WEST AFRICA: More aid for ECOMOG The US government is to give more aid to ECOMOG, IRIN learnt on Thursday from a US Embassy official in Lagos who, however, was unable to give any figures. US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering announced the additional aid on Wednesday in Abuja, news reports said. Nigeria contributes most of the troops in ECOMOG, set up in 1990 by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene in Liberia's civil war, and whose mandate was later extended to Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. Meanwhile a French embassy spokeswoman in Lagos confirmed on Thursday to IRIN that France was giving some 40 military transport vehicles to the Guinean contingent of ECOMOG in Sierra Leone. SIERRA LEONE: Forum for harmony between ECOMOG and civilians A 19-member committee of ECOMOG officials, civilians, journalists and lawyers has been formed to look into relations between the public and ECOMOG, according to an ECOMOG statement sent on Thursday to IRIN. The ECOMOG force commander, Major General Felix Mujakperuo, said the panel was "one of the major agents to be used by the force to achieve its objectives of peace in Sierra Leone". Following the rebel invasion of Freetown on 6 January, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG force was accused of harassing civilians and committing summary executions of suspected rebels or their supporters. Mujakperuo said some of the complaints about ECOMOG were true while others were "fabrications". He said his force wanted to eliminate abuses. Human rights group urges warring parties not to recruit children Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the opposing parties in Sierra Leone's war not to recruit children as soldiers and to demobilize all minors in their ranks. The appeal was made in letters sent by HRW to leaders of the government and rebels. HRW expressed "deep concern" that large numbers of children in Bo and Kenema had reportedly been recruited by the pro-government Kamajor militia. The rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has also been accused of abducting children and using them as soldiers. For copies of the letters please visit the HRW website Looking for Freetown's missing children About 356 of the 3,286 children registered as missing in the Freetown area after a rebel attack there on 6 January have been found, according to the UN Humanitarian Assistance and Coordination Unit (HACU)'s April report on Sierra Leone. UNICEF and its partners are following up on their well being through regular visits, medical and counselling services, HACU said. HACU also reported that the UNHCR has assisted some 480,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in neighbouring countries. However, a programme to repatriate Liberian refugees from Sierra Leone has been suspended to allow for re-registration to determine the exact number of people willing to go home. IDP situation Food, household units, health services, water, health education and agricultural inputs are among the things IDPs in Yele, some 50 km north of Bo, need most urgently, according to a recent assessment by humanitarian agencies. Some 5,743 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been registered in Yele, while 3,000 more are estimated to be staying in villages just outside the town. Insecurity in the area is preventing more accurate assessments, according to HACU. Meanwhile, 9,489 IDPs have been reported in the town of Mondema, while 20,000 are now in Waterloo, southeast of Freetown. Toilet facilities and water sources remain a big problem there, according to the HACU report. ECOMOG has assured agencies that the area is secure, although, the report says, access is not always possible. There are also reports of large concentrations of displaced people in the northern district of Kambia, although exact figures are not known. Humanitarian access Humanitarian agencies are unable to move substantial quantities of relief goods to any part of the country but Freetown. The northern districts of Bambali, Koinadugu, Kambia, Tonkolili and Port Loko, home to some 1.6 million people, have been inaccessible to agencies over long periods of time, according to the HACU report. More than 60 percent of the people in the Eastern Province are not receiving relief aid, while at least 55 percent (2.6 million) of residents of conflict-affected parts of the country are out of reach of humanitarian agencies. In the more accessible government-controlled areas, where some two million people live, agencies are providing emergency relief to just over 120,000 persons, although insecurity on the roads and sometimes in towns affect their operations. Rebels accuse government of creating obstacles to peace Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean rebels meeting in Lome for internal talks accused the government side on Tuesday of creating obstacles to peace by stepping up its military offensive and rejecting a ceasefire proposal, according to news reports. A ceasefire proposal was submitted to the government by the UN special envoy, Francis Okelo, at the weekend, an UN information officer based in Freetown confirmed to IRIN. However Kabbah's government said it would not support a ceasefire unless traditional chiefs, ECOMOG and the cabinet gave their backing, AFP reported. Joint effort to control health situation The WHO, UNICEF, health NGOs and the Health Ministry in Sierra Leone have joined forces to try to bring the health situation under control following a health emergency declared in January, according to a recent report by HACU. According to the report, there are now 25 working health centres and eight mobile clinics operating in Freetown and another 22 centres are being reopened. All private and public hospitals in accessible areas have