LIBERIA: Monrovia's denials fail to convince ECOMOG Liberia's denial that it plans to attack Sierra Leone has failed to impress the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force backing the Freetown government. ECOMOG's spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukulade, told IRIN on Friday: "Intelligence reports indicated a massing of Liberian troops at the border with Sierra Leone near Zimmi and we believe the troops are still there." Earlier this week, Liberia's Defence Ministry expressed "shock and dismay" at allegations by the ECOMOG (ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group) force commander that Liberia planned to attack Sierra Leone. SIERRA LEONE: Two sides agree on the "principle of freeing Sankoh" The Sierra Leone government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) have agreed in principle to release RUF leader Foday Sankoh, news organisation reported. "The principle of the release of Foday Sankoh has been accepted by the two parties," Togo's Foreign Minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, said on Thursday at a news conference in Lome, Togo. He said the details of Sankoh's release needed to be worked out in order for them to comply with Sierra Leonean laws. The unconditional release of Sankoh, who was sentenced to death in October 1998 on treason charges but was temporarily freed to attend the Lome talks, has always been a key demand of the rebels for ending the war. "We are very happy, progress has been made and is being made," Reuters reported Omrie Golley, the RUF's legal adviser, as saying. Earlier this week, the leader of the RUF delegation - and its People's War Council chairman - Solomon Y.B. Rogers, told reporters his group wanted a four-year transitional government, a blanket amnesty for RUF members and Sankoh's release. Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is opposed to his elected government giving way to an interim administration that would include rebels blamed for a "reign of terror," Reuters said. ECOMOG says rebel convoy on the move In Sierra Leone, 3,000 rebels with their convoy of tankers were sighted heading towards Kambia from the north-eastern town of Makeni, Olukulade, told the BBC on Wednesday. This movement, he added, threatened Freetown's Lungi International Airport and Freetown, and mirrored the rebel enter into the capital in January. Kambia is 80 km north of Freetown. "ECOMOG will not take kindly to this violation," Olukulade said. The government and RUF agreed to a ceasefire that came into force on 24 May. An official of the Professional Drivers' Association said that since the signing of the truce, members of the transport union had resumed traffic on the main highway between Freetown and the eastern town of Kenema, news organisations said. WFP "ready to roll" in food The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday that it was still waiting for clearance to deliver badly needed supplies to previously inaccessible areas. "We are ready to roll. We've prepared a food convoy but we're still in a holding pattern," Paul Ares, regional manager for WFP in Abidjan, told AFP. Food deliveries have been severely constrained for the last four months by the closure of the main road linking the capital to the southern towns of Bo and Kenema, WFP said in a statement. In April, food stocks ran out in Kenema, some 250 km southeast of Freetown. "As a result, 51,000 displaced people in the town and nearby Blama received a two-week food ration in April instead of the usual one- month ration," Ares said. He added that food stocks would finish by Monday in Bo, some 80 km west of Kenema. WFP is feeding some 10,000 displaced people in Kenema, where food stocks will be exhausted by the end of the month. Human rights commissioner to visit in June UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson is scheduled to visit Sierra Leone towards the end of June at the invitation of the government. The primary aims of the mission will include supporting the peace process, encouraging programmes for the promotion and protection of human rights, highlighting the plight of women, children and other vulnerable groups, advocating the right of access to affected populations and empowering and expressing solidarity with communities of human rights victims and defenders. UNOMSIL team received by president President Kabbah received in audience on Wednesday a two-man planning team from the Mission Planning Service, according to a press release from the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). The planning team will work with the UNOMSIL Chief Military Observer in Sierra Leone, Brigadier General Subhash Joshi, to prepare recommendations for a revision of UNOMSIL's military mandate. UN plans to support the peace initiative include the progressive deployment of military observers with the improvement of the security situation. WEST AFRICA: Sierra Leone absent from Mano River Meeting A three-day meeting held in Monrovia to discuss the creation of a parliamentary body for the Mano River Union (MRU) continued on Friday in the absence of Sierra Leone, one of the three member countries of the union, news reports said. In recent weeks, member states have been accusing one another of supporting dissident activities and, according to PANA, a Malian parliamentary delegation was attending the Thursday-Saturday meeting as intermediary. The MRU was set up in 1973 to promote economic integration and cooperation in trade between Liberia and Sierra Leone, PANA reported. Guinea joined five years later. NIGER: Bid to blacklist Niger in ECOWAS fails West African foreign ministers discussing regional insecurity rebuffed an earlier call by Benin, Mali and Sierra Leone to deny recognition to the new military administration in Niger led by Major Daouda Wanke, whose unit killed President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara on 9 April. Instead, it passed a milder version of an earlier draft that referred to Mainassara's death as an assassination, AFP reported. In their final communique, the 16 ministers of ECOWAS said on Tuesday there was need for an independent committee of enquiry that would look into the president's death. ECOWAS asked to help with elections West African foreign ministers have asked their highest regional economic body, ECOWAS, "to lend active support" to Niger's plans for democratic elections later this year. In their final communique published on Tuesday following an emergency meeting on crises in West Africa, the ministers recommended that ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate take part in the preparation and supervision of elections promised for December by the military government. Niger is run by a 14-member Conseil de reconciliation nationale, headed by Wanke. Draft constitution worries members of minority groups Minority groups in Niger say they want scrapped