IRIN-WA Weekly No. 167 for 15-21 March

CONTENTS:

COTE D'IVOIRE: Red Cross volunteers killed, cabinet meets
LIBERIA: US warns government and rebels
GUINEA-BISSAU: Elections to be postponed
NIGERIA: Unrest erupts in Niger Delta once again
SIERRA LEONE: UNAMSIL withdrawal should be gradual - Annan
GHANA: Rawlings asked to respond to torture allegations
GHANA: Refugees rally together in Buduburam camp
CAMEROON: Private TV and radio stations closed
BURKINA FASO: National dialogue on HIV/AIDS
WEST AFRICA: Fight small arms together, Security Council urges
AFRICA: Sahelo-Saharan states discuss conflict resolution


COTE D'IVOIRE: Red Cross volunteers killed, cabinet meets

Four Ivorian Red Cross volunteers were found dead in the western town of Toulepleu, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported on Wednesday. The four, Gonzreu Kloueu, his son Thierry, Te Goue and Vally Camara, had been missing since 12 January. Toulepleu is a few kilometres from Toe Town in Liberia where three ADRA staff members were killed earlier this month in clashes between Liberian government troops and rebels.

In the capital, Yamoussoukro, a second national unity government cabinet meeting was held on Thursday. Rebel cabinet nominees again failed to attend after staying away from the first meeting last week, but six ministers from the main opposition party, the Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), attended. The rebels cited security concerns, but rebel leaders later flew into Yamoussoukro and met the new Prime Minister, Seydou Diarra.

The unity government, finalised two weeks ago in Accra, Ghana, has 41 posts including 10 for the ruling Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI); seven each for RDR, the main rebel group -MPCI - and the former ruling party Parti democratique de Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI). The rest are distributed among smaller political parties and two rebel groups based in the west.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has advised Cote d'Ivoire to seek its advisory services and technical cooperation to improve its performance in the protection and promotion of human rights. The recommendation followed the consideration last week of the latest periodic report by Cote d'Ivoire to the Committee in Geneva.

In New York, the UN Special Representative for the Crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, Albert Tevoedjre, on Friday presented his first report to the Security Council. The report focused on major developments since January, including the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement [a pact concluded in Paris in January by Cote d'Ivoire's main political parties and rebel groups], the formation of a new government and recent fighting in western Cote d'Ivoire, including around the town of Bangolo, where more than 100 civilians were reported killed.

IRIN coverage of the Cote d'Ivoire crisis

LIBERIA: US warns government and rebels; more displaced

Clashes between Liberian government forces and rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) intensified this week, prompting the United States ambassador to Liberia, John William Blaney, to strongly warn both parties to cease hostilities and engage in direct negotiations without preconditions. Blaney told a news conference in the capital, Monrovia, on Thursday that the US condemned the war.

"Our view of achieving a ceasefire in Liberia necessitates direct negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, with a few facilitators involved, such as the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia and the government of Mali chairing these negotiations," Blaney said. "Military forces and LURD continue to violate the human rights of Liberian people."

The envoy said that under President Charles Taylor "a pattern has emerged of falsely accusing and arresting those who fall into disfavour with being connected with LURD." He added that the Liberian government had issued a 48 km limit on the movements of US diplomats including himself. Liberian security had also harassed, intimidated and sometimes arrested NGO representatives implementing the embassy's development projects, according to Blaney.

With clashes intensifying in western and central Liberia, a joint security forces team on Monday began a cordon and search operation for "hidden arms" in Monrovia. The search, which began early in the morning around the diplomatic enclave of Mamba Point where UN, US Embassy and EU offices are located, did not immediately yield any arms, sources said.

At least 15,000 people were displaced by escalating fighting from Gbarnga, 150 km north of Monrovia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. Gbarnga, the provincial capital of Bong County, was empty but heavy artillery and shelling could be heard nearby. Staff of several international organizations were evacuated. Fighting also intensified in the western county of Bomi while St. Paul Bridge, 200 km northeast of Monrovia, on the border between Bong and Lofa Counties, was captured by rebels.

IRIN coverage of the Liberian crisis

GUINEA-BISSAU: Elections to be postponed

Guinea-Bissau's legislative election, scheduled for 20 April, could be postponed. The Ministry of Internal Administration said on Wednesday that the voters' list would be updated from 17 April to 6 May to ensure a transparent electoral process. The government had originally resisted pressure from the opposition and the international community for it to update the voters' list before the polls, which it is required to do under the country's electoral laws. The polls were originally scheduled for February.

Full story

NIGERIA: Unrest erupts in Niger Delta again

About 50 people were reported to have died on Thursday in clashes between Ijaw militants and troops deployed in the Niger Delta, near the southern town of Warri following the killing of at least 15 people in just over a week of violence. Navy spokesman Capt Shinebi Hungiapuko said the troops were sent to end the violence between militants from the Ijaw ethnic group, on the one hand, and their Itshekiri neighbours and security forces on the other.

Shell, whose logistics base was burnt down by Ijaw militants on Monday, said it was forced to close 10 oil pumping stations in the area. ChevronTexaco, one of whose workers was killed by a stray bullet during an attack on villages near its Escravos oil export facility, said on Wednesday it had shut down three of its facilities and evacuated staff to safety.

Hundreds of protesters besieged TotalFinaElf's gas plant at Obite and nearby facilities in the eastern Niger Delta, forcing their closure, the oil company said. A company spokesman said the protesters alleged that TotalFinaElf had not delivered on promises to provide them with amenities and jobs.

Activists of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) accused troops of sparking the latest round of violence in the volatile oil region by launching a raid on the Ijaw community of Okerenkoko last week, killing five people. The soldiers had accused community members of planning to disrupt the oil operations of Shell in the area and to attack Itshekiri villages, they said.

Warri has been tense since February, when a violent dispute broke out between the Urhobo and Itshekiri communities over the delineation of electoral wards ahead of April-May general elections. Ijaws sided with the Urhobo, alleging that the sharing of wards favoured the Itshekiri. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who met with leaders of other political parties in the capital, Abuja, on Wednesday to seek ways to curb the violence, said it risked jeopardising the success of the polls. "The level of violence we are witnessing today poses an unacceptable threat to the forthcoming election," he said.

Meanwhile Amnesty International on Thursday urged all candidates in the presidential, legislative and state elections, all of which are due to be held in April-May, to commit themselves publicly to placing the prevention and protection of human rights during the polls at the centre of their campaigns and give it prominence, in the case of victory, in their programmes. Amnesty pinpointed the use of militia and other civil defence forces operating on the orders of politicians as one source of rights violations in the West African nation of 120 million people. The Nigerian armed forces have also been responsible for abuses, the rights watchdog said.

Amnesty's full statement

IRIN coverage of Nigeria

SIERRA LEONE: UNAMSIL withdrawal should be gradual - Annan

The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) should be extended by six months and its peacekeepers withdrawn gradually because the country is still not capable of maintaining its security without international help, the Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended on Monday in his latest report to the Security Council on UNAMSIL. "I would like to recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of UNAMSIL for a further period of six months, until 30 September 2003," Annan said.

The report outlines several elements for lasting peace in the country, including preventing young people from feeling excluded, control over diamond mining and creating reintegration opportunities for ex-combatants.

As at 20 March, UNAMSIL had 14,721 troops in Sierra Leone. It is expected to reduce the force to 13,000 in May this year and to 5,000 in 2004.

Meanwhile the recent upsurge of fighting in Liberia has had a tremendous impact in Sierra Leone, especially in border areas where an already overburdened host population could face food shortages due to a large refugee presence, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. Should the fighting continue, an estimated 17,000 more Liberian refugees could cross into Sierra Leone over the next few weeks, adding to the 46,317 already in seven Sierra Leonean refugee camps as at the end of February, OCHA said.

IRIN coverage of Sierra Leone

GHANA: Rawlings asked to respond to torture allegations

Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) last week asked former president Jerry Rawlings to answer allegations that he witnessed the torture and murder of political activists in 1984, while he was head of state, the NRC public relations officer, Annie Anipa, told IRIN on Tuesday.
Rawlings is to answer the allegations by 28 March. He could respond in writing, but might later be invited to appear before the commission to testify and cross-examine those who made allegations against him.

"One of the witnesses, Kwaku Baako [a newspaper editor] testified that he was tortured before the former president. He also said he witnessed a military officer shot before the ex-president in 1984. One letter is to ask him [Rawlings] to answer these allegations," Anipa said. "The second letter is to ask him to respond to another allegation by a former Air Force officer that the former President wanted him killed."

The NRC, modeled after the former South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is mandated to find out the truth about past human rights abuses and help those who were hurt by the abuses to deal with their pain and to move on with their lives. It is also to "help those who participated in the abuses to come to terms with the experiences and obtain forgiveness". Opposition politicians say, however, that it was set up by the government of President John Kufuor to "witch-hunt" former leaders.

Details of the NRC's work including statements by witnesses are available at: www.nrcghana.org

GHANA: Refugees rally together in Buduburam camp

Liberian refugees in Buduburam camp, 35 km west of Ghana's capital city, Accra, have created a neighbourhood watch team to enhance their security. The team comprises 200 male and female volunteers who patrol the camp at night and support the Ghanaian police, UNHCR reported on Thursday. The camp hosts 28,000 Liberian refugees who fled their country during 13 years of unrest but had come to be known as a "hotbed" of criminal activity.

