IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup no. 80 for 1998.12.24

IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup no. 80 for 1998.12.24


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

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IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup No 80 of Main Events for West Africa covering the period 18-23 December 1998

SIERRA LEONE: Tension grows in Freetown as fighting nears capital

Tension grew through the week in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown as military operations against rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forces moved closer and people fleeing the fighting headed for the capital.

On Wednesday ECOMOG artillery pounded hills overlooking the capital after security forces received what turned out to be false reports that rebels were in the area, Information Minister Julius Spencer said on state radio. AFP reported that ECOMOG had set up checkpoints throughout the city and a humanitarian source told IRIN government security officials were scouring the city for rebels and arms, searching hotels including the top Cape Sierra hotel. ECOMOG could not be immediately reached for comment.

The source said Freetown residents were anxious and the atmosphere was tense, especially in the heavily populated eastern section. Thousands of IDPs and Liberian refugees in a camp at Waterloo, 30 km south of Freetown, had fled following a rebel attack and some had reached Freetown. An ECOMOG source told IRIN on Tuesday that ECOMOG forces were still in control in Waterloo, contradicting reports that the rebels and military renegades had forced their way into the town centre. The source, speaking from Freetown, said the capital was also safe, despite the rebel presence nearby. AFP reported that police and security forces were put on full alert on Monday to prevent rebel infiltration during the Christmas season. ECOMOG announced on Sunday an expanded curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (22:00-06:00 GMT) for Freetown. The ECOMOG source described this as a precautionary measure..

ECOMOG sources in Freetown confirmed the presence of white mercenaries during an attack on the diamond town of Koidu on Saturday in which rebels took the northern part of the town. Missionary sources said the mercenaries were "supposedly from the Ukraine" but ECOMOG said their nationality was not known. One source said the rebels were using women and children as shields during attacks. ECOMOG has asked civilians to leave the town. Reuters, quoting aid workers, said at least 10,000 people had reached Makeni 160 km west of Koidu, since Friday. An official with the UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Unit (HACU) in Freetown told IRIN that "large numbers" of people were leaving Koidu for Makeni. The official said the people appeared in a harrowing state after walking for days. Missionaries evacuate Makeni for first time

Elderly Xaverian missionaries in the Roman Catholic diocese of Makeni have been evacuated as a precaution, missionary sources said on Wednesday. However, younger missionaries and the local clergy are to remain in the administrative centre together with the bishop of the area, Monsignor Biguzzi.

Sanctions ineffective in Sierra Leone, UN envoy says

Sanctions are not being effectively implemented in Sierra Leone and the humanitarian situation there continues to worsen, the Chairman of the Security Council Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, Swedish Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, told the Council on Friday. Reporting on a four-day mission to the country and Liberia, he said it was hard to find words strong enough to describe the atrocities committed by rebel forces. They had cut off body parts of victims with large knives and burned alive men, women and children, he said according to a UN press release.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) by a further six months to 13 July 1999. In his third report to the UN Security Council on the work of UNOMSIL, Annan condemned rebel atrocities against ordinary people. "The enormity of the human rights abuses the rebels have perpetrated on the people of Sierra Leone and the large scope of human rights tasks to be performed have underlined the need for a strong human rights component" in UNOMSIL, he said, and the number of human rights officers in the provinces would be doubled to 10.

The full press release on the Security Council meeting can be found on the Reliefweb website at http:\\

Liberia closes border with Sierra Leone

Liberia closed its border with Sierra Leone at the beginning of the week and deployed army units to forestall a possible spill-over of the fighting, Presidential Press Secretary Reginald Goodridge said in a statement.

GUINEA: Official probe into Conde's arrest

The Guinean government announced on Tuesday that it was opening an investigation into the arrest of opposition leader Alpha Conde who was detained last week. Police accuse him of trying to cross the border into Ivory Coast at a time when the border was closed due to the presidential elections. According to the French radio station RFI the government said Conde, the leader of the Rassemblement du peuple de la Guinee (RPG), would remain under house arrest in safe conditions.

Conde's arrest sparked protests in the capital, Conakry, and elsewhere. At least two people were killed during a demonstration in Sigiuri, near the Malian border, news organisations reported on Monday. AFP said dozens of people were detained by security forces in pro-opposition districts of Conakry while they were preparing to hold a protest march. It said there were also clashes on Saturday at Mamou in central Guinea between security forces and demonstrators challenging the results of the poll.

Thierno Diallo, editor-in-chief of the weekly `Le Lynx' in Conakry told IRIN on Tuesday that protests took place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital and other parts of the country. He said 20 women were arrested on Tuesday when a group embarked on a protest in the nude in the outskirts of Conakry. It is unclear whether they have been released. He added that many markets and shops were closed in Conakry because owners feared looting. Diallo said the situation was fairly tense in the capital and joint police and military units continued to patrol the streets. In the north-eastern towns of Kankan and Siguiri, there had been several demonstrations and an unconfirmed number of people were killed in clashes with the police.

