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West Africa: Weekly Round-up 405, 1-7 Dec 2007

CAR refugees in Cameroon diseased, malnourished, lack water. Chad: Rebel fronts multiply in the east. Chad: European force "blocked" for now. Cote D'ivoire: Tend to cattle then go to class. Guinea-Mali: Authorities move to prevent border clashes.

WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 405 for 1-7 December 2007

NIGERIA: Government quits talks with Pfizer, dealing "serious blow" to families SENEGAL: Citizens on coastal environment watch TOGO: Haphazard supply of AIDS drugs endangers lives WEST AFRICA: UN launches regional human rights office WEST AFRICA: Groups call on governments to tackle violence against schoolgirls WEST AFRICA: Meeting education targets - access versus quality

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC-CAMEROON: CAR refugees in Cameroon diseased, malnourished, lack water

Most of the 45,000 Central African Republic (CAR) refugees living in eastern Cameroon are diseased, malnourished and generally in bad health, non-governmental organisation (NGO) and UN workers say.

Since 2005 the Mbororo pastoralists of western CAR have been fleeing child kidnappings and violent attacks - including throat-slitting - by masked bandits whose identities remain unknown.

The refugees arrive "very weakened, after long days of walking and a lot of stress and they live in very difficult conditions", Eric Grimaldi of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told IRIN.


CHAD: Rebel fronts multiply in the east

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After a week of intense fighting between the Chadian army and the rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) in mountainous Hadjar Marfaine near the Chad-Sudan border, another rebel group has opened a second front farther north.

The Rally of the Forces for Change (RFC), led by Timane Erdimi, has crossed into Chad from Sudan, the government announced at a closed meeting with representatives of the international community in the capital Ndjamena on 1 December.

The rebels have been seen heading east towards the town of Guereda, a major humanitarian hub for assisting tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians.


CHAD: European force "blocked" for now

The 4,500-strong European force expected to start arriving in Chad and the Central African Republic in November to protect aid workers and some 500,000 displaced civilians is on hold for now. The force, known as EUFOR, currently consists of 23 military personnel holed up in a hotel in Chad's capital N'djamena, 700 km west of the conflict zone.

"The process [of launching the force] has been blocked for the moment," EUFOR spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Poulain told IRIN on 4 December. "EU countries have not agreed on who should provide the equipment we need to get started and they are no longer even having what we call 'force-generating' conferences to discuss the matter," he said.

"Things must first be worked out at the highest [presidential and ministerial] level before we can have another force-generating conference to discuss how to get the force up and running," he said, adding that even if next week EU countries were to agree on providing the necessary equipment the force could not properly launch before January.


COTE D'IVOIRE: Tend to cattle then go to class

Shortly before noon 7-year-old Kolotioloma Soro, her 9-year-old sister Anne-Marie and a crowd of other children tie up their cattle to bushes and sit under a giant tree for a brief rest before their school lessons.

After a meal of millet cakes and milk, the children retrieve slates and chalk they keep tucked away in nearby underbrush then situate themselves in straight rows on the ground under the tree. "The teacher will be here shortly," Kolotioloma says. "We'll review a bit before he arrives."

The children - in Fapaha village in Côte d'Ivoire's north-central Korhogo region - are part of a programme, sponsored by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and run by the local NGO 'Animation Rurale de Korhogo' (ARK), to provide schooling to children who spend their days tending to family crops or livestock.


GUINEA-MALI: Authorities move to prevent border clashes

After months of pleas to authorities from village leaders, the Malian and Guinean governments say they will take steps to prevent further violence over land rights along their border, where three clashes in less than six months have killed 11 people and injured at least 30 others.

After late November meetings, authorities from both countries announced the resumption of a long-inactive mixed patrol force along the Mali-Guinea border.

"We have agreed ... to provide border security forces from both countries with adequate forms of communication, in order to encourage and expand the exchange of information to better secure the border areas," said Malian Minister of Territorial Administration, General Kafougouna Koné.


MAURITANIA: The real beginning of the end of slavery?

Four months after the passing of a law criminalising slavery in Mauritania, anti-slavery activists hope newly-announced funding for the reintegration of former slaves will address the many problems they continue to face in Mauritanian society.

"Quite obviously, we're very pleased with the announcement," said Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, member of the anti-slavery organisation SOS Esclaves, which has been leading the fight against slavery in Mauritania for years. "The government is sending slaves a strong signal and it is also proof that the authorities have heard our calls."

When slavery was criminalised in August, human rights and anti-slavery organisations urged the government - as they had been doing for years - to adopt accompanying measures for the law to be effective.

