IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 65, 98.9.11

IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 65, 98.9.11

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

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IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup of Main Events 65 for West Africa covering the period (Friday-Thursday) 4 - 10 September 1998

NIGERIA: Release of 20 Ogoni rights activists confirmed

Nigerian security forces released 20 human rights activists of the ethnic Ogoni people held without trial since 1994 in southeastern Nigeria, news organisations reported on Tuesday. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), in a statement, said it had received confirmation of the unconditional release of all the Ogoni detainees.

The Ogoni human rights activists were arrested under the orders of the former Nigerian leader, General Sani Abacha, and charged in 1994 with murdering four pro-government Ogoni chiefs. The Ogoni activist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight collegues were subsequently executed for the murder of a pro-government chief in 1995.

MOSOP campaigned against alleged pollution of lands in the southeastern Niger Delta belonging to the Ogoni people by the Anglo-Dutch Shell oil company, news agencies reported.

US and Britain welcome release of Ogoni activists

The release of the Ogoni activists was welcomed by the US and British governments. AFP quoted British Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd as saying the releases were a "further sign" that the new Nigerian leadership was "serious about human rights and the rule of law".

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington welcomed the continuous efforts by the Nigerian government to correct errors of the past.

Government appeals to exiles to return, political prisoners all free Meanwhile, the new military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, told a news conference on Monday that all Nigerian exiles were free to return home. Nigerian television quoted him as saying he wanted to "reiterate our call on those Nigerians who are currently in self-exile to return and join in our efforts towards democratisation and the economic renaissance of our country". He said he had withdrawn a prosecution order issued against Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

Abubakar also said there were no longer any political prisoners in Nigerian jails, AFP reported on Tuesday. Citing a report by the privately owned Nigerian newspaper, 'The Guardian', the agency quoted Abubakar as saying that only people convicted of economic crimes were still in detention. Some 163 bank executives were jailed four years ago by the Abacha administration.

Government probes former regime

The Nigerian government had launched an investigation into widespread theft of public funds by officials under the former military government, media reports said on Monday. The BBC said it is believed that hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen by officials of Abacha's administration.

Nigeria's new military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, was quoted as saying an investigation into public accounts had already uncovered large sums of money.

Abacha's national security adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo, was reportedly arrested in August and forced to repay US$ 250 million he had allegedly stolen. Abubakar said that others under investigation had also repaid funds, which were now being kept in a special Central Bank account.

Obasanjo enters presidential race

Former Nigerian military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo decided to run for the presidency despite earlier and frequent vows that he would not do so, news organisations reported on Sunday. According reports in the 'Sunday Punch' and 'The Sunday Tribune', Obasanjo had always maintained that he had "no appetite" for the presidential race scheduled for 27 February, 1999. But the BBC quoted the papers as saying he would not be able resist popular pressure on him to contest the presidency. Obasanjo, the nation's head of state from 1976-79, is the only Nigerian military ruler to have restored power to an elected civilian government. He was imprisoned by Abacha, for allegedly planning a coup in 1995 and was released after Abacha's sudden death on 8 June.

Second political party emerges

The formation of a second big political party, the All People's Party (APP), to contest the elections next year to end military rule was announced on Wednesday night, Reuters reported. The APP is made up of 34 smaller associations, including the southwestern Afenifere group, supporters of the late Moshood Abiola, presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections.

Bola Ige, a Afenifere politician, withdrew from the APP party on Wednesday on grounds that they were "personality differences" between him and other leaders. AFP said Ige's departure was a setback for the party. Meanwhile, the registration deadline for Nigerian political associations wishing to contest next year's elections expired on Wednesday, AFP reported. Twenty-five political parties have applied for registration, according to Nigerian radio.

SIERRA LEONE: Rebels attack northern town

Sierra Leonean rebels attacked the northern town of Kamalu on Tuesday, killing scores of civilians and injuring others, media reports said. AFP quoted missionaries in the area as saying Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters and forces loyal to the ousted Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) had descended on Kamalu, some 160 km north of the capital, Freetown, early in the morning and killed about 50 people with machetes. However, the news agency said casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, troops from the Nigerian-led West African intervention force in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG, had arrived on the scene to launch a hunt for the attackers, missionaries said.

ECOMOG has been carrying out a protracted bush war against the RUF and AFRC in northern and eastern Sierra Leone since it forced the two rebel groups out of Freetown in February.

