IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 64, 98.9.4

IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 64, 98.9.4

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 64 for West Africa covering the period (Friday-Thursday) 28 August - 3 September 1998

LIBERIA: Taylor says rivals plotting to overthrow him

President Charles Taylor has accused two former rival faction leaders of plotting to overthrow his year-old civilian Liberian government, media reports said on Tuesday. News agencies quoted Taylor as telling a cabinet meeting that Alhaji Kromah, the leader of the officially disbanded Mandingo wing of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO-K), and Prince Yormie Johnson, the leader of the breakaway "independent" wing of Taylor's own former wartime National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL), had joined to plot against him. Taylor also accused a former minister of health and ULIMO-K state councilman, Vamba Kanneh, and the former justice minister, Lavela Supuwood, of supporting the coup plot. Kromah has been living in the United States since Taylor's landslide victory in last year's presidential elections. Prince Yormie Johnson has also not been seen in Liberia since 1992, when Taylor forces advancing on the capital, Monrovia, threatened to overrun the INPFL.

According to AFP, Taylor said the government had "evidence" that Kromah had gone to the capital of neighbouring Sierra Leone to attend a meeting with his fellow coup plotters. Without giving details, Taylor accused "influential Liberians, some of them in government" of involvement in the plot.

Recent media reports have repeatedly commented on growing tension in Liberia between the security forces and former fighters loyal to rival factions officially disbanded after the end of the war.

Ethnic Mandingos in northern Liberia have also complained of harassment by the security forces, while humanitarian sources in Monrovia have repeatedly warned that the availability of weaponry left over from the civil war could easily allow law and order problems to get out of hand.

The Monrovia-based independent Star Radio said that Kromah had denied the coup plot allegations.

Heavy rains delay refugee repatriation

Heavy rains and deteriorating road conditions have delayed UNHCR operations to help repatriate Liberian refugees from neighbouring countries. In a statement issued in Geneva last week Friday, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said convoys, such as one planned for 252 refugees living in Ghana, were likely to be postponed until October, when rains subside. So far, the UNHCR operation, which is budgeted at US$ 32.2 million, has helped over 80,000 Liberians repatriate. However, UNHCR estimated that further 198,000 of the total 480,000 Liberians living in host countries have been able to go home of their own accord.

NIGERIA: Thousands rally for new political party

Thousands of Nigerians attended the public launch on Monday of a new party preparing to contest democratic elections promised next year by the military government, media reports said. News agencies reported that the gathering of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the capital, Abuja, the first such rally since the sudden death of Nigeria's former hardline ruler, General Sani Abacha, appeared to open the way for a civilian government.

According to the BBC, the PDP has been formed by a group of well-known politicians, including a former civilian vice-president, Alex Ekwueme, who stood out in opposition to the discredited transitional election plans Abacha proposed. Ekwueme has been widely seen as a possible presidential candidate in the February 1999 contest, media reports said. All political associations which want to compete in the elections, are expected to register with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

So far, some 10 political parties have registered to take part in the polls, which are scheduled to run from 5 December to 27 February in a staggered series of local, regional, state and presidential run-offs. Nigeria's remaining political groups have until 9 September to register.

Voter registration rules announced

INEC also published its rules on Monday for registering millions of voters ahead of the poll, media reports said. The commission announced that registration would take place on 5 - 19 September with lists of those eligible to vote published one week later. INEC also set a minimum age of 18, but news agencies said few other restrictions were apparent.

Journalist honoured

A journalist, who spent three years in prison under the Abacha regime, was honoured on Wednesday at a ceremony in Paris for her work in promoting press freedom, media reports said. Christina Anyanwu received the 1998 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize and the 1995 Reporters sans Frontieres-Fondation de France award, which she had been unable to collect while still in prison. Anyanwu was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995 for publishing an article on an attempted coup against Abacha in March that year.

Anyanwu said that in spite of recent reforms, some five Nigerian journalists were still in gaol, another nine held in detention and over 21 still in exile, including Africa's Nobel prize winner for literature, Wole Soyinka, who attended the prize-giving to present Anyanwu with her awards.

Soyinka announces radio truth and reconciliation commission Meanwhile, Soyinka took the opportunity of the ceremony to announce the creation of a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission conducted by radio to expose "crimes" committed by Nigeria's military government, AFP reported.

Soyinka said the commission, to be held and broadcast on opposition Radio Kudirat transmitted from Canada, aimed to embarrass Abubakar's government into beginning official hearings into the Abacha regime.

Government to scrap dual exchange rate

The Nigerian government announced a series of economic reforms on Wedneday, including scrapping its preferential exchange rate, media reports said. AFP said that government purchases are currently made at a fixed rate of 22 naira to the US dollar. The rate for non-government business, however, is 85 naira to the US dollar.

