Africa News Update
Thursday, 4. February 1999

FREE of charge news and background service from the Norwegian Council for Africa. The Norwegian Council for Africa (Fellesr├ądet for Afrika) is a non-profit making NGO. The news items and background stories are for reading and information only, and strictly not for publication, broadcast or other forms of redistribution. Some of the articles included in AFRICA UPDATE are shortened.


1. Sierra Leone: Army chief warns against withdrawal

2. Liberia: Taylor vetoes bill to grant news agency autonomy

3. Namibia: Government told to deliver Vision 2030

4. Tanzania: How the bomb brought Hollywood to Dar

5. Uganda: Referendum Too Divisive

6. Zambia: 1999 budget doesn't offer much hope

7. Zambia: Print media gets duty free incentive

8. DR Congo: Chiluba wants negotiations to embrace all parties

9. Zanzibar: Anyaoku seeks end to Zanzibar's tension

10. Southern Africa: Negotiators' face tough task

11. Mozambique remembers Mondlane

12. Sudan: Sudan imposes a news blackout on opposition parties

********************NEWS and BACKGROUND****************

1. Sierra Leone: : Army chief warns against withdrawal

Panafrican News Agency, 3 February 1999

By Paul Ejime

Lagos - Premature withdrawal of Nigerian troops from war- ravaged Sierra
Leone could trigger greater insecurity for the entire West African
sub-region, Sierra Leone's army chief warned Wednesday.

"If we get the additional troops pledged by ECOWAS members and the necessary
logistic support, ECOMOG (the Nigeria-led regional force) would be able to
end the crisis in Sierra Leone in no time," Brig. Gen. Maxwell Khobe told
PANA in an interview.

He was reacting to last week's statement by Nigerian military ruler Gen.
Abdulsalami Abubakar on the plan to withdraw Nigerian troops by 29 May, when
a democratically elected government is to be installed.

There is mounting pressure on the government to end the ECOMOG peace-keeping
campaign, which is costing Nigeria millions of dollars at a time of drastic
fall in government revenue from oil, the nation's lifeline.

Khobe, who is leading a Sierra Leonean defence team to seek military
assistance from Nigeria, said with an additional 5,000 troops, ECOMOG, set
up by the 16-nation ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States),
could wipe out the rebels. This would raise the number of troops in the
country to some 15,000.

But a hasty withdrawal by Nigeria, which has the largest contingent, would
make it possible for the rebels to make good their threat of "distabilising
not only Sierra Leone, but Guinea and possibly Nigeria," Khobe warned. "We
need more men and logistic support to finish the job," said Khobe, a
Nigerian and former Ecomog task force commander in Sierra Leone.

He led the military operation to restore elected President Ahmad Tejan
Kabbah to power March after he was toppled in a coup by junior army officers
in May 1997.

Remnants of the junta and their Revolutionary United Front allies later
entered Freetown early January leaving in their trail wanton destruction of
lives and property.

Khobe, speaking for the first time on how the rebels were able to break the
Ecomog defence line and capture the State House, blamed the situation on
what he called "command structure problem."

"The soldiers on the check points did not do their work," he said. "In the
military no commander leaves his troops to command those assigned to another

He noted that Ecomog troops on checkpoint duties were probably deceived by
the rebels who entered the city disguised as refugees.

"They (manning the checkpoints) did not take into account that it is better
to kill a few (rebels) to save many (civilians) than allowing that few to
come into the city to destroy the people," Khobe argued.

But he added that such a lapse would never be repeated.

Commenting on the conflicting casualty figures from the rebel invasion,
Khobe said the casualty on the ECOMOG side was minimal.

He, however, claimed that up to 6,000 rebels were killed in different battle
fields, noting that the actual civilian casualties would only be known after
the return of those who were forced to flee the fighting.

On the lasting solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone, Khobe said that
diplomacy should be backed by military option.

