Weekly Roundup of Main Events in the Great Lakes region 26 August - 1 September 1996
Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
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This is number 24 in a series of weekly reports from IRIN on general developments in the Great Lakes region. Sources for the information below include UN agencies, NGOs, other international organisations and media reports. IRIN issues these reports for the benefit of the humanitarian community, but accepts no responsibility as to the accuracy of the original sources.
The United Nations Security Council has given Burundi's new regime two months to hold broad-based peace talks or face punitive measures. In a resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, the Council expressed support for the sanctions imposed by Burundi's neighbours and other African states following the military-backed coup d'etat on 25 July. The Council called on all Burundian factions to stop hostilities and to initiate immediately unconditional negotiations "with a view to reaching a comprehensive political settlement". The resolution provides for the Council to review Burundi's compliance with its demands on 31 October. Punitive measures may include an arms embargo or other sanctions. France, which finally voted in favour of the resolution, had fought a paragraph expressing strong support for the efforts of regional leaders, including the 31 July Arusha meeting where sanctions were declared. A proposal for an immediate arms embargo was also gradually watered down during negotiations on the text.
Burundi's new leader, Pierre Buyoya, said on Saturday that while he was ready to negotiate with Hutu rebels if they put down their arms, a decision on war or peace in Burundi would not be made by the UN Security Council.
Heavy fighting was reported in Gatara village in the northwest province of Kayanza and nearly a dozen government buildings were looted and burned on Saturday - one day before Burundi's new prime minister was due to visit. The fighting was reported on the state-run radio. No casualty figures were released. Rebels also continued to block the main road north from Bujumbura to the Rwandan border. Attacks in Kayanza region were also stepped up during the week. Two truck drivers were burned alive in their vehicles during a series of ambushes on the country's main national route one which runs through Kayanza.
Hutu peasants have accused the Burundian Army and Tutsi militia of killing more than 70 civilians in Murengeza village, about 20 kilometres north of Bujumbura. Eye-witnesses said that the Army and militia group, the Sans Echecs, shot, burned and used machetes to kill the villagers on 25 August during an operation to clear out rebels from the area. The Army says its troops killed 10 Hutu rebels but has denied slaughtering civilians. The human rights group, Amnesty International claimed last week that the Army had killed more than 4,000 unarmed civilians between 27 July and 10 August in the central district of Giheta.
Radio Burundi reported on Thursday that the new regime had asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to substantially increase the number of human rights monitors deployed in Burundi. Currently there are only five international human rights monitors funded by the EU.
Officials at Burundi's state run electricity company told Reuters that rebels had pulled down pylons as engineers were about to restore power to Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. The city has largely been without power since Saturday 24 August when rebels cut power lines in northern Bubanza province. The acts of sabotage have forced the capital to draw on dwindling fuel stocks for generators to keep water supplies, hospitals and schools running. As sanctions entered their second month, there were fresh warnings from doctors that a health disaster was imminent, particularly amongst the country's most vulnerable groups. Sanctions have forced the government to ration fuel and the cost of imported foods and goods have soared.
The regional committee established to monitor the sanctions will meet for the first time this coming week in Arusha, Tanzania. The committee, comprising the Ambassadors and High Commissioners to Kenya of Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zaire will meet together with officials from the OAU. The mandate of the committee is to monitor the effect of sanctions. Under the terms of the sanctions only human medicines and food for Rwandan refugees are exempt. UN agencies and other humanitarian partners are continuing to press for a range of humanitarian goods and materials for Burundi's vulnerable groups.
The Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD), meanwhile, has denied threatening to attack planes breaking the air embargo. A spokesman for the CNDD said that no unilateral action on the ground or the air would be taken without prior consultation with the regional sanctions committee. WFP's internal flights, halted for two days were due to resume this coming week.
The African Football Confederation (CAF) confirmed on Wednesday that Burundi had been disqualified from the African Nations Cup following the team's inability to travel for a qualifying round against Central African Republic.
Former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, chief mediator of the Burundi crisis met with Italian Catholic peace organisation, Sant'Egidio in Rome on Wednesday. The organisation has been nominated for the Nobel peace prize for its work. Sant'Egidio representatives also met with Howard Wolpe, the US special representative to Burundi who was in Rome prior to vacationing in Italy. Nyerere and Wolpe also met in Rome on Wednesday. A source close to the meeting said that the two agreed that an "exceptional diplomatic effort" was required to bring forward acceptable proposals to defuse the conflict in Burundi.
