UN probes executions of Ogonis


A UNITED Nations team turned its attention yesterday to Nigeria's volatile Ogoniland, a major focus of its mission to probe the execution of nine minority rights activists.

State officials in the capital Abuja said the four man team had left for Port Harcourt, capital of the south eastern Rivers State of which Ogoniland is a part.

Ahead of the mission's three day visit to River State, local authorities and Ogoni minority rights activists have traded accusations about human rights abuses there.

"Security people arrested 19 people this morning, including women," Mr John Kpalap, a coordinator of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (Mosop) said on Sunday. But Mr Fidelis Agbiki, press secretary to the River State military administrator, denied this. "Some people are trying to cause trouble in the name of Ogoni, but we are on the look out for them," he said.

The UN team is in Nigeria to investigate the trial and execution of writer Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists for the murder of four prominent Ogoni chiefs. The executions made Africa's most populous nation an international pariah and sparked the imposition of limited sanctions.

"The UN team are free to go wherever they want and speak to any Ogoni they want" said Mr Agbiki.

Mosop campaigns for autonomy for its tiny oil rich region, and compensation from oil companies for environmental damage. A statement from Mosop's vice president, Mr Ledum Mitee, on Saturday said the UN team's visit risks putting both himself and all Ogonis in danger.

"In the circumstances I am constrained to call on the Ogoni people to go about their normal business or stay indoors during the UN team's visit," Mr Mitee said, adding that he had received a threat from the security forces.

Mr Mitee was acquitted by the same special tribunal which tried and sentenced the nine other Ogonis to death by hanging.

The UN team arrived in Nigeria on March 28th and has met officials of Gen Sani Abacha's government. It has talked to non governmental organisations chiefs, political associations and individuals, but not yet political detainees.

Mr Abacha's plan to return Nigeria to democracy by 1998 is the second issue on the agenda of the UN mission.