He also noted that Liberian President Charles Taylor, accused of supporting
the rebels, held the key to any meaningful solution to the conflict.

"Taylor is in charge of the rebel supply line, not (rebel leader)Foday
Sankoh or (rebel commander) Sam Bockarie," Khobe claimed.

But he also explained that the Liberian leader was not acting alone. "It
goes beyond the African continent, involving some countries with guerilla
background." Khobe said. "These included Burkina Faso, Angola, Cote d'Ivoire
and even Ukraine," in Europe.

Liberia has repeatedly denied the allegation that it is supporting the
rebels, but Khobe said evidence abound to the contrary, including alleged
supply of arms and ammunition, medicines and logistics.

"It is in the interest of the sub-region to remove this cankerworm, because
when a rebel disappears into the bush, he creates about three of his kind,"
he said.


2. Liberia: Taylor vetoes bill to grant news agency autonomy

Panafrican News Agency, 3 february 1999

By Peter Kahler

Monrovia - President Charles Taylor Wednesday vetoed a bill seeking to grant
autonomous status to the Liberia News Agency.

In a communication to the parliament, which had approved the bill, he said
he had vetoed the bill because of the government's "very limited financial
resource base" which has necessitated a policy to justify both the number
and size of existing ministries and agencies.

"We are now in the process of reviewing these ministries and agencies with a
view to downsizing, merging and, in some instances, abolishing some," Taylor

The agency was established in 1979 under a joint cooperation agreement
between the Liberian and German governments, under which the German Agency
for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) provided substantial support for the project.

The Germans pulled out of the project in 1987 when the Liberian government
failed to live up to phase two of the project, which primarily was granting
an autonomous status to the agency.

Parliamentarian Martin Kerkula, sponsor of the bill, rejected Taylor's
argument, saying, "government is still creating new agencies and ministries
as evidenced by several bills before the legislature."

The lawmakers are expected to hold consultations on the matter after which
they will either accept the veto or over-rule it by a two-thirds vote, in
line with the country's constitution.


3.Namibia: Government told to deliver Vision 2030

The Namibian (Namibia), 3 February 1999

By Christof Maletsky

Windhoek - President Sam Nujoma yesterday said that his Vision 2030
initiative is struggling to get off the ground mainly due to a lack of focus
and planning.

Nujoma said that Cabinet had agreed Vision 2030 last year, yet very few
concrete steps had been taken to expand it by preparing mission statements
and setting yearly, five-year and long-term targets.

Opening the first Cabinet meeting of 1999 in Windhoek, Nujoma acknowledged
that Cabinet members had been working hard but said it was important to know
where the country wanted to be in a year, five years, 10 years and in the
year 2030.

"We must have a common focus and our planning should not be on an ad hoc
basis. Co-ordination is important and that is what Vision 2030 is all
about," he told the Cabinet.

In a wideranging 'call to action', the President also urged fiscal
discipline and responsible borrowing as well as improved productivity in
both the private and public sectors. And, importantly "We must ... commit
ourselves to responsible spending and prudent use of our financial resources."

To ensure that Vision 2030 started becoming a reality, the President
suggested that a small committee under the chairmanship of Prime Minister
Hage Geingob be appointed to hammer out the details and work out targets.

Nujoma said the committee should be asked to complete its task within the
next six months.

While planning was important, it served no purpose if there was no
implementation, he said.

"This year we must emphasise implementation, meeting of targets, fine-tuning
of Government machinery by identifying core and non-core activities in
consultation with the trade unions and putting in place other systems for
taking the country forward."

The President cited two examples where delivery had been poor - the proposed
state lottery and road user fees.

He said he had not seen any progress on the state lottery initiative even
though such a lottery would generate funds to augment social pensions and
create jobs for people manning the kiosks and selling of lottery tickets.

"Furthermore, we should decide on whether the state lottery would be run by
the Government or a parastatal or contracted out on behalf of the state. We
must get going this year. We need to take care of the needy in our society
and we need to create jobs for young Namibians."