Rebel leader Sankoh on trial

The leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, appeared in a Freetown magistrate's court last week Friday charged with eight counts of treason, news organisations reported.

In counts carrying the death sentence, he was charged with trying to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone between 1 January 1997 and 13 February 1998. He was also accused of usurping the executive power of the state, soliciting funds and military logistics for use by forces hostile to Sierra Leone. In addition he was accused of having invaded Sierra Leone.

The magistrate, Patrick Hamilton, took no plea from Sankoh and adjourned the case till 11 September. Sankoh is accused of maiming and killing thousands of fellow countrymen over the past seven years. He was arrested in Nigeria and detained early in 1997, allegedly for the illegal possession of weapons.

Treason case civilians appeal death sentences

Meanwhile, 16 civilians, sentenced to death last month by Sierra Leone's high court for colluding with the AFRC appealed against their sentences, AFP reported on Wednesday. They included a former AFRC spokesman, Allieu Kamara, a former presenter on the BBC's Africa Service, Hilton Fyle, the former head of state radio, Gipu Felix-George, and Olivia Mensah, a woman broadcaster who gave birth in prison a month ago.

Sierra Leone's state prosecutor, Soloman Berewa, was quoted as telling journalists that a date for the appeals to be heard had not been set.

New army recruitment policy

Sierra Leone's government will recruit men and women from every province, district and chiefdom to strike a "geopolitical balance" within the country's reconstituted defence force, AFP reported on Monday. The news agency cited unnamed sources at Sierra Leone's defence headquarters as saying that recruitment would be on a quota system. New recruits would have to be between 18 and 25 years old, well educated and in good health.

ICRC to fly aid up-country

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IRIN on Wednesday that it would start helicopter flights to bring medical assistance and humanitarian aid to civilians in inaccessible areas over the next three months. The flights would allow the ICRC to reach a greater number of victims and civilians forced to hide in the bush following rebel attacks. Sunsequently, the source said, needs assessments would be carried out by helicopter to ascertain and fill the gaps in existing humanitarian programmes.

WFP appeals for funds

The World Food Programme (WFP) is seeking US$ 9.7 million to purchase emergency food aid for 200,000 Sierra Leoneans who had fled rebel attacks in the east of their country to Guinea since March. In a statement on Tuesday, WFP said Sierra Leonean refugees were arriving in Guinea suffering from exhaustion, malnutrition and disease and were in urgent need of food, shelter, health care and sanitation facilities. Heavy rains had transformed the roads in Guinea into "mud baths", sometimes forcing it to halt food deliveries to refugee camps.

GUINEA BISSAU: Talks to start in Abidjan on 15 September

Delegations from Guinea Bissau's government and army rebels were expected to meet in the economic capital of Cote d'Ivoire, Abidjan, on 15 September to continue talks started last month to find a peaceful solution to the four-month civil war, media reports said. AFP said the meeting would discuss an agenda for final peace talks and setting up an armed ceasefire observer group.

A mutiny broke out on 7 June, when the president of Guinea Bissau, Joao Bernardo Vieira, sacked his armed forces chief of staff, General Ansumane Mane, on charges of gun smuggling to the neighbouring separatist province of Casamance in Senegal.

Opposition wants seat at talks

Meanwhile, leaders of three opposition parties in Guinea Bissau, the Resistencia da Guine Bissau/Movimento Bafata (RGM/MB), the Partido da Renovacao (PRS) and the Uniao para a Mudanca (UM), said they wanted to be represented at the peace talks scheduled in Abidjan, news organisations reported last week.

LIBERIA: Army chief orders checkpoints removed

Liberia's armed forces chief of staff has ordered military checkpoints from the seven-year civil war removed in what analysts told IRIN today was an important step in building post-conflict confidence. The Monrovia-based independent Star Radio reported that General Prince Johnson had removed several checkpoints across Liberia in Bomi, Cape Mount, Lofa, and Nimba Counties after an assessment tour of the area, and ordered the dismantling of all other "war-time" controls in other counties.

Government fines independent radio

Authorities in Liberia have fined Monrovia's independent Star Radio US$2,000 for allegedly employing expatriate staff without valid work permits, AFP reported on Thursday. The news agency said Liberia's ministry of labour had given Star Radio's British chief of radio, George Bennett, and its American head of administration, Jeanette Carter, 24 hours to each pay US$ 500 in amends.. Star Radio itself was levied with a US$ 1,000 fine.

