IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 62 covering the period 3 - 9 Mar 2001
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BURUNDI: Heavy fighting in Bujumbura
There were continued military clashes between the army and the rebel Forces nationales pour la liberation (FNL) in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, on Tuesday following the announcement on Monday by President Pierre Buyoya that he would not hand over leadership of the country (in a transition period proposed under the Arusha agreement) in the absence of a ceasefire, according to media reports. There was heavy artillery shelling and intense gunfire in the northern suburbs, Reuters news agency reported. There was also small-arms fire from the suburb of Kinama, and the neighbouring Cibitoke District, on Tuesday, AFP reported. This was the 11th day of a fierce assault by the FNL.
Army spokesman Colonel Longin Minani said the security forces were on the verge of driving the FNL out of Kinama, ABP reported on Wednesday. Minani said that at the beginning of the attack on 24 February, the army did not want to cause too much damage in Kinama, because they were concerned that innocent civilians would be used by the rebels as human shields. The security forces were on Wednesday engaged in making Kinama secure before allowing people to return to their homes, he added. Minani denounced what he called the complicity that had been noted between the people of Kinama and the rebellion. He asked that all citizens remain vigilant and notify the administration of any rebel infiltration, and especially asked them not to flee their neighbourhoods, ABP reported.
BURUNDI: Army claims control of Bujumbura suburbs
Defence Minister Cyrille Ndayirukiye said on Thursday that government troops had regained control of the northern Bujumbura suburbs. "We're holding the whole area [of Kinama], patrols are in the whole district," AFP quoted Ndayirukiye as saying, while the army said it was continuing its operation to ensure that no rebels were still hiding out in the outlying region. Local residents and military sources said that FNL rebels fled Kinama during Wednesday night, as the army mounted a counter-offensive.
However, the FNL rebels on Friday rejected government claims that they had been ousted from Kinama. FNL spokesman Anicet Nitawuhiganayo claimed that the rebels had killed 150 soldiers and were continuing to fight, the BBC reported on Friday. Some 53,000 civilians have fled Kinama and the adjoining districts of Cibitoke, Kamenge and Mutakura, according to humanitarian sources in the Burundi capital. These were currently regrouped in 12 sites, of which the humanitarian community has access to 11 and the other is inaccessible due to insecurity, they said. Access to water and sanitation facilities has been identified as a main priority for the displaced.
BURUNDI: Three airlines suspend flights to Bujumbura
Three international airline companies - Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and Regional Air - on Wednesday suspended flights to Bujumbura, as a result of intense fighting between the government and rebel FNL during the past two weeks. All three airlines confirmed to IRIN on Thursday that their services had been suspended for what they described as general security reasons. An Ethiopian Airlines official said it would reconsider "as soon as the situation on the ground calmed", while both Regional Air and Kenya Airways said the suspension would run until the end of the month, when the situation would be reassessed. A Regional Air spokesman said it was predominantly affected by low passenger demand, probably linked to the military-political climate in Bujumbura, and to a lesser extent to insecurity on the ground in the Burundi capital. Air Burundi and Alliance Air, the latter flying the Kigali-Bujumbura route, were virtually the only operators now serving the Burundi capital, according to airline sources.
The flight suspension was "a logical step" given the security situation, and the wonder was that it had not been taken before Wednesday, when the situation was worse - including near the airport, humanitarian sources told IRIN on Thursday. The situation was much quieter on Thursday, perhaps as a result of a government curfew taking effect, but the flight suspensions were still a powerful symbol of the seriousness of the current situation in Burundi, they added. The situation in Bujumbura appeared to be stabilising, but people were still keeping their heads down, residents of the capital said on Thursday. The situation in the suburbs of Kinama and Kamenge remained fluid and somewhat volatile, they added.
BURUNDI: Government extends curfew in Bujumbura
The Burundi government on 4 March announced that it had brought forward a curfew in Bujumbura from 8pm to 6am instead of midnight to 6am local time. The announcement came on the ninth day of the serious assault on the capital by the FNL. The FNL on 4 March bombarded the heavily-populated, mainly Tutsi suburb of Ngagara with mortar shells, according to Reuters news agency. Many families had fled Ngagara in recent days, as thousands have fled Kinama and nearby Kamenge, the report said.