On the introduction of road user fees, Nujoma said: "...we continue to drag
our heels when it comes to implementation. Is it not do-able? What is the
problem? If there is a problem, please bring it to the attention of the
Cabinet so that we can find solutions to the problem. Otherwise, we must
know the reasons for delay."

He said the two examples were sufficient to illustrate his concern that
Government was not doing enough to concretise policy initiatives.


4. Tanzania: How the bomb brought Hollywood to Dar

The East African, 4 - 10 February 1999

By Michael Okema

Dar es Salaam - After the bombing of the US Embassy, life in Dar will never
be the same again. The episode has proved to be more than a passing cloud.
For one, security measures have been stepped up in many premises. For
another, bomb scares are becoming a way of life.

Barely one week after the US embassy bomb blast on August 7, 1998, people
were hastily evacuated from an office complex on Milambo Street. Bomb
disposal experts from the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces were called in. No
bomb was found, but the building has since beefed up security.

A second scare came on January 26, 1999. This time an anonymous caller rang
the tenant of an office on the fifth floor of the 12- storey PPF building on
the busy Samora Avenue to say a bomb would go off at 10.00 am. The building
was evacuated and bomb experts from the army were once again called in. It
turned out to be just another hoax.

It is amazing that an individual or a group of people should derive any
pleasure from causing panic among fellow citizens. This is a sign of
idleness breeding boredom and frustration.

Boredom in this case is more likely to afflict the children of the
well-to-do. They do not have to earn their daily bread. At the same time,
they have plenty of energy that they do not know how to get rid of. One
solution would be to cause havoc as a pastime.

Frustration is an affliction more likely to visit those at the other
extreme. People who are forced to be idle for lack of work while at the same
time hunger is pricking their insides, are capable of doing anything out of
desperation. They see no stake for themselves in the present order of
things. Occasional disorder helps take their minds off their problems.

Let us hope, though, that these scares are not the prelude to a real
bombing. Often in war, people who wish to carry out an attack raise false
alarms a number of times to make the enemy complacent before they deliver
the real blow.

One worrying aspect of these episodes is public reaction. In a way,
Tanzania's much vaunted peace and stability are turning from a blessing into
a curse. The ordinary citizen appears to find a real bomb explosion as much
fun as a similar scene in a Hollywood film. When the US Embassy was bombed,
the police had as much of a job dealing with spectators as with the rescue
work. This has been repeated in the hoaxes. We would do well to remember
that the worst bomb blast ever in Northern Ireland, which killed over 20
people, actually took place after an alert had caused people to congregate
near the bomb-strapped car.

Beyond all this, we can deduce the likelihood of a bombing from what the
attackers would expect to achieve. Learning to make a bomb requires time and
effort. Actually making one needs resources. Placing that bomb in a
designated area is a highly risky job.

For these reasons, those planning such an attack would need to be dedicated.
People are dedicated when there is a cause they think is worth dying for. In
the absence of such a cause, a man would risk his life in this manner only
for exceptionally good money.

All this makes the bombing of private buildings in Dar-es-Salaam an unlikely
event. The sponsor of such an attack would have to be aiming at political
goals and therefore be an opponent of the government. In that case, public
installations would be the target. Second, the sponsor would have to be
rich, in which case he would be an easy target for the state security organs.


5. Uganda: Referendum too divisive

The East African, 4 - 10 February 1999

Kampala - During the celebrations to mark 13 years of the National
Resistance Movement's rule held last Tuesday, January 26, President Yoweri
Museveni insisted that, no matter how controversial, the referendum on the
future of political parties in Uganda is to go ahead, as it is "a
constitutional requirement".

Mr Museveni also argued that the people who are agitating for pluralism
today, created one-party states when they ruled the country in the past.
That may well be so, but the fact remains that there is in Uganda today a
grow ing constituency of people dissatisfied with the way affairs of state
have been handled over the past 13 years.