Star Radio, run by the Swiss-based Fondation Hirondelle, started broadcasting in Liberia in July 1997.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Death sentences commuted

The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, announced on Tuesday that he would not execute 15 people sentenced to death by a military tribunal over alleged separatist attacks on the main island of Bioko. Several members of the security forces were killed during the attack in January. The 15 were among a group of 113 accused of belonging to the outlawed Movimiento para la Autodeterminacion de la Isla de Bioko (MAIB), which supports the separatist aspirations of Bioko's indigenous Bubi population. The others were given gaol terms ranging from six to 24 years.

GUINEA: State asks for death sentences for mutineers

The Guinean government has asked for death sentences to be handed down for five murder suspects being tried for their part in a 1996 mutiny over army pay and conditions, which turned into a coup attempt, AFP reported. It quoted Guinea's public affairs minister as saying that four of the accused, who were all junior special forces officers and sergeants at the time of the mutiny, had killed their superior officer, Colonel Seny Bangoura, who commanded the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp. AFP said the state also asked for sentences of between five and 20 years for some 32 other officers and men accused of treason. The minister asked for leniency from the court for eight other officers, including Colonel Mohamed Lamine Traore, the former director of the defence minister's military staff, Abdouramane Kaba, the chief of staff of the gendarmerie, and the navy's former chief of staff, Sekou Camara.

BURKINA FASO: Campaore seeks second seven-year term

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore is to seek a second seven-year term in the nation's November presidential elections. News organisations said today he had accepted the nomination of his ruling Congres pour la democratie et le progres (CDP) at the weekend. If elected, he said, he would focus on women's rights, expanding education and major construction projects, especially a national highway system. Compaore came to power in a 1987 coup in which he overthrew Captain Thomas Sankara.

AFP reported that in a meeting last week Saturday, nine opposition parties told Compaore they would boycott the November polls unless changes were made to the national electoral commission, which they considered "too close" to the government.

West Africa: Cameroon-Nigeria tensions

A Nigerian defence ministry statement said on Tuesday its neighbour, Cameroon, was reinforcing troops in the disputed oil-rich Bakassi peninsula bordering the two West African countries, media organisations reported. Nigerian state radio quoted Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella, spokesman for the defence ministry, as saying that the "action of the Cameroonians was capable of triggering fresh confrontation in the disputed areas".

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague gave Nigeria nine months in July to present written arguments on its border dispute with Cameroon over the peninsula, the scene of sporadic fighting since 1993.

UN cautions on limits of microcredits

The United Nations has warned that programmes to provide small loans to poor families should not be viewed as a substitute for long-range infrastructure projects to reduce poverty in poor nations. In a report issued by the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) on Tuesday, it said the concept of the micro projects had shown its limits in the "use of credit as an instrument for poverty eradication, including... the fact that many people, especially the poorest of the poor, are usually not in a position to undertake economic activity, partly because they lack business skills, and even the motivation for business".

[A press release on the UN report on microcredit has been sent out on the extra list. If you wish to receive a copy of the full report, please write to with in the subject line "Report on microcredits".]

Gap between rich and poor widening

Consumption of goods and services has skyrocketed globally to a new high of US $ 24 trillion, while poverty in developing countries has soared, and homelessness and illiteracy in industrialised countries have continued to rise, a UN report released yesterday said. The 1998 Human Development Report, commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), documents the devastating human consequences of the growing gap between rich and poor.

The report said 86 per cent of the world's goods and services were consumed by just 20 per cent of the world's population. The poorest, who consume the least, suffer the most from the resulting pollution to the environment.

The report includes a human development index ranking 174 countries according to the progress made in improving life expectancy, education and income. Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone were among the countries at the bottom of that list.

ECOWAS & UNDCP discuss regional drug problems

Officials of the 16 member states of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and representatives of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) are meeting in Banjul, The Gambia, to discuss new concerns about an increase in drug trafficking and abuse in the region. Participants said that the inter-ministerial meeting was aimed at putting into place a plan of action adopted by ECOWAS heads of state aimed at fighting drugs more effectively.

Abidjan, 11 September 1998, 16:30 gmt


Date: Fri, 11 Sep 1998 16:27:07 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa To: Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 65, 98.9.11 Message-Id:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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