SIERRA LEONE: Rebels hack civilians to death
As preparations for talks among Sierra Leone rebel leaders got underway in Lome, Togo Wednesday, it was reported that rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) movement had "hacked to death" 100 civilians in Songo, 40 km from the capital, Freetown.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukulade, spokesman for the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG, returned from the town on Wednesday and said that it was deserted. He told IRIN that although he could not immediately confirm the casualty report given by the BBC, civilian corpses - some in a badly composed state - were strewn along the road into the town.
He said ECOMOG had asked NGOs and the Freetown government to clean up and provide shelter for the thousands of people who might return to the town. ECOMOG had also asked NGOs to set up another camp for internally displaced people at another location because the facility at the town of Waterloo was full.
ECOMOG units reached Songo on Friday and found it "completely deserted", Olukolade said.
ECOMOG operations adjusted
Earlier, the ECOMOG force commander, Major General Felix Mujakperuo, said it had adjusted operations on the ground in Sierra Leone in view of the impending Lome talks among RUF officials.
"The rebels are taking advantage of this," Olukolade said, adding that ECOMOG had simply been trying "to contain their excesses".
In addition, diplomats said rebels had sufficient weapons to threaten UN helicopters. They said that the rebels, armed with heavy and medium calibre machine guns, had improved their training and were now able to use more sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry "with the help of foreign assistance".
In other attacks, the missionary news agency, MISNA, reported RUF rebels had attacked Kassiri and Kychom on Tuesday, burning homes and forcing residents to flee inland or by sea. The two adjacent residential areas are in Kambia District.
AFP reported at least two people killed and eight wounded when RUF rebels attacked Mollahm near Forecariah in neighbouring Guinea some 20 km from the western Sierra Leone border. AFP, quoting official sources, said the attack occurred late Monday through to early Tuesday. Citing a report by state radio, it said several huts were burnt and cattle stolen.
First rebel delegation in Lome for talks
Meanwhile, news reports said some RUF delegates had arrived in the Togolese capital for the consultative talks with their political leader Foday Sankoh.
AFP reported that the London-based lawyer and RUF spokesman, Omrie Golley, and a military advisor, Ibrahima Bah, had arrived on Tuesday and already met with Sankoh.
The remaining delegates, comprising 14 guerrilla commanders, were in Liberia awaiting transport to Lome, a UN official told IRIN on Wednesday. The RUF consultative talks were originally scheduled for last Sunday but were delayed by the late arrival of the full RUF delegation, due to security and logistic considerations. Golley told AFP he now expected the commanders to be in Lome by Friday or Saturday.
NIGER: New coup disclosures
Niger's late president, Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, was "torn to pieces" when he was assassinated on 9 April by men firing anti-aircraft artillery weapons, AFP reported on Tuesday.
In a dispatch quoting "corroborating sources" in the capital Niamey, the agency report said Mainassara had been killed by members of the presidential guard commanded by the new military leader, Major Daouda Mallam Wanke. Days after the assassination, the US State Department released a statement saying Mainassara had been shot by Wanke's guard unit.
AFP said they had fired 14.5-mm shells at Mainassara using Soviet-made ZDSU guns in the killing at Niamey's military airport.
Wanke, who has pledged a nine-month transition to a return to civilian rule after general and presidential elections, said in a radio interview this week that Mainassara had died in a "tragic accident".
New regional leaders
On Wednesday, news reports said Wanke had replaced seven of Niger's regional military leaders and appointed a Tuareg former rebel leader, Mohamed Anako, as his top advisor.
"The move is seen as aimed at appeasing the Tuareg community, which has complained about the slow progress of their integration into society promised in 1995 peace accords," AFP said.
In an official broadcast on Wednesday, Wanke said regional posts had been retained by soldiers to "guarantee neutrality during the coming electoral consultations".
NIGERIA: Lagos workers issue strike ultimatum
The 55,000 strong work force in Lagos State has given the state government until Friday to pay the 3,500 naira (US $37) minimum monthly wage or face strike action, the independent newspaper 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday.
According to a statement issued by the Secretary-General of the Councils of Industrial Union (COIU), the workers' patience had been "exhausted."