For the better part of Mr Museveni's tenure in office, the clergy has
refrained from direct comment on affairs of state. But, recently, the
Catholic Church came out in opposition to the holding of the referendum. The
Archbishop of the Anglican Church promptly issued a statement of support for
the referendum, as if to affirm that the referendum is as divisive as the
parties it is supposed to put to rest.

In Uganda's political history, opposition to political regimes by the church
has traditionally marked a turning point. Alliances between the clergy and
opposition groups contributed significantly to the fall of the regimes of
Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

The NRM's hardline stance is neither in its own interests nor in the
Uganda's interest at this moment in political time. Even for its most ardent
supporters, the NRM's failure to adopt a popular posture on corruption in
high places has been difficult to justify.

The Movement's intransigence on matters political is beginning to worry
observers. Its ideologues are among the biggest beneficiaries of the
revolution. But they have along the way lost their revolutionary ardour, so
much so that even those accused of moral culpability have resorted to
legalist arguments to remain in office.

It is a Catch-22 situation. For 13 years, the Movement has used the ugly
past to justify its own monopoly on power. In this, it has prevented the
development of new parties, yet the majority of voters in the referendum
will be young people who have never known the brutality of the Amin or Obote

Should they feel alienated by the failings of the NRM, however, what other
choice have they but the old parties? The challenge for the NRM is to open
up the political arena to allow more opportunities for those who hold
differing political views to band together in new parties.


6. Zambia: 1999 budget doesn't offer much hope

The Post (Zambia), 3 February 1999

By Lubasi Katundu and Douglas Hampande

Lusaka - The 1999 budget does not offer much hope of improving poverty
levels, the Economic and Social Development Research Project of the Jesuit
Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) has observed.

JCTR researcher Alex Muyebe yesterday said the budget does not bring hope of
improved living standards to the Zambian worker as inflation and devaluation
of the local currency continue to take toll.

"Prices of basic commodities continue to rise without any corresponding
increase in incomes," he said. "As a result workers' earnings have
drastically declined over the years and poor people are getting poorer."

Muyebe said the average family expenditure for January 1999, as compiled by
the JCTR's Food Basket, shows that a six member family needs K240, 920 to
meet all basic commodities.

He said this records a K10, 000 increase over the December 1998 figure.

Muyebe said significant rises occurred in mealie meal, cooking oil, charcoal
and eggs.

"In light of this rise and its implication for the poor majority of
Zambians, the JCTR endorses the call of the Catholic Commission for Justice
and Peace (CCJP), trade unions and other non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) that the base rate for Pay As You Earn (PAYE) should be set for at
least K200, 000," he said. "This will slightly ease off the economic burden
on low and middle-income earners."

A budget analysis report by Grant Thornton, a firm of public accountants,
shows a budget decline in dollar terms.

"In real terms (United States dollars) this expenditure is among the lowest
over the past five years," observes the Grant Thornton analysis.

University of Zambia senior economics lecturer Christopher Mupimpila said
the reduction in expenditure in the long run will reduce long term economic
prospects of the country.

"There will not be any skills development and this will reduce human capital
formulation required for development," he said.

Mupimpila said the reduction in government income and expenditure would also
reduce the productivity of the civil service because they will have less
tools to work with.

"This will result in disguised unemployment which is merely the
underutilisation of the civil service," said Mupimpila.


7. Zambia: Print media gets duty free incentive

The Daily Mail (Zambia) 3 February 1999

By Jonathan Bwalya

Lusaka - Government has with immediate effect suspended the five percent
customs duty on all newsprint.

At the same time, the government has slapped 25 percent duty on all imported
newspapers and periodicals in a deliberate move aimed at boosting the
newspaper industry and the manufacturing sector as a whole.

Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Chriticles Mwansa, announced the
newsprint duty waiver during an Economics Association of Zambia-organised
1999 Budget review seminar held at Lusaka's Taj Pamodzi Hotel.

