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WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Roundup 124 covering the period 18 - 24 May 2002

Abidjan, 24 May 2002 (IRIN) - CONTENTS:

LIBERIA: ECOWAS calls for dialogue
BURKINA FASO: International meeting on meningitis
NIGERIA: Coastal erosion still a problem
NIGERIA: Rights panel submits report
NIGERIA: Rights groups want vigilantes disbanded
SIERRA LEONE: TRC still under funded
SIERRA LEONE: New cabinet announced
WEST AFRICA: Regional small arms network formed

LIBERIA: ECOWAS calls for dialogue

A call by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for an immediate ceasefire between government troops and armed opposition fighters in Liberia drew varied reactions this week.

By the end of the week, several opposition parties, religious organisations and other groups had called upon the government to stop hostilities and engage in dialogue with the armed opposition Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). The government has rejected the ECOWAS proposition. A ceasefire would allow LURD to regroup and launch new attacks, BBC quoted Information Minister Reginald Goodridge as saying on Tuesday. However the government expressed interest in the idea of deploying a regional intervention force proposed by Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade at a recent NEPAD in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire. Wade said ECOWAS would consider creating a peacekeeping force to intervene in Liberia if negotiations between the belligerents failed.

A diplomatic source in Monrovia told IRIN on Thursday that the government’s stance had put the country in a “rather volatile and precarious” condition that “could lead to increase fighting”.

Several towns were reportedly captured by the LURD, then retaken by government troops in the last few weeks.

Unconfirmed reports said new fighting occurred early this week in Tubmanburg, 60 km north of the capital Monrovia.

BURKINA FASO: International meeting on meningitis

Burkina Faso’s Health Ministry announced on Thursday that the country would host an international meeting on meningitis in July to adopt a global response to the annual outbreaks of the killer disease.

Under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), the meeting will bring together meningitis experts from affected courtiers as well as other African and international researchers who will share experiences and strategies on combating the disease, the ministry’s secretary general, Jean Gabriel Wango, told a news conference in the capital Ouagadougou. Africa’s “meningitis belt”, which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia, includes 15 countries where outbreaks occur seasonally. Every year, hundreds die of the infectious disease.

Burkina Faso, located in the belt, suffered another epidemic this year due largely to a new strand, W 135, which claimed more than 64 percent of the 1,473 deaths recorded. Some 12,784 people were infected but since 19 May, the current outbreak has receded. Wango said that on Thursday that the country was “out of the epidemic situation”.

Burkina Faso plans to conduct research into the new strand, WHO said on Monday.

NIGERIA: Coastal erosion still a problem

Several streets Lagos’ Victoria Island district were flooded for several hours on Tuesday when the Atlantic Ocean washed away the protective sand fill. Several streets in the Nigerian commercial capital were covered in about half a metre of water. It receded several hours later.

It was the second such incident this year, but the problem has persisted since 1996.

Lagos State believes $400 million is needed to deal with the problem permanently. Two years ago, German construction company Julius Berger invested US $6.08 million in the sand fill that was washed away.

NIGERIA: Rights panel submits report

Nigeria’s Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) on Tuesday submitted an eight-volume report compiled after hearing evidence from people who claimed to have suffered human rights abuses. The Oputa Panel, named after its chairman Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, was mandated by President Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate human rights abuses committed since the country’s first military coup in 1996.

The panel recommended monetary and other compensation for victims. For example, awarding a development project to a community that has suffered neglect in the past constitutes a form of compensation, Judge Oputa said. He said his commission received evidence from over 2,000 witnesses and obtained 1,750 exhibits on rights abuses during one year of public hearings.

Obasanjo set up the HRVIC shortly after his election in 1999. He has promised to implement the recommendations.

NIGERIA: Rights groups want vigilantes disbanded

Two human rights groups issued a joint report on Monday urging the federal government to ban all vigilante and militia groups, saying they have perpetrated rights abuses and pose a threat to the country’s security.

Human Rights Watch and the Nigerian Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN) called for the disbanding of the groups, which they accused of arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and killing suspected or real criminals, church leaders, and politicians. The 45-page report focuses mainly on the Bakassi Boys, a militia group operating in several southeastern states and which has official support from the Anambra State government, the report said.

The two groups called on the federal government to prosecute the perpetrators of the abuses, investigate state government that have sponsored such groups, and reform the national police force.

[Full report]

SIERRA LEONE: TRC still under funded

Four months before it begins its operations, Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission remains largely under funded, but it said on Tuesday that it remained hopeful funds would be forthcoming.

Policy Adviser Ilan Lax told IRIN that the TRC had so far received a commitment of US $500,000 from Britain out of a total budget of $9.6 million. Several other countries had expressed willingness to commit funds, Lax said. The TRC would give priority to fundraising in the coming months, he added.

The establishment of the TRC was part of the Lome Peace Accord, signed in July 1999 between the then Revolutionary United Front rebels and Sierra Leone president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

The five main functions of the TRC include providing an impartial historical record of the conflict from its inception 1991 until the signing of the Lome Peace Accord. It also aims to provide victims with a forum to tell their stories, assess their needs, address impunity and make recommendations to ensure the conflict does not recur, Lax said. It will operate for one year, following a 3-month preparatory phase to begin in June, with the possibility of a 6-month extension.

SIERRA LEONE: New cabinet announced

President Ahmad Kabbah appointed a new cabinet on Tuesday, two days after taking the oath of office for a second presidential term.

Kabbah won presidential elections held on 14 May with 70.6 percent of the votes. His nearest rival, Ernest Bai Koroma, obtained 22.3 percent. Kabbah’s Sierra Leone’s People Party also won 83 seats in the 122-member parliament. The legislative elections were also held on 14 May.

The United Nations, the European Union and other international observers said the polls were largely free and fair.

WEST AFRICA: Regional small arms network formed

The West African Network on Small Arms (WANSA), the region’s latest initiative to curb small arms trafficking was created on Tuesday at the end of two-day conference held in Accra, Ghana.

The conference discussed several issues such as latest trends in arms trafficking, conflict prevention and security sector reform, Napoleon Abdulai of the Mali-based Programme for Coordination and Assistance on Security and Development (PCASED) told IRIN.

Delegates also discussed how to lobby West African governments to implement the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, adopted at a UN conference in New York in July 2001. According to PCASED, the region has about eight million illegal arms in circulation.

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