The union acknowledged workers had been receiving a 3,000 naira minimum wage, but said the authorities had signed an agreement on 13 March raising the minimum wage to 3,500 naira for Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states.
Lagos State workers did not join the national strike called last week by the Nigeria Labour Congress to demand payment of the minimum wage, saying they believed the state government would pay the 3,500 naira to its workers.
Police begin retirement of officers
Meanwhile 'The Guardian' reported on Wednesday the beginning of what it called "the long anticipated mass retirement of police officers."
It said that 23 senior officers, from the ranks of commissioners to assistant superintendents, had so far been contacted by the police headquarters in the capital Abuja and received notice of their retirement. News organisations reported this week that Nigeria has begun a clear out of its civil service which could amount to a loss of some 800,000 jobs.
GUINEA BISSAU: New premier seeks aid in Europe
Francisco Fadul, the new premier of Guinea Bissau's caretaker government said on Wednesday his country would need money and investment from Europe to help with reconstruction following last year's war between the government of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and army rebels.
In interviews with Portuguese news organisations, Fadul said estimates showed the country would need at least US $250 million from donors. "We have to be very modest in asking for help because restrictions are great," he said in a Portuguese radio interview. "Probably next year there will be a round table to discuss reconstruction and development and we would run the risk of impressing our donors - our cooperation partners - negatively."
Fadul's government of "national unity" was sworn in on 20 February with a mandate to consolidate the peace process and prepare for general elections. After a two-day stay in Portugal, he was due in France on Wednesday and also was scheduled to visit Sweden and Italy.
ECHO humanitarian assistance
The European Community's humanitarian office (ECHO) said this week it had agreed to an allocation equivalent to US $613,000 to help fight a meningitis epidemic in Guinea Bissau and neighbouring Senegal. The funds were being used to purchase 600,000 doses of vaccine, and finance a vaccination campaign.
In a statement from its office in Dakar, Senegal, ECHO said the epidemic had started at the beginning of the year in the east of Guinea Bissau before reaching an "explosive" level in March affecting eight of the country's 10 provinces. ECHO said it was also providing funds to help NGOs fight the epidemic.
"ECHO and its partners have pooled their efforts with other agencies like WHO, French and Portuguese groups, as well as MSF, in an operation coordinated by the health ministry's epidemiology department," it said.
TOGO: Government warns press on "false" reporting
The Togolese government has broadcast a warning to journalists on Tuesday night that they should "abide" by the national press code or face the legal consequences.
The broadcast, monitored by the BBC, said: "It has come to the notice of the government that for some time now, some sections of the independent press have been spreading false reports illustrated by photomontage and defamatory and insulting articles on peaceful citizens, national and international officials, as well as established institutions."
The broadcast cited the case of a front-page report in a local newspaper carrying a picture of opposition activists alleged to have been tortured by the National Gendarmerie. "Subsequent investigations have proven the picture to be mere montage," it said.
Analysts said they believed the case in question involved a weekly newspaper, 'The New Times'. The Associated Press reported that a reporter at the newspaper, Romain Attiso Kudjodji, had been detained in the capital Lome on Monday and that the police had accused him of fabricating the torture story. The article published last Friday described how a man posting opposition political leaflets in the city had both arms broken in a police beating.
News reports said two other journalists, Elias Hounkanly and Edoh
Amewouho, had been held since last August for a report which allegedly defamed the first lady, Badagnaki Eyadema.
LIBERIA: UNHCR and WFP begin annual food assessment mission
Delegates from the West African regional offices of UNHCR and WFP and representatives from the donor community are currently in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, for the annual UNHCR/WFP joint assessment mission.
A UNHCR spokesperson told IRIN on Wednesday the mission, from 18 -25 April, would review the overall socio-economic and food supply situation of internally displaced people, other war victims in Liberia and Sierra Leone and the repatriation of Liberian refugees from Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.
The mission would assess the situation in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where a strategy meeting would be held in the capital Conakry on 25 April.
CORRECTION: Update 446
The Benin item "Kerekou to fight corruption" IRIN-West Africa update 446 on Tuesday 20 April, the first line of the last paragraph should have read x x x 60 billion (rpt billion and not million) cfa francs (US $100 million) etc.
Abidjan, 21 April 1999 18:25 GMT
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