The suspension is contained in a Statutory Instrument No. 20 of 1999, dated
January 29, 1999 and signed by Finance and Economic Development Minister,
Edith Nawakwi.

As a further incentive to the local newspaper industry and publishers,
government has slapped duty on all imported newspapers and periodicals "to
level the playing field" and promote the local industry.

Local publications which are printed elsewhere other than Zambia will be
affected and will have to be imported back into the country at the same duty

The move is an intended deterrent to publishers who shun the local industry
in preference to South African printers.

Previously, publishers never paid any duty on such publications and
government hopes that the introduction of the 25 percent duty will work to
the advantage of the local industry.

In another development, the ZRA customs division has secured offices at the
COMESA building in Lusaka.

Commissioner of Customs, Darryn Jenkins, said the move is aimed at creating
room for rehabilitation of the Revenue House.


8. DR Congo: Chiluba wants negotiations to embrace all parties

Panafrican News Agency (PANA), 3 February 1999

Kinshasa - Zambian President Frederick Chiluba has opted for the presence of
all parties, including Congolese rebel forces, in the peace negotiations on
the Democratic Republic of Congo to be held in Lusaka, Zambia, at a date yet
to be determined.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, at the end of a 4-hour visit in
Kinshasa, Chiluba said that the cease-fire accord which is meant to end the
Congolese war, could be signed in Lusaka before the end of the month.

He said that the delay in reaching an accord was due to ''small practical
problems'' which he did not specify.

Chiluba said that the question of withdrawing Rwandan and Angolan troops in
eastern Congo was part of the modalities of the cease-fire accord, and
admitted that the welcome he received in Kinshasa demonstrated the Congolese
people's great aspiration to peace.

''This concern must be shared by the peoples of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi,
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola,'' he added, pointing out that all
these people wish to ''dedicate their energy and immense resources to


9. Zanzibar: Anyaoku seeks end to Zanzibar's tension

The Post (Zambia), 2 February 1999

By Ruth Nabakwe

Lusaka - Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku has called for more
efforts by Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the opposition
Civic United Front (CUF) to resolve the political impasse arising from the
disputed 1995 general election results in Zanzibar.

Chief Anyaoku, who attended a conference in Paris that ended on Saturday to
identify approaches to build a new vision of pluralism as a positive force,
warned that existing tension in Zanzibar could intensify if the two sides
stuck to their guns.

The political impasse was created by CUF's rejection of the poll results
which gave victory to Salmin Amour as President of Zanzibar. CUF claimed its
leader, Seif Shariff Hamad, had victory snatched from him through fraudulent
political manoeuvring.

In an interview with PANA in Paris, the secretary-general called on the two
sides to abide by the Commonwealth proposals in order to have an agreement

"I am concerned that if the impasse is not resolved, chances of tensions in
Zanzibar escalating to some form of conflict would be greater," he said.

In 1997, the Commonwealth Secretariat came in as mediators and the
organisation's Special Envoy Moses Anufu has visited the Tanzanian island on
a number of occasions in an attempt to achieve an accord .

One of the Commonwealth proposals was accepted by CUF, which dropped its
major demand that President Salmin Amour should relinquish office by August
1998 to pave the way for the signing of an accord.

The ruling CCM abandoned its opposition to the idea of a constitutional
review and electoral reforms but CUF still does not recognise Salmin Amour
as the legitimate President of Zanzibar.

Anyaoku said intransigence by the political parties concerned had resulted
in the opposition party CUF boycotting Parliament in Zanzibar (House of

Tension has escalated in Zanzibar with donor countries suspending aid until
human rights issues are respected.

Observers say that although tourism was picking up, it may be affected by
the donor decision to suspend aid.

Anyaoku stated that while the Commonwealth was still engaged in efforts to
resolve the crisis, the disputing sides must show commitment to progress.