now been rehabilitated and staffed with the support of the UNICEF, WHO and health NGOs. Health agencies tackle measles Measles immunisation campaigns, coordinated by MSF-Belgium, MERLIN, UNICEF and the Health Ministry have now been completed, according to the HACU report. They covered 45,723 children below the age of 12 in Bo and Kenema and 20,802 in Freetown and the Western Area. Displaced children suffering from malnutrition The situation of infants in camps for the displaced is "seriously compromised" because of an extreme scarcity of food and high commodity prices in the country, according to a report issued on 22 April by the Ministry of Health. The report, entitled 'Rapid Assessment of the Nutritional Status of Under 5 Children in IDP camps in Freetown', said the presence of acute malnutrition among children of breastfeeding age indicated maternal malnutrition. It recommended that all lactating internally displaced mothers be included in Supplementary Feeding Programmes. GUINEA BISSAU: Troops loyal to President Vieira surrender Troops loyal to President Joao Bernardo Vieira surrendered on Friday to those backing former Armed Forces chief of staff General Ansumane Mane after a shootout in Bissau, a diplomatic source in neighbouring Senegal told IRIN. It was not immediately certain whether this development would have any effect on legislative and presidential elections set for 28 November in a decree read out on Monday on national radio. The fighting came on the heels of a 4-5 May pledging conference in Geneva at which 32 countries and international agencies promised US $200 million over three years for Guinea Bissau. Prime Minister Francisco Fadul had asked for US $138.2 million. Head of UN Peace-building office appointed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Samuel Nana-Sinkam, a Cameroonian, as his representative in Guinea Bissau and head of UNOGBIS, the UN Peace-building Support Office in the West African nation. According to a UN press release, Nana-Sinkam was the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative in the Republic of Congo since 1995. Before that, he was the FAO Director-General's representative at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)and the director of the joint ECA/FAO Division on Agriculture in Addis Ababa from 1987 to 1995. NIGERIA: New Constitution now law Nigeria's outgoing military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, signed the country's new constitution into law on Wednesday, state-owned Voice of Nigeria radio reported. Abubakar said the new document, patterned after the suspended 1979 constitution, will give more powers to the country's 36 states. It takes effect on 29 May. Pro-democracy groups have criticised the military for not publishing the document which, Abubakar said, will be made public soon. The new constitution was approved on Tuesday by the Provisional Ruling Council - Nigeria's highest policy-making body. Its spokesman , Major General Abdullahi Muktar, said on Tuesday that the council had also repealed Decree 43 of 1993 which requires the registration of all newspapers, judging the decree undemocratic and harmful to journalism. Cholera, measles, TB kill 100 people in Kano An outbreak of cholera, measles and tuberculosis has killed at least 100 people in the northern Nigerian state of Kano, `The Guardian' of Lagos reported on Wednesday. The principal medical officer in charge of the state's Infectious Diseases Hospital, Dr. Mansur Muhammad, told the newspaper that since the epidemic was first reported on 24 April, 1,000 persons had been admitted to the IDH: 700 for cholera, two for measles and 300 for tuberculosis (TB). Government, he said, had moved quickly to check the outbreak by providing free anti-TB drugs, which it had never done before. Ten feared dead in clash between Nigerians, Chadians At least 10 people are feared dead and 30 have been hospitalised following clashes between residents of Kirikasama town in Nigeria's Jigawa State and "bandits" from Chad and Niger, the `Post Express' of Nigeria reported on Wednesday. During the clashes, which erupted on Thursday night and lasted through Saturday, four villages were burnt in Kirikasama. Military must be modernised, say top officials Senior military officials this week called on the incoming civilian administration to ensure that the armed forces are modernised and powerful enough to carry out their constitutional duties, local media have reported. The chief of air staff, Air Marshall Nsikak Eduok, told reporters in Port Harcourt that "it could be suicidal to say scrap the military", the `Post Express Wired' newspaper reported. The newspaper also quoted outgoing military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar as saying that "no serious minded nation can underplay the need for a strong, well equipped and highly professional military". These reactions come amid proposals by some politicians that the military be disbanded as an antidote to incessant coups. Nigeria, which has been ruled by the military for most of its 39 years of independence, also plays the key role in the West African peace monitoring group, ECOMOG. A political analyst in Nigeria told IRIN on Tuesday that coups had little to do with whether the military was weak or strong. The analyst, Nimi Walson-Jack, director of the Centre for Responsive Politics, cited the example of The Gambia which, he recalled, had no army when the first attempted coup took place there in the mid-1980s. Keeping the military out of politics, he said, depended on the maintenance of a strong society and a civilian administration should cultivate this. "The people can resist the military whether or not the military is strong. This depends on a strong society," Walson-Jack told IRIN. "So (a civilian) government should not hinder