IRIN-WA Update 506 for 13 July [19990714]

IRIN-WA Update 506 for 13 July [19990714]

IRIN-WA Update 506 of events in West Africa (Tuesday 13 July 1999)

GUINEA BISSAU: Refugees begin trip home

A first group of 186 Guinea Bissau refugees left Dakar on Monday for their home country on board the UNHCR-chartered Cape Verdian motor vessel Djon Dade, the UN agency reported.

The returnees were escorted by a UNHCR official, a doctor, a nurse and others. The British aid group OXFAM provided three hot meals a person for the 24-hour journey home and, before boarding the ship, each received a survival pack, a gift from the Senegalese government, and a stipend from the UNHCR.

"The success of this operation is due to the joint efforts of the two governments - Senegalese and Guinea Bissau - the UNHCR as well as the number of Senegalese well-wishers who have given aid spontaneously for almost one year," Osseni Fassassi, UNHCR regional delegate in Dakar, said.

Hundreds of people died in Guinea Bissau's nine-month civil war which ended on 7 May. Some 400,000 others were internally displaced and 5,000 sought refuge in other countries, including 900 in Senegal, 1,800 in Guinea, 720 in The Gambia and 600 in Cape Verde.

More POWs released

Guinea Bissau's Military Junta, which won the civil war, has handed over some 328 prisoners of war to the interim civilian authorities in a ceremony witnessed by government officials and diplomats, Lusa reported on Monday.

Other recent developments include the adoption of a draft constitution by the national assembly on 7 July. The constitution, which has to be approved by the president, limits top state posts such as the presidency to people whose parents are/were from Guinea Bissau, humanitarian sources and media organisations said.

It also limits presidents to two terms in office and abolishes the death penalty, they said.

West Africa: UNDP report - Five countries in last 10

West African states are among the lowest ranking countries in this year's edition of the United Nations report on human development, which was released on Monday.

The report ranks 174 countries according to quality-of-life indicators such as income, health, education, life expectancy and literacy.

Half of the 10 countries with the lowest development scores are in West Africa. Sierra Leone ranks 174th, preceded by Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau and Mali. The other five are Ethiopia, Burundi, Mozambique, Eritrea and Central African Republic.

The next 12 lowest-ranking countries include The Gambia (163th), Chad (162), Guinea (161), Benin (155), Cote d'Ivoire (154) and Senegal (153). Nigeria, the regional giant, ranks 146th.

The report, the 10th in a series commissioned by the UN Development Programme, says the human elements have been left out of a narrow, financially-based view of globalisation. Markets have been allowed to dominate the process and the benefits and opportunities have not been shared equitably.

The result is a "grotesque" and dangerous polarisation between people and countries. The top fifth of the world's population in the highest income countries has 86 percent of global gross domestic product, 82 percent of the world's export markets and 74 percent of telephones. The bottom fifth in the poorest countries has just 1 percent in each category.

AFRICA-OAU Summit: Focusing on conflict's effects

Conflict, the link between peace and development, and the debt burden were among the issues international and African officials addressed on at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Algiers, which began on Monday.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that there were positive developments in Africa, such as the Sierra Leone peace agreement and Nigeria's return to civilian rule, but that deadly conflicts persisted.

He said there had also been deviations in the Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Niger "from the principle that the will of the people must be the basis of authority in Africa and that governments, duly elected, should not be overthrown by force".

Unless conflicts are curbed, Annan said, "Africa will not attract the private investment and official development it so badly needs, nor will it liberate the creative and entrepreneurial energies of its people".

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata said "peace and development were the only hope for resolving the continent's refugee crisis", a direct result of the conflicts.

UNCHR reported on Tuesday that in discussions with the presidents of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia, Ogata urged the leaders to renew their commitment to Africa's refugees and displaced people.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria told the summit, which ends on Wednesday, that there was need for a comprehensive process of managing Africa's conflict.

Relieving the debt burden, which rose in sub-Saharan Africa from US $60.9 billion in 1980 to US $219 billion in 1997, held the key to the continent's survival in the 21st century, he said.

"Today, every man, woman or child owes US $357," he said, referring to sub-Saharan Africa's per-capita debt.

NIGERIA: Shell employees freed

Three Shell employees taken hostage on 1 July were freed on Sunday, a spokesperson for Royal Dutch/Shell told IRIN on Tuesday.

The three, a Nigerian, a Briton and a US national were released "unharmed" although they were all undergoing medical checks, the official said.

However, two pilots of Bristol Helicopters working on contract for Shell and abducted two weeks ago had still not yet been released, the Shell spokesperson said.

Foreign oil firms operating in the Niger Delta have been targeted by protesting local youths wanting a greater share of the region's oil wealth and more say in local government. Their protests often involve sabotaging oil operations and kidnapping oil workers.

[See Item titled 'NIGERIA: IRIN Background report on kidnappings']

Shell "force majeure" in force until end of July

Meanwhile Shell told IRIN that its "force majeure," announced last Friday, will remain in force until the end of July.

"The production in our fields is affected because of community disturbances and a force majeure was called because of loss of production," Shell said. A declaration of "force majeure" is made when a company is unable to provide material agreed for sale for reasons beyond its control.

Cholera outbreak subsides in Enugu

A cholera outbreak that caused 31 deaths in the eastern Nigerian state of Enugu is subsiding, an official of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, Edugie Abebe, told IRIN on Tuesday. She said 252 cases were reported since the outbreak early June. "Cholera is endemic in Nigeria and the country has many epidemics," she said.

These occur during the rainy season when streams and rivers often flood.Cholera was also reported in April in the northern states of Kwara and Bauchi, AFP reported on Sunday.

State to sell shares in banks, cement and oil groups

By December, Nigeria will sell off its remaining stake in state owned banks, cement companies and oil-marketing groups quoted on the Lagos Stock Exchange, news organisations reported on Monday.

Vice President Atiku Abubakar, speaking at a presidential committee on reviving the economy, said the sale of the stakes in banks, cement company and oil marketing firms should be seen as a demonstration of the government's commitment to free market reforms, Reuters reported.

Abubakar said privatisation was a key element of the government's economic policy aimed at improving government finance and strengthening the economy, AFP reported. It added that among groups expected to be sold were the oil-marketing group African Petroleum, which operates service stations across the country, and Nigeria's largest cement manufacturers, WA Portland.

Doubts have been raised over the commitment to privatisation of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, according to Reuters, has often implied that state firms would work if better managed.

Nigerian officials said a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was due shortly in Nigeria for the first time since the end of military rule, Reuters reported.

A staff-monitored programme agreed by the IMF with the former military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, is effectively dead, after his administration failed to meet targets on privatisation and overspent in its last days, it added.

Police to recruit 10,000

Police authorities plan to admit some 10,000 recruits into police colleges before the end of the year, 'The Guardian' said.

Some 2,000 of the 4,000 now in training are expected to pass out and join the police workforce at that time, the newspaper said, adding that fewer than 500 have been paid salaries since January when police resumed recruitment after a four-year break.

The police owe recruits enlisted in January, April, May and June some five million naira (nearly US$50,000) and need about the same amount to provide basic facilities and logistics for more recruits, 'The Guardian' said.

The inspector general of police told commandants of police colleges last weekend to provide details of their needs to the authorities so that the Presidency and the Police Affairs Ministry can provide money for such items before the next recruitment, the newspaper reported.

Assistant Superintendent Paddy Ogon, spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, told reporters that the recruiting drive was an indication of the new administration's determination to meet the challenges facing the force under civilian rule.

Abidjan, 13 July 1999; 18:20 GMT


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Item: irin-english-1220

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

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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