a proposal in a draft electoral code that will abolish a mechanism which, till now, has guaranteed their communities seats in parliament, a media source told IRIN from Niamey. In a joint statement read out on Monday on a private radio station, members of the Toubou, Gourmantche and Arab communities said that abolishing eight special constituencies would prevent them from being adequately represented in parliament. The government set up a technical committee which proposed the abolition of the special constituencies. A law creating the special constituencies was passed in 1992 in response to calls for better minority representation. The law ensured that eight of the 83 seats in Niger's parliament went to the smallest minorities, mainly the Arab, Toubou and Gourmantche. These three communities together make up under 2 percent of Niger's roughly 9.5 million people, most of whom are from the Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups. GUINEA BISSAU: ECOWAS recommends force withdrawal ECOWAS Foreign Ministers meeting in Lome recommended on Tuesday the withdrawal of ECOMOG troops from Guinea Bissau even though the country's foreign minister, Hilia Gomes Barbes, had called for their retention. ECOMOG's 600 troops from The Benin, The Gambia, Niger and Togo were deployed in January to monitor a peace agreement between the now ousted President Joao Bernardo Vieira and the self-styled Military Junta, comprising army mutineers. After the junta overthrew Vieira on 7 May, critics questioned the need for ECOMOG troops in the country. Army detonates 2,000 land mines Guinea Bissau's military destroyed at least 2,000 land mines on Tuesday in what it termed was a "gesture" to call international attention to the need to make the area around the capital safe, news reports said. The operation was conducted in the neighbourhoods of Enterramento and Plaque-2, formerly controlled by the Military Junta that ousted President Joao Bernardo Vieira, AFP reported. The Junta had accused the pro-Vieira forces of having planted thousands of mines in a vain effort to stop the junta troops from breaching the capital's defences. GUINEA: Refugees camps for safer zones The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to move the Tassin refugee camp in Guinea away from the frontier following a cross-border raid 22-23 May by Sierra Leonean RUF rebels, in which 10 villagers were killed and 13 wounded. A UNHCR official told IRIN on Tuesday that Tassin, located in the Forecariah Prefecture, was one of seven camps due for relocation and that the move would involve 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. In the eastern Guinean area of Gueckedou, some 10,000 of the 50,000 refugees living in vulnerable sites have already been transferred to safer locations away from the border. Together, Guinea and Liberia host at least 400,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. NIGERIA: Kafanchan under curfew Kaduna State government imposed a curfew in the northern town of Kafanchan on Monday, where at least 150 people were estimated to have died in communal violence at that weekend, `The Guardian' newspaper reported on Tuesday. Residents stayed indoors and armed police patrolled the precincts of the city where, the newspaper reported, scores of vehicles and public buildings were burnt down, including the emir's palace. The fighting on 22 May occurred when indigenes from southern Kaduna resisted the inauguration of the new emir of Jemma, near Kafanchan, by the Hausa ethnic group. The indigenes said the emirate was a Hausa cultural imposition on their community. Rights groups send wish list to incoming head Three human rights groups want the incoming Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to repeal repressive military decrees, release of the bodies of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists hanged in 1995, and begin a transparent process to draft a new constitution. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and two Nigerian groups, the Civil Liberties Organization and the Constitutional Rights Project, called for these and other steps in a joint letter to Obasanjo in which they suggested priorities for his government, HRW reported on Thursday. HRW has also released a new report titled "Crackdown in the Niger Delta," on the situation in the Niger Delta. In the 25-page report, it draws attention to the crisis among Nigeria's oil-producing communities where, it says, serious human rights violations have continued, despite the relaxation of repression elsewhere in Nigeria since the death of former head of state General Sani Abacha in June 1998. Among the incidents highlighted is an attack on two remote communities in January 1999 for which, HRW said, the Nigerian army used a helicopter and boats contracted to Chevron Nigeria. Few details on Obasanjo's game plan With just hours before President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo is sworn in as Nigeria's new democratically elected head of state, little detail has emerged on his plans to heal a country brutalised by 15 years of military misrule, analysts say. "The president-elect has not been talking about specifics because he's not in office," Obasanjo's campaign manager Onyema Ugochukwu told IRIN on Wednesday. "He's careful to get there first, but things will move quickly after that." However, for civil liberties and opposition groups, the concern is that Obasanjo - a former military head of state who handed over to a civilian government in 1979 - may not offer fundamental change. Attitude towards Liberia Meanwhile, Nigerian foreign policy towards Liberia under a new civilian government is likely to stress international sanctions in an attempt to "ring fence" President Charles Taylor, regarded as a source of regional instability, policy analysts told IRIN. "Nigeria has to show Taylor one way or another that Liberia can be punished," said Oche Ogaba, a research fellow at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, a government advisory body. Britain, Nigeria and the United States have accused Taylor of directly supporting the Revolutionary United Front rebels, which represents a direct challenge to Nigeria, the regional power, and ECOWAS, who back Sierra Leonean President Kabbah. Liberia denies the charge. Bishops express concern about country's poor image Nevertheless, Liberian Catholic bishops have called on Taylor's government to craft a "clearly defined" foreign policy in the face of Liberia's "gradual isolation" from the rest of the world, PANA reported on Monday. "It is disturbing," they said, that since the inauguration of the elected government in 1997 "there are only a handful of foreign missions accredited near this capital." The letter, titled `Liberia, the Third Millennium is by Bishops Michael Francis, Boniface Dalieh and Benedict Sekey.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions