IRIN-West Africa Weekly Round-Up 75 1998.11.20

IRIN-West Africa Weekly Round-Up 75 1998.11.20


Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa

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IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup No 75 of Main Events for West Africa covering the period 13-19 November 1998

SIERRA LEONE: ICRC halts flights after shooting

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Abidjan told IRIN on Thursday it had suspended medical evacuation flights in Sierra Leone after one of its helicopters came under fire on Tuesday. It is unclear who shot at the helicopter which was carrying seven ICRC relief workers and two NGO staffers. Nobody was injured. The ICRC said several bullets hit the helicopter's cockpit, but it was able to continue to Makeni, its destination, and then fly back to Freetown. Makeni is located 140 km northeast of Freetown.

Sierra Leone's resident minister for the Northern Region, Y.M. Kroma, expressed regret over the incident, but said "it would be helpful if relief agencies flying over war zones alerted (the West African peacekeeping force) ECOMOG, of such flights," according to AFP. ICRC said it routinely informed ECOMOG of all its flights.

The report quoted a diplomatic source in Freetown as saying that the incident was "likely a mistake as frequent reports have been coming in of a strange white helicopter similar to the one used by the ICRC delivering arms to rebel forces in the north".

The ICRC told IRIN the incident was being investigated and it would not resume its flights until it had been determined what had happened.

Return of refugees suspended

The UNHCR suspended the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea after an outbreak of meningitis in refugee camps, an official told IRIN on Wednesday. He said several cases of the disease were reported in camps in the prefecture of Gueckedou where most of the 350,000 refugees are camped. Others are in the Forecariah camp, 100 km south of Conakry, the Guinean capital.

Since August, at least 3,500 refugees have been repatriated from Gueckedou to Freetown at the request of the Sierre Leonean government. Before the meningitis outbreak was made public, a UNHCR official told IRIN that a third weekly repatriation flight was likely to be set up this week.

Since August 18,000 refugees have been repatriated. The effort was to have ended on 4 December.

Italian missionary abducted

An Italian Xaverian missionary, Reverend Mario Guerra, was abducted on Sunday in northern Sierra Leone by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, missionary sources said. They said Guerra, 64, who comes from Reggio Emilia, was kidnapped at Kamalu in Makeni diocese. The area is under the control of the West African intervention force (ECOMOG). The force was unable to comment on the abduction.

Rebel leader threatens to destroy the country

A senior rebel leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Sam Bockari, threatened to destroy "every living thing" if anything happened to its leader, Foday Sankoh, AFP reported, quoting the Sierra Leonean daily 'For Di People'. The report quoted Bockari as saying that: "I am ready but I am waiting until something happens to Sankoh" adding that "when I take Freetown, I shall clear every living thing and building". He added that only Sankoh could give orders to stop the mayhem. Sankoh was sentenced to death earlier in the month for treason.

The RUF, whose members have been fighting successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991, rallied around the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which seized power in May 1997 in a coup d'etat. The junta was then toppled in February 1998 by the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, forcing the rebels to flee into the interior. The rebels then launched a campaign dubbed 'Operation Spare No Living Soul' during which they have been maiming civilians, destroying villages and wreaking havoc.

Last Saturday, news organisations reported the rebels had killed 16 people and abducted 50 others in an attack on Kamaporoto, a village near the northern border with Guinea. Following the attack, a UNHCR spokesman told IRIN on Thursday the agency had started moving thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea away from the border to safer settlements inland.

UNHCR Regional Information Officer Khassim Diagne said the first of 9,500 refugees were moved on Wednesday from Tomadou, two km from the border with Sierra Leone, to a site 37.5 km further north.

GUINEA BISSAU: Humanitarian assistance needed

A WFP report said UN agencies had visited Guinea Bissau last week and confirmed that the peace agreement signed in Abuja on 1 November between the warring parties was holding. The mission said the port in the government-controlled area, and the airport in the military junta area were again open. However, the airport only received humanitarian flights. The mission confirmed that there was no famine or starvation in Guinea Bissau.

The mission visited the towns of Cumura, Prabis, and Safim on the outskirts of the capital, Bissau, where most displaced people have sought refuge. In Cumura, 25,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), supported by the Catholic mission staff, were in camps without proper shelter. It noted, however, that many of these persons had been hosted by local communities in smaller towns or rural areas.

The report confirmed that an estimated 350,000 people needed humanitarian assistance but added that 100,000 IDPs could survive on crops from a recent harvest. Another 100,000 people were living in small towns across the country and urgently needed assistance.

The Guinea Bissau National Commission of Humanitarian Assistance chaired by the ministry of health has asked WFP to provide food to 181,000 war-affected people in the towns of Gabu, Bafata, Oio and Cacheu, the report added. It said it was extremely difficult to register the displaced people because of their frequent movements.

ECOMOG troops not ready - commander

ECOMOG General Timothy Shelpidi said the peacekeeping force's troops were not yet ready to deploy in Guinea Bissau citing financial constraints. AFP quoted Shelpidi as saying at a press conference "we are not like the US which can deploy troops within 24 hours". He was speaking after a three-day reconnaissance mission in Guinea Bissau. ECOMOG troops are expected to replace the Senegalese and Guinean troops according to Abuja peace accords.