Burundi government spokesman Luc Rukingama said the curfew had been extended in order to handle the movement of the population from district to district. "There are infiltrations of the rebels from northern parts of the town," Reuters quoted him as saying. Rukingama called on the public to organise self-defence units and warned that the media would be severely sanctioned if they issued false reports, betrayed military secrets or put out rebel propaganda.
BURUNDI: UN calls for "restraint on all sides"
The UN Security Council on 2 March strongly condemned the recent rebel attacks in Burundi, urged their immediate cessation and called on all sides to exercise restraint. Thee current Security Council president, Ambassador Volodymy Kuchynksy of Ukraine, pointed in particular to the FNL's attacks on Bujumbura. "The timing of these attacks is of particular concern, since they were launched during the meeting of the parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement on Burundi," he said. That meeting was convened by the Burundi peace facilitator, Nelson Mandela, on 25 February.
The Council condemned the "deliberate targeting of the civilian population by the armed groups", and called on all parties to refrain from any further attacks or any military action that endangered the civilian population. It requested all parties to immediately engage in dialogue so as to allow an early cessation of hostilities, and to reach agreement on a permanent ceasefire. The Council also called upon the parties to provide safe and unhindered access by humanitarian personnel to civilians displaced by the hostilities. It urged donors to support the effort to assist the people of Burundi, and to make good on pledges made at a meeting in Paris last year. UN agencies and NGOs are working to provide food, water and sanitation to those in need.
DRC: President says his people victims of "genocide"
DRC President Joseph Kabila has said that his people are the victims of "genocide", claiming that 2.5 million civilians had been killed during the two and a half years of war thus far. "Such a massive number is not the result of chance: there has been intent to kill the population," AFP quoted Kabila as saying in an interview with the Belgian paper 'Le Soir'. "This too is a genocide against the Congolese this time, but no one cares," he said. "It's true that in the forests in the east of the country, there are no CNN [Cable News Network] cameras," he added.
He also said other African heads of state "refuse to clearly recognise the aggression". Kabila said that the withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan troops from the DRC should not be linked to the dialogue between rebels and the government. "Elections must take place in the entire country. That is precisely why the aggressors must get out of the DRC," he said.
DRC: Kabila allows free movement of humanitarian missions
DRC President Joseph Kabila has given the green light to free deployment of humanitarian workers throughout the DRC, especially in government-held areas, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Thursday. The source quoted Health Minister Mashako Mamba as saying that the way was now open for "all the evaluation missions previously planned with NGOs, UN agencies and the health ministry". Mamba, who is also the head of the national crisis committee in charge of humanitarian issues, said he was the channel for the clearance-granting procedure. He said that his colleague in the Ministry of the Interior had been instructed to proceed "swiftly and in a systematic way" in issuing formal approvals. The approvals should be delivered for each request within 24 hours, he said.
Mamba said that periodic authorisations would be granted to all the organisations which required it for six months. "After this period, they would need to be renewed," Mamba said, adding, however, that this was subject to confirmation. Meanwhile, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has recommended that the plan to map out a new timetable be reviewed and reassessed with the nine teams involved the logistical and organisational angles of the project. Assessment missions have already taken place in Sankuru, Katanga and Shabunda. All nine missions are due to be completed by 21 April.
DRC: Bemba orders withdrawal to barracks
Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Congolese Liberation Front (CLF), has ordered his troops to close recently established military camps and return to barracks in northeastern DRC, according to media reports. "I order all our troops in Maboya, Musienene and Kyondo to pull back immediately and return to barracks in Beni", near the Ugandan border, AFP quoted Bemba as saying in a statement issued on 1 March. Uganda and Rwanda began the disengagement of troops on 28 February, as part of a UN Security Council disengagement and withdrawal plan due to start on 15 May. Zimbabwe and Angola, which are supporting the DRC government, had yet to announce any disengagement or withdrawal plans, the report stated.
Bemba's back-to-barracks order followed a meeting with 700 church and civil society leaders, who had met in an International Symposium for Peace in Africa at Tsaka-Tsaka stadium in Butembo on 1 March, according to the Italian-based missionary news agency MISNA. At that meeting, a statement was issued condemning "massacres, killings, the presence of foreign armies, arbitrary arrests, rapes of women and young girls, recruitment of child soldiers, disappearances and the plundering of DRC's wealth", AFP reported. Bemba's had earlier issued an apology "for mistakes, atrocities, crimes and pillages" committed by its soldiers, the report added.