civil society." Although Nigeria needs a strong military, he said, its mission must now go beyond traditional military frontiers and incorporate "humanitarian and social activities". They must, he added, help in disaster situations such as in floods, set up camps and provide food, "something they don't do here." As to Nigeria's subregional military's dominant role in ECOMOG Walson-Jack said: "I do not believe that Nigeria has a duty to police West Africa. We have a responsibility at home." However, he said, should others in a subregional or global situation provide more equitably in providing financial, military and human resources to quell a situation, then Nigeria "must play its part". Rights groups say Muslim activists persecuted Nigerian human rights groups have accused the outgoing military government of persecuting militants of the Islamic Brotherhood, a group led by Muslim cleric Ibrahim El-Zak Zaky. Fabian Okoye, the director of publications of Human Rights Monitor - an NGO that has interviewed Zaky extensively - told IRIN on Monday the Brotherhood had been denied freedom to express its views on the government and had had its processions broken up illegally, while scores of Zaky's followers were still being detained. LIBERIA: CARITAS donates agricultural materials A Roman Catholic relief service, CARITAS has given tools, rice and vegetable seeds to the Catholic parish in Barclayville, Grand Kru County for distribution among parishioners, independent Star radio reported on Wednesday. Meanwhile, thieves stole at least 400 bags of rice seed, 10,000 assorted agricultural tools and educational supplies at the weekend from the Lutheran World Service central warehouse in Monrovia, Star radio reported the NGO as saying on Tuesday. Refugees complain about local security Meanwhile in Kumgbor, Lofa County, Sierra Leonean refugees have complained about local security to a visiting district superintendent, 'Star radio' reported on Friday. The refugees said security men were harassing them for identity cards and taking away their food. According to 'Star radio', District Superintendent William Seh promised prompt government action to bring the situation "under control". He said he would recommend that the UNHCR give refugees identity cards. There are about 1,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Kumgbor, Star said. TOGO: Stay-away only moderately successful A stay-at-home protest called by seven opposition parties to press for the resolution of a political impasse in Togo has been only partially successful, news sources told IRIN on Wednesday. Some activity was paralysed. In one primary school, for example, just about one-tenth of the teachers reported for duty, while 'zemidjans' (scooters which function as taxis) were difficult to get. However, most public servants went to work. On Monday, the opposition had called on civil servants, bank employees, traders, transport workers and taxi drivers to stay at home until the government released the correct results of presidential elections held in June 1998. The opposition claimed the results, giving President Gnassingbe Eyadema a victory, were rigged. As a result, all but one of the opposition parties boycotted legislative elections held in March. Government threatens to sue Amnesty Togo's government said on Wednesday it would sue Amnesty International over a report alleging that Lome was responsible for hundreds of political killings, disappearances, and torture. The Amnesty report contained "disinformation, fakery and gross fiction", the government said in a statement. It expressed indignation at the accusation, describing it as "surreal and unfounded". The 45-page report charged that the Togolese paramilitary police and military had killed hundreds of people, many of whose bodies had been washed up on the beach. Its release coincided with the presence in Togo of four mediators from the European Union, France, Germany and la Francophonie, who arrived on Monday in Lome to discuss ways to resolve the crisis over the June 1998 election. NIGER: Commission appointed to draw up new constitution Niger's 14-member military junta has appointed a commission to draw up a new constitution, a media source in Niger told IRIN. The committee has until 17 May to complete its work, which also includes drafting an electoral code and a charter governing political parties, said the source. Niger's constitution was scrapped on 11 April, two days after a military coup in which then president Ibrahim Barre Mainassara was killed. BURKINA FASO: Parliament adopts tough bill on drugs Parliament in Burkina Faso has adopted a bill providing for tougher punishment for the production, sale and use of illegal drugs, according to AFP. Offenders could face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years. Fines could range from five million to 25 million CFA francs (US $8,000 to $42,000 dollars). If the bill becomes law, a drug investigation unit will be established. CHAD: Troops to be pulled out of the DRC Chad has decided to withdraw its estimated 1,000 troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) following a regional accord concluded last month in Sirte, Libya, according to news reports. Reuters quoted Information Minister Moussa Dago as saying details of the withdrawal would be decided with the government of President Laurent Kabila. The troops were sent in last September to help Kabila's government fight rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Under the Sirte accord - signed by the presidents of the DRC, Chad, Uganda and Eritrea - Libya and Eritrea are to send military observers to replace foreign troops involved in the conflict: the DRC army is also backed by Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean troops.
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