10. Souther Africa: Negotiators' face tough task

Business Day (South Africa), 3 February 1999

By John Dludlu

Johannesburg - A battle lies ahead for Southern African Development
Community negotiators over the potentially divisive issue of whether or not
production from export processing zones (EPZs) should be included in the
planned SADC free trade area.

Several leading stakeholders in SA labour and business organisations have
expressed vehement opposition to the idea of granting preferential treatment
to items produced in EPZs as the SADC moves towards the creation of a free
trade area.

The SADC's efforts to dismantle all tariff and nontariff barriers to
intraregional trade coincide with the establishment of EPZs, selected spots
in a country where a range of incentives - including duty-free importation
of fabric and inputs - are given to support export-orientated production.
Apart from agreeing to common rules of origin, the scrapping of nontariff
trade barriers and the institutional framework, the issue of EPZ production
in a SADC free trade deal represents a potential headache for negotiators.

Fudzai Pamacheche, principal economist at the SADC secretariat in Botswana,
confirmed yesterday the fate of EPZ production in the SADC free trade area
had yet to be resolved. However, it was unlikely that the EPZ problem - it
has been on the agenda of the trade negotiating forum, the body of the SADC
technocrats for some time - would be discussed at the next round of talks in
Pretoria this month.

He said some of the SADC's 11 countries taking part in the talks wanted
products manufactured within these zones to benefit from duty-free and other
concessions that would come with free trade. However, Cunningham Ngcukana,
general secretary of the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), lashed
out yesterday at the idea of including EPZ products in the mooted SADC free
trade regime.

"We do not accept that goods that are produced under extreme conditions,
where workers' rights are trampled upon, should be included (in the free
trade arrangement)," he said. In certain EPZs, the normal labour law
dispensation, including some workers' rights, do not apply.

The Textile Federation and Clothing Federation gave a thumbs down to the
suggestion of including EPZ products in the SADC free trade regime, warning
it could distort production patterns in the region. Paul Theron, executive
director at Clofed, said EPZs should not be included in the list of those
items traded freely within the SADC as their production was assisted by
export incentives.

Brian Brink, Texfed executive director, said inclusion of EPZs in the SADC
free trade arrangement would cause damage in the trading bloc. By
definition, EPZ production is destined for export, and not the domestic market.

If the SADC became a free trade area, the bloc would qualify as a domestic
market, goes the argument against including EPZ production for preferential
treatment. Henk Campher, Nactu's representative at the National Economic,
Development and Labour Council, said labour's objection to the EPZs stemmed
in part from the fact that it was an outdated economic policy.

Labour would like the SA negotiators to push for the inclusion of a clause
guaranteeing the protection of labour rights within the SADC's trade
dispensation, Campher said. Pamacheche said the SADC was consulting widely
on how products from EPZs were treated in other regional integration
arrangements in the world.


11. Mozambique remembers Mondlane

Panafrican News Agency (PANA), 3 February 1999

Maputo - Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano Wednesday praised the founder
of Frelimo, Eduardo Mondlane, as a man ''with a great sense of the nation
and who never turned his back on the struggle.''

''Let him serve as an example for all of us,''' Chissano said in a speech
marking the 30th anniversary of Mondlane's assassination.

Mondlane died on 3 February 1969, when he opened a parcel bomb, sent to him
by the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE, in his office in Dar es Salaam.

After depositing a wreath at the Monument to the Mozambican Heroes in
Maputo, where Mondlane is buried, Chissano briefly summarised the life and
work of the founding father of Mozambican nationalism.

Chissano said although Mondlane led an armed struggle, Mondlane's main
emphasis was never on guns. His first priority was ''to develop our
thoughts, to develop the capacities that each one of us has.''

''We had to use guns because the colonialists used guns to oppress us and
would not grant us freedom and independence by any other means,'' he said,
adding: ''Mondlane was forced to reach the conclusion that all paths were
blocked, and there were no further possibilities for dialogue.''