Officially abolished in 1981, slavery continues to be practiced in all Mauritanian communities, mostly in rural areas, by upper-class lighter-skinned Moors (Berber Arabs) as well as black Africans. One estimate by the Open Society Justice Initiative places the number of slaves and former slaves at 20 percent of the population - or about 500,000 people - but the numbers are difficult to confirm.


NIGER: Rape and beatings of women "normal" in Niger

The news that 70 percent of women in parts of Niger find it normal that their husbands, fathers and brothers regularly beat, rape and humiliate them came as no surprise to human rights experts in Niger.

"Women here have been indoctrinated by their families, by religious officials, by society that this is a normal phenomenon," said Lisette Quesnel, a gender-based violence advisor with Oxfam in Niger, which produced the statistic from a survey of women in the remote Zinder region of eastern Niger in 2006.

The frequency of the crimes and the impunity granted to the attackers partly explain the broad social acceptance of it, activists say. Rape is increasingly common in the capital Niamey.


NIGERIA: Government quits talks with Pfizer, dealing "serious blow" to families

Families affected by controversial drug tests in Kano, northern Nigeria, say the state government's decision to quit settlement talks with the US drug maker Pfizer has destroyed their hopes of any financial relief.

Authorities in Kano state have pulled out of negotiations over an out-of-court settlement of a $2.75-billion suit against Pfizer.

"Kano state government is no longer inclined towards holding any direct discussions with Pfizer, its retained counsel or employees," Kano's justice commissioner Aliyu Umar said in a 28 November letter he sent to Pfizer's counsel, Anthony Idigbe.

Kano state filed civil and criminal suits in March 2007 before the state high court, demanding $2.75 billion in compensation from Pfizer for allegedly carrying out an unauthorised test of a meningitis drug called Trovan on 200 children in April 1996 during a triple epidemic of measles, cholera and meningitis that claimed over 12,000 lives.


SENEGAL: Citizens on coastal environment watch

Concrete walls, boulders, tyres; enclosed vegetable gardens: These are just some of the means Senegal's coastal communities are using to stop trash-dumping and sand-mining as well as the reckless chopping down of the coast's protective trees.

These illegal but profitable activities are eroding Senegal's coast and damaging the marine environment, and community groups and authorities say it must stop.

"There is increased exploitation along this strip that must prompt the local population to mobilise to protect this treasure," El Hadj Amadou Bèye, president of SOS Littoral (SOS Coastal), told IRIN.


TOGO: Haphazard supply of AIDS drugs endangers lives

A critical shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in Togo has temporarily eased with the arrival of a two-month supply of the life-prolonging medication.

HIV-positive people and AIDS activists say an unstable supply of ARVs in the country is putting lives in danger.

A stop-gap consignment of the generic drug, Triomune, arrived from its Indian manufacturer on 28 November, four months after the order had been placed; distribution began the next day. "They are making efforts to catch up on lost time," said Augustin Dokla, president of RAS+, a network for people living with HIV in Togo.


WEST AFRICA: UN launches regional human rights office

Violence against women, human trafficking and migration are expected to lead the agenda of a new West Africa office of the UN human rights commission, a top UN official says.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) signed an agreement with the Senegalese government on 3 December to set up a regional office in the capital, Dakar. The office - the fourth regional office in Africa - is expected to open in early 2008.

Kyung-wha Kang, UN deputy commissioner for human rights who was in Dakar for the signing, told IRIN on 3 December that one priority is to help make people aware that violence against women constitutes a breach of fundamental rights. "People tend to think of violence against women not as a human rights issue," she said. "But it is a serious, serious human rights violation."


WEST AFRICA: Groups call on governments to tackle violence against schoolgirls

To improve girls' education, West African governments must adopt national policies addressing all aspects of violence against schoolgirls - who face rape by teachers, verbal abuse by male students and forced early marriage by parents - a grouping of policy makers, teachers' unions and civil society organisations has said.

"For all girls to go to school, the question of violence against girls must be solved," said Victorine Djitrinou, international education, advocacy and campaign coordinator for ActionAid International, which organised a conference in Saly, Senegal, on violence against girls in school from 1-3 December.

"Governments must take this on as a problem. Until now, that hasn't happened," she said.


WEST AFRICA: Meeting education targets - access versus quality

Midway to the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, several West African countries have made vast efforts to achieve universal education and gender parity in primary schools by 2015. But education officials and teachers' unions say the push for increased access to education has come at a cost.

"Right now, governments are making a lot of effort on quantity and not quality," Victorine Djitrinou, international education, advocacy and campaign coordinator for ActionAid International, told IRIN at a recent conference on violence against schoolgirls held in Saly, Senegal.

While enrolment numbers have improved, retention and graduation rates remain a serious problem and, in some cases, have even decreased. Officials in many West African countries say tens of thousands of unqualified teachers have a lot to do with it.



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