ECOWAS opens four conflict-warning offices

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS has opened four out of the envisaged seven conflict early warning offices in the sub-region, the body's executive secretary Lansana Kouyate revealed in Dakar Saturday.
Asked to explain why the sub-regional grouping had failed to intervene in countries before conflicts got off-hand, Kouyate told PANA that the first of such offices had been opened in Cotonou (Benin), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Banjul (Gambia) and Monrovia in Liberia.
"The officers of these offices, which will cover the entire sub- region have already been appointed and two of them have taken up their jobs," said Kouyate, who was in Dakar to attend a meeting on the ECOWAS protocol for the prevention of conflicts adopted in 1999 at Lome, Togo.
He explained that these officers should not only collect information and keep the secretariat informed on a daily basis concerning developments in the countries they cover, "but must also cultivate a culture of peace and dialogue among the various cushions of society within nations".
Lansana Kouyate described the role of these officers as "important but also very delicate.
"This is an indication that ECOWAS no longer reacts after conflicts have occurred.
Its role is to solve crises and it has now established the appropriate mechanisms," the ECOWAS executive said.
The objective of the meeting in Dakar was to review and complete the protocol adopted in 1999 in Lome by raising some overlooked aspects to that they could also be adopted during the next ECOWAS summit.
He did not specify when the meeting would be held.
"The issue of prevention is applicable throughout the world and not only within ECOWAS.
Many conflicts which break out today existed before in a latent manner during the Cold War," Kouyate explained.
According to him, the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo would not be as it is today during the Cold War "when everything was being done to ensure that a conflict does not occur because under the bipolar system each country belonged somewhere".
It is the bloc to which one belonged which maintained stability within its camp so as not to stir trouble and give advantage to the enemy, Kouyate said, adding that prevention of conflicts was crucial after that era.
"ECOWAS is more advanced than any organisation the world over when it comes to prevention," Kouyate said, adding that no other sub-regional entity had promptly intervened to prevent the outbreak of a conflict.
Rejecting claims that the organisation was incapable of preventing conflicts, Kouyate explained that diplomatic moves were sometimes employed to nip conflicts in the bud.
"Once this succeeds, people do not regard it as a success because these interventions are secret and confidential by nature and the public does not see their magnitude," the ECOWAS executive said.
"A conflict was about to break between Yemen and Eritrea had it not for timely intervention by the United Nations.
The world does not regard this as a success while in fact it was," Kouyate added.
"Many similar situations exist in West Africa where ECOWAS intervened to calm the situation even before the public knows there was a conflict," he revealed.
He explained that "no other organisation has gone as far as we have gone" when it comes to the preparation of prevention mechanisms, recalling that ECOWAS had established mediation and security council which operated at the heads of state, ministerial and ambassadorial levels.
"We have also established a council of wise men who are discreetly sent to certain countries to calm situations without involving the official channels.
All the member states were involved in the creation of this structure last July in Niamey, Niger," the ECOWAS executive explained.
"It comprises personalities whose morality and standing goes beyond national boundaries.
Its members include, among others, the former Nigerian Head of Stage, Yakubu Gowon and Abusalami Abubakar and former Ivorian foreign minister Simeon Ake," Lansana Kouyate revealed.
On the other hand, Kouyate explained that ECOMOG was no longer an ad-hoc force because ECOWAS now has pre-positioned forces and "each country knows today the size of the contingent it should make available to ECOWAS on a permanent basis.
" Kouyate insisted that prevention of conflicts could not be done without the collection of information.
After the secretariat has received and analysed the available information and considers this to be alarming, it alerts the concerned authorities if the mediation and security committee decides so.

07 october 2001 19:59:00

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