Conde came third in the 14 December presidential elections, which the opposition said were rigged. Outgoing President Lansana Conte was re-elected for a second five-year term with 56.12 percent of the vote.

MAURITANIA: Four politicians held in Boumdeit

Three opposition politicians of l'Union des forces democratiques are being held in Boumdeit, a remote area 500 km east of Nouackhott, the Mauritanian capital. Human rights sources in Mauritania told IRIN on Wednesday that the fate of the three men was likely to be decided at a ministerial council, which meets weekly. They have not been charged. The three, Ahmed Ould Daddah, Mohameden Ould Babah and Mohameden Ould Icheddou, were arrested on 16 December for saying at a mass rally that the government wanted to accept Israeli nuclear waste for dumping.

Lawyers in Nouakchott have gone on strike demanding the release of Icheddou, who is a lawyer, the sources said. The sources said the men had been denied access to their lawyers and family and Amnesty International said in a statement yesterday it feared the men risked ill-treatment because they were being held in an unofficial place of detention.

UNITED NATIONS: Security Council calls for unity government in Guinea Bissau

On Monday, the Security Council called on the rival parties in Guinea-Bissau to form a government of national unity and to hold elections not later than the end of March 1999. The Council unanimously adopted resolution 1216 (1998) calling for the full implementation of the agreements between the government of Guinea-Bissau and the military junta signed in August, November and December, the UN said in a press release. The agreements provide for respect for the ceasefire, the immediate opening of the airport and seaport in Bissau, the withdrawal of all foreign troops in the country and the simultaneous deployment of the interposition force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Military Observer Group (ECOMOG).

The Council also called on all concerned, including the Government and the junta, to ensure safe and unimpeded access by international organisations to people who need help because of the conflict.

The full text of the press release has moved on the IRIN-Extra service.

NIGERIA: Britain links further investment to democracy

Britain is withholding further investment in the Nigerian economy until the political transition process is concluded and financial constraints removed, news agencies reported last Thursday. British Trade Minister Brian Wilson, the head of a visiting British trade delegation to Nigeria, said prospective investors had been directed to await the conclusions of the current democratisation process before taking action, the Nigerian daily paper 'The Guardian' said. But the British government still had confidence in the Nigerian economy. It quoted Wilson as saying that the eradication of corruption and the scrapping of the dual exchange rate, the servicing of the debt and flexible government economic policies would boost Nigerian credibility.

Petrol prices double

Petrol prices in Nigeria more than doubled on Monday, the first increase in four years, news organisations reported. Paraffin, diesel and aviation fuel also leapt in price. Last week, the military government said it would no longer fix fuel prices and would allow the market to set the level. Despite being Africa's biggest oil producing state, fuel shortages have severely affected the market.

Hospitals discharge patients as doctors' strike continues

As a doctors' strike entered its second week, government hospitals in Nigeria have been turning away new patients while providing a minimum service for the critically ill, a medical source in Lagos told IRIN on Tuesday. At the Lagos hospital, patients were discharged in droves, according to the Nigerian daily 'The Guardian'. The secretary of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) in the eastern town of Port Harcourt, Charles Ngeribara, was quoted as saying: "Every doctor below the rank of consultant is on strike. The casualty ward, labour, children and emergency wards are empty." In the southeastern city of Benin, people have started moving their sick relatives to private hospitals. The doctors are demanding better pay and working conditions.

CHAD: Chad denies attacks in north

Chad's Ministry of Communications denied on Tuesday reports of armed attacks in the north of the country by the Mouvement pour la democratie et la justice au Tchad (MDJT). A ministry official told IRIN there had been no instability in the north. But diplomatic sources have told IRIN there had been sporadic attacks in the north. The MDJT said in communique, published on Saturday in Paris by AFP, that its attacks against government forces started in October in Tibesti, in the north, and that 100 government soldiers had been killed, 12 captured and weapons seized.

LIBERIA: Commission calls for 6,000-man multi-ethnic army

A government commission on restructuring the Liberian army has said a census needs to be taken of the the military to determine who should be demobilised or retired, independent Star Radio reported last weekend. Blamo Nelson, who heads the 24-member commission set up in May, recommended a 6,000-man army. The commission recommends that the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which disintegrated during the civil war because it was dominated by one ethnic group - the Krahn of late President Samuel Doe, should be reformed by establishing recruitment centres across the country, to ensure a more even ethnic balance.

Under the Abuja peace accord that ended seven years of civil war in Liberia, the West African Intervention force ECOMOG was supposed to build and train a new national army, based on an even ethnic representation. But Liberia said only the government could determine the make-up and training of its military.