According to AFP, other financial reforms in the pipeline included making the Central Bank independent and privatising some key utilities.

Civil servants pay tripled

Meanwhile, the military government also agreed on Thursday to triple the salaries of most of Nigeria's 800,000 civil servants and set a new minimum wage for government workers, AFP said. The news agency quoted an official text it had obtained as saying that the wage rises for all ranks from grade one civil servants to the presidency had been approved by Abubakar and would be effective from 1 September. Last month, Abubakar made a pledge to improve public sector pay as part of his campaign against corruption among government officials.

Jailed bankers on hunger strike

More than 160 jailed bank officials went on hunger strike this week to protest at their continued detention without trial, news organisations reported, quoting Nigerian newspapers. Reuters quoted a statement issued on the behalf of the bankers which said the strike had become "imperative because of dehumanising condition under which they were being detained". The bank officials, including former heads of some of Nigeria's largest banks, were imprisoned for alleged banking malpractices during the Abacha regime.

SIERRA LEONE: UK urges Kabbah to commute death sentences

The British government appealed directly to Sierra Leone's President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah for clemency in the case of 16 civilians found guilty last week of collaborating with the ousted military junta, AFP said last week Friday.

AFP said Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd spoke to Kabbah last week Thursday to express "in the strongest possible terms" Britain's concern about the imposition of death sentences. Lloyd's statement was the latest in a series of statements from the British government appealing to Kabbah to commute the sentences.

The international human rights NGO, Amnesty International, in a statement last week Friday also called for the death sentences to be commuted. Acknowledging the government's responsibility to bring to justice and punish those responsible for human rights violations, it said it was unconditionally opposed to the death penalty.

Some five of the 16 have reportedly appealed their sentences, with the rest expected to appeal in the coming days, media reports said.

SIERRA LEONE: Junta minister applies for asylum

Meanwhile, a former AFRC minister, Mohamed Sayoh Bangura, had applied for asylum in Britain, media reports said on Tuesday. Bangura, who served as information minister, was now reportedly hiding in a flat in south London and refusing to return to Sierra Leone, where he claimed he would face execution. AFP said that Kabbah's government has accused Bangura of acting as the AFRC's "chief propagandist" and demanded his return.

Further clashes with rebel fighters

The Sierra Leone army repelled a rebel incursion in the northern district of Tonkolili, AFP reported on Thursday last week. It quoted a ministry of defence spokesman as saying that the troops led by Sierra Leonean Colonel Robert Yirra Koroma had flushed out the rebels and had "scored a string of victories from Bumbuna, Samaia, Bendugu, Alikalia and Yiffin" in the north. The spokesman added that the army had captured the towns of Tombudu and Yamandu in the eastern district of Kono.

Meanwhile, rebel fighters attacked towns in the Kambia district in northwestern Sierra Leone last week, AFP said. Catholic priests reported that a relative calm had returned to the area after Guinean ECOMOG soldiers had responded swiftly to halt the rebel attack. In a related development, AFP reported that ECOMOG was waging an intense military campaign against rebel-held villages in the eastern district of Kailahun.

ECOMOG to move base to Freetown

The Nigerian army announced plans on Wednesday to move ECOMOG's headquarters from Liberia to Sierra Leone, media reports said.

Reuters quoted Nigeria's army spokesman, Colonel Godwin Ugbo, speaking in the commercial capital, Lagos, as saying that the Nigerian contingent had already moved its military staff to Wilberforce Barracks outside Freetown, but he could not give a date for a final move.

GUINEA BISSAU: International community welcomes ceasefire accord

The US and French governments as well as the United Nations on Thursday last week welcomed the signing of a ceasefire agreement on 26 August between the government of Guinea Bissau and army rebels, saying that it augured well for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Further talks on implementing the ceasefire accord are scheduled for 11 and 12 September in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d'Ivoire.

Bissau mayor warns reconstruction will take decade Meanwhile, the mayor of Guinea Bissau's capital, Bissau, said repairing the destruction caused by three months of civil war could take over a decade, media reports said on Monday. Mayor Paulo Medina told Portuguese radio that vital public services needed to be repaired, along with homes and public buildings destroyed in the fighting. Medina said rotting bodies remained in areas of Bissau still under rebel control, posing a serious health risk.

ECOWAS moots troops deployment

Abubakar announced on Monday that ECOWAS was considering deploying a "buffer force" in Guinea Bissau, media reports said. Nigerian TV quoted Abubakar, who also holds the ECOWAS chairmanship, as telling Guinea Bissau's envoy, Avito Jose da Silva, that he was consulting with other West African leaders on establishing a buffer force to "ensure that the warring groups upheld the ceasefire agreement".