He noted that, whereas the Portuguese regime had a Ministry of War, in
Frelimo Mondlane set up a Department of Defence - because it was Mozambicans
''who were being attacked and massacred by the colonialists.''

The wreath-laying and the rally took place under leaden skies and
intermittent bursts of heavy rain. Chissano said he regarded the rain as a
good omen, as ''a blessing from our ancestors, a blessing from Mondlane.''


12. Sudan: Sudan imposes a news blackout on opposition parties

Inter-Press Service (IPS), 3 February 1999

By Nhial Bol

Khartoum - Barely two months after introducing multi-party democracy,
Sudan's hardline Islamic fundamentalist regime has imposed a news blackout
on opposition political parties.

State minister for Culture and Information, Amin Hassan Omer, told local
journalists working for foreign news organisations to refrain from covering
opposition leaders.

''It is illegal and measures will be taken against those who interview
opposition figures,'' he told the journalists this week.

Omer, who invited the journalists, numbering about 18, to the ministry of
Culture and Information in Khartoum, said the government was prepared to
cooperate with them but within certain limits.

''To be frank,'' he said, ''we want to cooperate with you but within the
limits of the Sudanese laws.''

The minister said ''freedom of expression doesn't mean the government should
leave things unchecked.'' He said opposition leaders who refused to register
their parties will have no access to the media and that any journalists who
cover their activities will be punished accordingly.

Omer denied the ban amounts to censorship and warned that any media
institution that refuses to toe the official line will be closed.

Sudan's restrictive 'Press and Publication Act' bans journalists from
covering the movements of the army, unregistered groups, gay activities,
sodomy or defamation, as well as blasphemy.

To 'ease' the situation, a top government spokesman has been entrusted to
'check' news concerning the Islamic regime before publication, according to
a Sudanese official in Khartoum.

The campaign against journalists heightened after the dreaded secret police
stormed the offices of Al Hagag Cultural Society, arresting about 20
journalists and organisers of the parley at a news conference called by the
group last month.

The journalists have been released on bail and will be arraigned before
court this week for ''attending an illegal meeting organised by an
anti-government group''.

''It was wrong for Al Hagag to hold a political conference to discuss
Sudan's political system,'' a senior government official told IPS on Wednesday.

Sarah Nugudalla al Mahdi, wife of former prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi, said
journalists were turned away from a press conference they called last week.

Sudan's more than 15 independent publications have criticised the ban. 'Rai
al Aam', the largest private newspaper in the country, said there was no
freedom of expression in the Sudan, after the paper was refused publication
for three days for publishing a statement by a renowned Sudanese lawyer, Ali

The paper quoted Hussienien as saying that the government was not serious
about the idea of multi-party democracy. The paper said it lost about 240
million Sudanese pounds (one US Dollar is equal to 2,300 pounds) following
the incident. And that some journalists have now resorted to self-censorship
for fear of being arrested by the secret police.

Toby Maduot, leader of the Sudan African National Union (SANU), said his
party strongly condemns the restriction on journalits.

''We will tell government officials that we want freedom of press, if
political parties are to operate in the Sudan,'' he said. ''Each of us will
launch a party newspaper and we want press laws to be discussed by all

Madout urged Sudan's political parties, including the 28 registered last
month, to unite and challenge the restrictions. ''If we are to survive as
politicians under this system, we need strong coverage, the media must be
free to check corruption, human rights abuses and defend democracy.''

Sudan, which, he said, is fighting a civil war, and reeling under a UN
embargo, international isolation and suffering from gross human rights
abuses, should refrain from imposing censorship on the media.

Multi-party democracy and independent press were banned after Lt-Gen Omar
Hassan al Bashir overthrew the elected government of al Mahdi in June 1989.
Ten years later, on Jan 1, al Bashir lifted the ban, inviting political
parties to register, but under a strict guide.

Unhappy with the process, Sudan's main political parties, like the Ummah
Party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Sudan Communist Party
(SCP), have refused to participate in the exercise.