A planned three-day census of Rwandan refugees in Goma, eastern Zaire was suspended on Sunday following what was described as "a highly organised and orchestrated" boycott by the refugees. No violence was reported but in Katale camp two sites where the census was supposed to have taken place were destroyed and plastic sheeting was stolen in Mugunga camp. UNHCR says that the census was organised to establish how many refugees were in the area so that aid could be better directed in the face of shortage of donor funds. Earlier, the Rwandan Hutu refugee organisation, the Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR), had called on refugees to be calm and had asked UNHCR to avoid any "policing approach" and to calm refugees by explaining the aim of the operation. The RDR said the refugees feared the census because they believed it could be used to help force them back to Rwanda. Zaire and Rwanda recently announced plans for "an organised, massive and unconditional repatriation" of the 1.1 million Rwandan refugees in Zaire.
A statement issued by the UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda says that the Rwandan Patriotic Army killed at least 111 people, many of them unarmed civilians, during sweeps carried out in five communes in Ruhengeri prefecture between 6-8 August. Some former soldiers, militia and cross border infiltrators were allegedly amongst those who were killed. About 300 males were arrested during the sweep, fifty-two of whom were still missing on 28 August. The regional Army commander says that civilian deaths occurred because people attempted to flee, resisted arrest or were caught in cross-fire between the RPA and insurgents.
The Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) accused the Government of Rwanda this week of terrorist acts on Rwandan refugees in Kenya. The RDR called on the international community for assistance and said that hit squads had been sent to many foreign capitals including Nairobi. It claimed that during the last three weeks four trucks belonging to Rwandan refugees in Kenya had been burned by people it suspected of being in the pay of the Rwandan government. The RDR statement also said there had been five assassination attempts on Rwandan refugees in Kenya last year. The Resistance Forces for Democracy (FRD), a group formed by former Rwandan Primer Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, on Tuesday also accused the Rwandan government of forming hit squads to assassinate Rwandan leaders in exile.
A former Rwanda prefet, who is wanted in Rwanda, pleaded not guilty to being involved in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and other related crimes at a court in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Wednesday. Colonel Alphonse Ntezilyayo is charged that while he was prefet of Butare he held meetings of Hutu Interahamwe militias and the presidential guard to plan massacres, helped killers escape to a safe zone controlled by French troops and later used death threats to force other Hutus to leave Rwanda. At his extradition hearing, Ntezilyayo said that he had only been prefet in Butare from 20 June to 2 July. The court will deliver its opinion on 4 September, but his extradition to Rwanda can only be ordered by Burkina Faso's President, Blaise Compaore.
Swiss authorities said on Wednesday that they had arrested a former Rwandan mayor now living in Switzerland on suspicion of violating human rights during the genocide. The man was not named, but the investigation is proceeding.
Zairian President, Mobutu Sese Seko remained in Switzerland this week, reportedly after undergoing an operation for cancer of the prostate. Officials at the hospital where Mobutu is being treated would not confirm the operation. An official statement from Zaire said that Zaire's Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo had an operation to remove a lipoma (a tumour made of fatty tissue) in a Swiss clinic while visiting Mobutu last week. Kengo has reportedly resumed his normal activities and met with the deputy High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva on Saturday. Last week, Swiss television alleged that Mobutu had left Switzerland with 1.5 million Swiss francs (US$ 1.2 million) in unpaid bills. The bills are said to relate to the rental of buildings, caterers, insurance companies and contractors working on the Mobutu's lakeside mansion.
Tanzania has earmarked 128 state owned firms for privitisation as part of its economic reforms. 31 of the firms will be sold by the end of September, increasing to 78 by the end of the year. Tanzania is also scheduled to open a stock exchange by the end of the month. Tanzania began embarking in privitisation in 1993 as part of western backed economic reforms, but critics say progress has been too slow and dogged by corruption.
Petrol and diesel fuel prices in Tanzania were increased by up to 4.35% at the weekend. The Tanzanian Petroleum Development Corporation says that this increase reflects higher world oil prices. Premium petrol now costs 360 shillings (US$ O.58) a litre - up from 345 shillings. Diesel costs 285 shillings (US$0.46) up from 276 shillings.
Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are accused of holding more than 200 Ugandan youth hostage. The youngsters have been kidnapped from villages in the north of Uganda. The rebel's leader, Joseph Kony has been reported as saying that the LRA will abduct 10,000 Ugandans to Sudan for military training. Uganda's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs is reported to have left Uganda at the weekend for Khartoum, Sudan as part of ongoing attempts to normalise relationships between the two countries.
A leading African politician said on Friday that an African campaign to have the continent's massive external debts written off or at least reduced is gaining support from Western donors. Kwesi Botchway, the economic committee chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa said officials from creditor institutions who attended last week's GCA meeting supported the initiative to grant debt relief to the heavily indebted African countries. Botchway, the former Ghanaian finance minister, said that the 33 least developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa owed around US$ 164 billion out of Africa's total US$ 223 billion external debt for 1995.
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