DRC: Thousands of Angolan refugees arriving
Alleged attacks by rebels in Angola have driven thousands of people into southwestern DRC in recent weeks, the UNHCR stated on Friday, 2 March. Spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva that the agency planned to send a team from Kinshasa to the border zone to assess the needs of as many as 7,400 Angolan refugees who had fled alleged attacks by rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Friday's mission, which was expected to last four days, would include UNHCR medical, protection and operations personnel, the WFP and local authorities, Janowksi said.
"After establishing the condition of refugees in Kimvula [Kisantu District, Bandundu Province] and providing assistance, the team will attempt to reach the more remote towns of Popokabaka and Kasongo-Lunda [Popokabaka District, Bandundu Province]," Janowski stated, noting that reports from officials and religious sources in those areas were saying that around 5,000 refugees had arrived over the last two weeks. UNHCR said it had emergency relief supplies for approximately 10,000 people stockpiled in the town of Kimpese, two to three days away from Kimvula by truck.
RWANDA: Kagame lauds "significant step for democratisation"
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Tuesday welcomed an enthusiastic turnout for the country's communal (local) elections as "a significant step in the process of democratisation". Hundreds of thousands of people turned up at polling stations around the country on Tuesday despite heavy rain, according to a press release by presidential spokesman Nicholas Shalita. Kagame was pleased with the enthusiasm shown for the polls, for which some 98 percent of the electorate had registered to vote, according to the national electoral commission. "We are progressing well with the democratisation process; we are moving at a pace that puts into consideration all factors related to our past and present situation," Kagame said. "We are moving slowly but surely in a manner that allows for a comprehensive democratic process to be carried out," he added.
Kagame said the biggest challenges facing Rwanda were poverty, disease and the general wellbeing of the people. "Human rights and democracy in a poverty-stricken situation is like building on sand," he added. Kagame said the entire country was now peaceful, "more peaceful than most countries in the region", and called on the UN "to learn from its past mistakes and actively get involved in the search for peace in the DRC". Rwanda's communal elections, the first for over 35 years, were due to continue on Wednesday where required.
RWANDA: Diaspora body rejects 'no-party elections'
The anti-government Rwandan diaspora organisation, Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR), on Thursday rejected this week's communal elections in the country as "non-free and unfair municipal elections under the new brand of tyranny known as the 'no-party' system, imported to Rwanda from Uganda by the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front]". The Netherlands- and Canada-based RDR condemned democratic donor countries financing of the elections, which it described as a violation of Rwandans' civil and political rights, and a means of "prolonging indefinitely the RPF's monopoly on power". It said all candidates in elections were nominated by government and were forced to stand as individuals rather than as representatives of political parties; that voter registration was mandatory; and that political pluralism was "apparent but not real" since political parties were allowed to exist only in name.
KENYA-TANZANIA: Zanzibari refugees end hunger strike
More than 2,000 refugees from the Zanzibari islands of Unguja and Pemba, who fled a violent political clampdown by the government of the semi-autonomous region of Tanzania in late January, have called off a hunger strike in Shimoni on the Kenyan coast, the BBC reported on Wednesday. The refugees at Shimoni, south of Mombasa, were protesting against a decision by the Nairobi government to move a number of their leaders - including 16 island MPs of the Tanzanian opposition Civic United Front (CUF) - to the established refugee camp of Dadaab in northern Kenya, on the basis that it cannot guarantee their safety where they are. The Zanzibaris, mainly political activists from the island of Pemba, called off their three-day strike after a visit by Muslim leaders from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, who visited Shimoni on Wednesday and promised to use their influence to have the relocation plans rescinded.
Seven Tanzanians who fell ill during the brief hunger strike were admitted to Msambweni District Hospital, north of Shimoni, Kenya Television Network (KTN) reported on Wednesday. UNHCR warned on Tuesday that the situation at the refugees' makeshift camp at the fisheries compound in Shimoni had become "desperate" as more people followed the initial Zanzibari refugees who arrived on 28 January. "UNHCR is building minimal sanitary facilities, but the situation in the compound remains critical and poses a health hazard," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski. "The majority of the refugees are sleeping in the open because of the limited space, which makes it impossible to set up tents for all refugees." Heavy rain is also expected at any time, which would worsen sanitation and shelter conditions. The proposed relocation to Dadaab appeared to have stalled, as there were no signs of movement in Shimoni despite the Kenyan government's insistence that the move was irrevocable, KTN reported on Wednesday.
Nairobi, 9 March 2001
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