SENEGAL: Sixty rebels, four soldiers killed in fighting Sixty rebel fighters and four Senegalese soldiers were killed in clashes in the southern province of Casamance and neighbouring Guinea Bissau during the week, AFP reported last week Friday, quoting military sources in Dakar. The dispatch quoted a Senegalese military officer as saying that one of the battles had taken place across the border with Guinea Bissau. Some Senegalese newspapers claimed that rebel troops from Guinea Bissau were fighting alongside Senegalese separatists. Government troops killed 60 rebels and recovered goods stolen from the market, AFP said. Senegalese troops have been carrying out sweeps to destroy rebel bases in the Kolda region, on the border, since last week. The separatist Mouvement des Forces Democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) has been waging a campaign against the government of Senegal since the early eighties.

National assembly lifts limitation on presidential terms The Senegalese national assembly passed a law lifting a two seven-year limitation on the presidential mandate, news agencies said at the weekend. Media organisations reported that members of parliament of the ruling Parti Socialist (PS) tabled the bill last week Thursday, saying it would "prevent succession squabbles and slack periods in the running of the state". Meanwhile, all Senegalese opposition parties boycotted the parliamentarian session, describing the bill as contrary to democratic principles and a "constitutional coup d'etat". Presidential elections are slated for the year 2000. The PS has decided to present the incumbent, Diouf, as its candidate.

TOGO: New government appointed, opposition leaders stay out

The prime minister of Togo, Kwassi Klutse, formed a new government yesterday following elections in June that were dismissed by the opposition as fraudulent, news organisations reported. The leaders of the Togolese opposition parties refused to join the new government, billed as "broad based" by Klutse. According to AFP, the president of Togo, Gnassingbe Eyadema, had requested that Klutse form a government which would "combine our forces to build the country in union, solidarity, peace and stability".

Meanwhile, two opposition parties, the Comite d'action pour le renouveau (CAR) and the Convention democratique des peuples africains (CPDA), welcomed the news that no opposition leader had accepted to be part of the Togolese government, according to AFP.

Opposition parties claimed that Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the opposition Union des Forces de changement(UFC), was the rightful winner of the polls. European Union election observers noted irregularities in the polls and the EU has declined to resume its aid programmes with Togo.

President calls for regional security meeting

Meanwhile, Eyadema called for a West African security meeting to be convened as soon as possible, AFP reported, quoting a ministry of information statement. Speaking to the new cabinet, Eyadema said the establishment of a new junior ministerial post exclusively for security issues reflected his "serious" concern about security in Lome, the Togolese capital.

In mid-August, the Togolese authorities claimed that "terrorists coming from Ghana" had attacked a border post near Lome, resulting in clashes with Togolese security forces.

CHAD-CAMEROON: Oil pipeline faces delays from civil unrest

A projected pipeline to carry crude oil from Chad to port in Cameroon faces construction delays if civil unrest slows down environmental studies needed to secure donor support, Reuters reported yesterday. The dispatch quoted a World Bank spokesman as saying that if security problems prevented adequate information-gathering, the project would probably not be ready to implement.

The comments were made after a World Bank review which said studies on resettling southern Chadians along part of a 1,050 km pipeline route to Cameroon's port of Kribi could not be completed due to rebel activity. The official also said the World Bank was mindful of environmental concerns. Cameroonian NGOs have expressed concern at the impact of the pipeline on land use, livestock grazing and the interests of local populations. Earlier this month, Chad's Energy Minister, Abdoulaye Lamana, said he was confident the pipeline would be built despite opposition from environmental and human rights groups. A Cameroonian oil expert also told IRIN that despite residual problems the construction of the oil pipeline was not in jeopardy and had generated high hopes amongst the local population about the trickle-down effect of a big oil programme.

WEST AFRICA: Africa has highest birth rates

A new report on the world's population has said that Africa continues to see the highest birth rates, with an average of 4,53 children per woman. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report said some African countries, including Nigeria, have even higher birth rates, with up to seven children per woman. Mortality rates were also among the highest in Africa, where one child in 10 does not survive beyond the first year of life, and one woman in 20 risked dying from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

Pocket malaria test goes on sale

An Australian drug company has launched a rapid diagnostic test kit for two strains of malaria, one of the world's most deadly diseases, the BBC reported yesterday. The radio quoted AMRAD Corp as saying the pocket-sized kit can detect the plasmodium falciparum and plasmodium vivax malaria strains through finger prick samples. Previous tests have had to undergo laboratory analysis.

Abidjan, 4 September 1998, 17:00 gmt


Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 17:16:00 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa Subject: IRIN-West Africa Weekly Roundup 64, 98.9.4 Message-Id:

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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