegalese troops were blocking roads and obstructing aid deliveries.

OCHA reported, however, that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had received Senegalese government permission to move from Wassadou to Guinea Bissau. MSF had also received authorisation to move 3.5 mt of essential medicines to Cacheu, some 80 km northwestern of Bissau. Approved passage is by air to Banjul, in The Gambia, and onward to Cacheu by small boat.

SAO TOME E PRINCIPE: Ruling party in lead

The ruling party in the twin islands of Sao Tome e Principe has apparently won an absolute majority in last Sunday's legislative elections, news organisations reported. AFP quoted the national election commission chief, Adelino da Costa, as saying that according to early results, the Movimento de Libertacao de Sao Tome e Principe-Partido Social Democrata (MLSTP-PSD), was "leading the vote with 30 deputies" out of a total of 55.

On Tuesday, international election observers described the balloting as "just, free and transparent", the Portuguese Lusa news agency reported.

WEST AFRICA: Ogata urges more international support for Africa

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, said conflicts causing new outflows of refugees or movements of internally displaced persons were on the increase, a UNHCR statement received by IRIN.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday on the protection of humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations, Ogata said that even when political settlements were reached, and problems of displacement resolved through voluntary return, the peace established was "at best described as fragile".

Ogata said that in West Africa, the return of refugees and internally displaced people was essential to building peace. It had to be well planned and supported, however, and must include a reintegration component. She said the Sierra Leone government in particular had to be encouraged to to establish dialogue between the affected communities.

Ogata called for more international support for regional conflict-resolution. The West Africa ECOMOG peacekeeping force required "more substantive" logistical and material support. She added that a well supported and truly multinational ECOMOG was "indispensable" to peace and security in the region.

Abidjan, 13 November 1998, 18:45 gmt


Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 18:50:47 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup No 74 for 1998.11.13

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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