"We should now seek to extend this example and prove to all that refugees and host communities can, not only live peacefully side by side, but also work together to create and maintain a safe and secure environment for all," UNHCR Representative Thomas Albrecht said. The inauguration of the team in mid-February was attended by the Ghanaian deputy interior minister, Kwadwo Afram Asiedu, and representatives of the Ghana police service, Ghana refugee board and UNHCR.

More information on the neighbourhood watch in Buduburam camp and other refugee-related issues is available at: www.unhcr.ch OR www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf

CAMEROON: Private TV and radio stations closed

Cameroon's communication minister closed down a private radio station, Magic FM, for running programmes critical of the government of President Paul Biya, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) reported on Tuesday. Magic FM had denounced the mismanagement of public funds and the banning of a weekly, Tribune de l'Est, and had allowed callers to criticize the government. Cameroonian authorities said that it disturbed public order and good moral standards.

Magic FM was the third privately-owned broadcaster to have been closed by the government in a little over a month. In February, two television stations, RTA and Canal 2, were ordered shut because they were not licensed to broadcast original reports in Cameroon, only to relay foreign programmes. The stations had run a number of political debates in which the government had been criticised, RSF said. The international watchdog called on the Cameroonian government to allow the radio and television stations to resume operations.

IRIN stories on the closure of these stations

BURKINA FASO: National dialogue on HIV/AIDS

Burkina Faso held a national conference on HIV/AIDS to strengthen efforts to combat the disease and provide more help to people living with HIV/AIDS, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), reported on Tuesday. Burkina Faso, one of the countries hardest hit by the disease in West Africa, could suffer a reduction in life expectancy from 59 years to 44 years by 2010 and an increase in the poverty rate from 45 per cent in 1997 to 54 per cent by 2010, UNDP said.

Some 500 participants, including members of parliament, recommended that HIV/AIDS prevention activities be integrated into all development programmes. They called for greater civil society involvement, more support for HIV/AIDS-related activities and the establishment of a funds to support people living with the virus. Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation Minister Youssouf Ouedraogo said the government would implement the conference's recommendations while UNDP Resident Representative Christian Lemaire said UNDP and the National AIDS Control Council would work to empower local communities in the campaign against the virus.

For further information, go to the UNDP-Burkina Faso country site

WEST AFRICA: Fight small arms together, Security Council urges

West African countries should strengthen cooperation to counter threats to subregional peace posed by small arms trafficking and mercenary activity within their countries, the Security Council urged on Tuesday.

At a public meeting presided over by Guinea, the Council unanimously adopted a declaration on the proliferation of small arms and mercenary activities in the region and recommended that West African States broaden a small arms moratorium the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) approved in 1998 to include an arms information exchange mechanism and the creation of a register of holders of such weapons. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community to help stop mercenary activity, which drives the uncontrolled spread of small arms in West Africa.

A backgrounder prepared by the Council president reported that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the phenomenon of mercenaries posed complex challenges to West Africa, involving security, humanitarian and development dimensions. It said an estimated eight million illicit small arms were in circulation in the subregion.

Details of the Council deliberations and the resolution are available at:
www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/vWN

Full IRIN story

AFRICA: Conflict resolution discussed by Sahelo-Saharan states

Members of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States [CEN-SAD]) met and agreed to create a mechanism for preventing, managing and settling conflicts within its 18-member community. They adopted a protocol to this effect at the fifth annual summit of the CEN-SAD [in French, Communauté des Etats sahélo-sahariens], on 14-15 March 2003 in Niamey, Niger.

CEN-SAD heads of state and government committed themselves to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts and said they would promote conflict prevention and the culture of peace and dialogue to manage internal conflicts within the community, a communique said. "Security is an essential issue," Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi said at the summit. "We cannot go from underdevelopment to development if there is no peace and stability. Therefore, peace and stability are necessary to achieve the aspirations of our peoples. We shall be making a big mistake if we ignore this reality."

Malian President Amadou Amani Toure said: "In the space of a few years, our community has been able to resolve and face the most crucial challenges of the subregion, whether this had to do with synergizing our efforts, our economic, social and human resources to improve the living conditions of our populations, or whether it was a matter of efforts to ensure the free circulation of persons and goods for a more harmonious integration and a better asserted solidarity within the CEN-SAD area."

The meeting expressed concern that some member countries were affected by food insecurity due to drought, other adverse climatic conditions, poor harvests and production costs. It welcomed the establishment of a special food security programme and thanked Qaddafi for contributing US $9.3 million to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Sudan.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention Against Desertification Hama Arba Diallo attended the meeting. Fourteen countries were represented by their heads of state and two by prime ministers.

CEN-SAD was created in 1998 with the main aim of establishing an economic union based on a development plan that would complement national development plans of member countries. It aims to eliminate all restrictions to the free movement of persons, goods and capital, and freedom for nationals of member states to own property and carry out economic activity anywhere in the community.

Full story