NIGERIA: Oil workers released

A spokesman for the oil company, Texaco, in London told IRIN on Tuesday that eight of its workers, who had been taken hostage, last week by a group of militant youths had been released unharmed. The spokesman said the oil workers appeared to have been treated well adding that no ransom had been paid to the kidnappers.

He added that discussions between the Nigerian government, the local communities and Texaco were on-going in an attempt to avoid further incidents and were looking at how to address some of the demands laid down by host communities. They are demanding for amenities, infrastructure and community-based projects.

The spokesman added that Texaco had lost an entire month's production in 1998 following acts of sabotage and other incidents.

The eight, who include seven expatriates and one Nigerian, were taken off an oil rig by youths from the ethnic Ijaw community demanding a greater share of the oil wealth produced in the delta.

Militant Ijaw groups have been taking action against oil companies in protest against environmental damage and lack of amenities.

Security beefed up at Warri air strip

Security was strengthened at the Warri air strip in southeastern Nigeria following the hijack of a helicopter by a group of youths, believed to be mainly Ijaws, who allegedly made away with huge sums of money, the Nigerian daily 'The Guardian' reported.

Armed mobile police detachments were seen last weekend at the entrances of the departure and arrival terminals of the air strip. The beefing up of security in the oil-town of Warri follows Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar's decision to improve security in the troubled Niger Delta.

UN rights envoy to visit Nigeria

The United Nations announced that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Nigeria, Soli Sorabjee, was expected in the country on 22 November. The previous hardline government refused several requests for a visit.

Sorabjee, a prominent legal Indian expert, said in a report issued last month that human rights violations continued in Nigeria, though there had been a marked improvement since General Abdulsalami Abubakar had taken power. He added that the Nigerian legal system did not provide effective protection of human rights.

General Abubakar approved the nine-day trip to Lagos which will include trips to four cities in Nigeria, including Abuja and Lagos. Sorajbee's request to visit the country had been turned down several times by the then military hardline ruler, General Sani Abacha.

MAURITANIA: Award to anti-slavery activist

The London-based human rights group, Anti-Slavery International, presented an annual anti-slavery award to a Mauritanian human rights activist, Cheik Saad Bouk Kamara, in London. Kamara has been active in advocating the eradication of slavery in Mauritania where both indigenous populations, Arab and Black Africans, hold slaves.

Kamara told BBC radio in an interview that "slavery is not a thing of the past but is very much alive in Mauritania" and called for an investigation into the problem. He said he had no precise figures but added that thousands of people, mainly women and children, worked without pay and were unable to marry without their master's permission. Slavery has existed in Mauritania for many decades.

Kamara was imprisoned earlier this year because his human rights group, the Mauritanian Human Rights Association, had produced a documentary on slavery in Mauritania.

Slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania for the fourth time in 1981 and the government says the practice no longer exists.

SENEGAL: Rights body says 80 percent of Casamance mined

Anti-personnel mines planted south of the Casamance river in southern Senegal have made 80 percent of the land unusable and killed scores of people in the year to August 1998, an official of a local human rights organisation told IRIN.

Alieu Tine, who heads the Rencontre africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme (RADDHO) in Dakar, capital of Senegal, said 200 localities in the region had become "ghost villages" since 1998 because of mines.

In addition, 120,000 people had become refugees or internally displaced people (IDP) because of the 15-year civil war in the area. The separatist Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) has been fighting the Senegalese army in Casamance for independence of the agricultural area.

Senegal has ratified the Ottawa Convention banning the use of antipersonnel mines and Tine said he hoped to get the MFDC also to stop using them.

LIBERIA: UN extends mandate of Peace-building office

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has announced that the UN peace-building support office in Liberia (UNOL) would continue to function in Monrovia until the end of 1999 in view of its positive role in consolidating peace in the country.

A UN press release said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, Felix Downes-Thomas, had been active in efforts to reduce tensions between Liberia and some of its neighbours as well as those which have arisen between the Liberian government and ECOMOG.

It added that it continued to be involved in efforts to promote reconciliation clashes between government security forces and supporters of Roosevelt Johnson, a former wartime faction leader, in Monrovia in mid-September. More than 50 people were killed in the fighting.

ICRC visits detainees

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced in a statement received by IRIN this week that its delegates had visited people arrested in connection with the September clashes in Monrovia and held the city's central and military prisons to assess general conditions of detention.

In the military prison, the ICRC delegates said water supply, sanitation and waste disposal needed improving. The ICRC intends to provide blankets, personal hygiene items and water containers for the newly registered prisoners.

BURKINA FASO: Incumbent heads for election landslide

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, seeking a second seven-year term, won 87.53 percent of the votes in weekend elections, according to provisional results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The commission said on Wednesday 56.08 percent of the 4.2 million eligible voters cast their ballots. Compaore, 47, was opposed by Ram Ouedraogo, leader of le Parti des verts du Burkina (PVB), and by Frederic Guirma of the Front de refus-Rassemblement democratique African (FR-RDA). Ouedraogo won 6.61 percent of the votes and Guirma 5.86. The results have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The main opposition parties boycotted the elections saying the electoral commission was pro-government. They also boycotted the elections in 1991, when Compaore won unopposed on a voter turnout of 25 percent.

Abidjan 20 November 15:00 GMT


Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 15:42:02 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly Round-Up 75 1998.11.20 Message-Id: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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