SENEGAL: Senegal approves draft law to ban female circumcision

Senegal's Council of Ministers has approved a draft law to ban female circumcision which affects 700,000 women in the country, UNICEF officials told IRIN on Wednesday. A petition advocating the ban was brought before the council by village women fighting to end the age-old practice. The draft has to be approved by the National Assembly before becoming law. Under the draft law, people engaging in female circumcision - the removal of the clitoris and sometimes the labia - could be imprisoned for five years.

UNITED NATIONS: WHO issues tuberculosis guidelines

The World Health Organisation has issued guidelines on how to reduce the risk of transmission of tuberculosis during air travel, the United Nations said in a statement received by IRIN on Friday. The guidelines recommend tracing and informing passengers and crew members of an infectious person on board a commercial flight of more than eight hours. An executive summary of the report is available on the IRIN-West Africa-Extra service and the full report on the WHO website at:

MALI: World Bank approves US $40 million for health programme

The World Bank said on Monday it has approved funding of US $40 million for a Health Sector Development Programme in Mali to expand the availability of affordable, quality health care, with a special focus on primary health. This will include preventive, social, and curative services with emphasis on maternity care, integrated management of childhood illnesses, family planning, and nutrition, the World Bank said in a statement.

The US $227 million Health Sector Development Programme will be financed by a US $40 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's lending arm for the poorest countries. The IDA credit is on standard terms of 40 years maturity, including 10 years grace. Other financiers include UNFPA, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and several bilateral donors. The balance of the programme will be financed by the government.

SIERRA LEONE: Polio vaccination successful

A two-day campaign which began Saturday to vaccinate 500,000 children under five years old has ended successfully, the WHO in Freetown told IRIN on Tuesday although vaccinations could not take place in the north of the country because of rebel activity.

WEST AFRICA: IFRC launches US $157 million appeal

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has appealed for 207.5 million Swiss francs (about US $152.7 million) in 1999 for 23.5 million people in 60 countries needing humanitarian help, the Geneva-based body said in a statement received by IRIN on Wednesday . Of this amount 13.2 million Swiss francs (US $9.7 million) would fund the repatriation and resettlement of 1.8 million Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

AFRICA: Food situation improved in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO says

Sub-Saharan Africa can look forward to a generally improved food supply situation, according to a special UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report released in Johannesburg. A press release on the report received by IRIN on Tuesday says the improvement reflects "substantial increases in food production in several areas, particularly western Africa where above average to record harvests are anticipated in several Sahelian countries."

"As a result, the sub-region's cereal import requirements are anticipated to be lower than last year," the FAO said.

The FAO report, 'Food supply situation and crop prospects in sub-Saharan Africa', said that in western Africa, "a bumper crop is anticipated in Sahel, with record harvests in the main producing countries of the region". Harvest prospects are said to be generally favourable in Benin, Nigeria and Togo, but less favorable in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. Liberia and Sierra Leone remain heavily dependent on international food assistance, despite some improvement in food production.

In Liberia, despite improved security and favourable weather conditions, the 1998 cereal output is only expected to be close to last year's because of a severe seed shortage. FAO forecasts record crops in Chad, Mali and Niger, with above-average output in The Gambia and about average in Burkina Faso and Senegal. The report foresees below average output in Cape Verde and Mauritania. The full report is available on the FAO web site at: and a copy of the press release is on the IRIN-Extra service.

SAHEL: Bumper crops expected in Sahel

In a separate report confined to the Sahelian countries, FAO/GIEWS said a bumper crop was anticipated in the region. A summary of the report, 'Preliminary Assessment of 1998 cereal production in Western Africa' was received by IRIN on Tuesday. The report, covering the findings of joint FAO/CILSS Crop Assessment Missions in the Sahel, estimates the 1998 aggregate cereal production of the nine CILSS countries at a record 10.6 million mt, 31 percent higher than in 1997 and 17 percent above the average of the last five years.

The full report can be consulted at the following address: then click on "Sahel Weather and Crop Situation" and "Final report". The summary is available on the IRIN-Extra service.

GUINEA BISSAU: Food aid needed in Guinea Bissau, report says

A joint OCHA, FAO, Association Francaise des Volontaires du Progres (AFVP) report received by IRIN on Monday says Guinea Bissau is unlikely to have a good harvest this year and there are some areas of very bad crops throughout the country. The report says that in a normal year the country only produces enough cereals to cover 69 percent of its needs, which means it imports 64,000 mt of rice on average each year. "A deficit (this year) can therefore be foreseen and the need for food aid should be established in relation to the level of the harvest, the recovery of the rural economy and the imports guaranteed in the framework of the 1999 cashew nuts campaign," the report says.

Abidjan, 24 December 1998


Date: Thu, 24 Dec 1998 12:28:48 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup no. 80 for 1998.12.24

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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