Angola + 4 more

IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 1 covering the period 31 Dec - 7 Jan 2000

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ANGOLA-NAMIBIA: Heightened tension along border

Western diplomats said this week that they were becoming increasingly concerned at the situation along Angola's southern border with Namibia after hit-and-run attacks on Monday against civilian vehicles in Namibia's remote northeast Caprivi Strip.

According to official government radio reports, diplomats and rights activists, at least three French nationals were killed in an ambush along the new Trans-Caprivi highway some 40 km east of the Bagani checkpoint. In a separate attack around the same time on Monday afternoon, two vehicles reportedly carrying employees of a Danish-based NGO were also attacked, but no-one was reported killed or seriously injured.

In another attack near Bagani during the New Year weekend, 'The Namibian' newspaper reported that eight people were wounded, four of them seriously, when gunmen armed with grenades and assault rifles abducted 20 Namibians and forced them across the border. The newspaper said the attackers planted anti-personnel landmines as they withdrew.

Diplomatic sources said the Angolan rebel movement UNITA had been blamed for the raids, while Reuters quoted the Namibian army chief of staff, Major-General Martin Shalli, as saying Monday's attack was "definitely a UNITA ambush."

EU diplomats said this week that they were not satisfied with government reports that the situation was under control and said they would request further clarification from the foreign ministry. "The tensions have sparked further threats from UNITA of hit-and-run attacks," an EU diplomat told IRIN. "These have taken the form of threatening letters and rumours that have been circulating, and they are impossible for us to verify."

EU ambassadors met this week to discuss the situation and concerns they had at the impact the fighting would have on the local population as well as dozens of international aid projects on the Namibian side of the border.

"We are concerned because the government keeps telling us that the situation is under control, and then ambushes or atrocities are reported. It is very worrying indeed, especially when it comes to the humanitarian situation, and whether we advise international humanitarian staff to keep out for the time being or to exercise extreme caution. Hopefully, those on leave, will extend their leave for now," the diplomat added.

ANGOLA-NAMIBIA: Namibian troops pursue UNITA rebels

Meanwhile, the Namibian authorities said this week they had launched a "hot pursuit" operation against suspected Angolan rebels. A Western diplomat told IRIN that government officials had stopped short of saying they had followed the suspects across the country's northern border into Angola itself, "but they did not deny it either". Diplomats said the Namibian pursuit did not in their view constitute an escalation of fighting in the border region which intensified three weeks ago when Namibia granted Angolan government forces the right to launch attacks against UNITA strongholds from Namibian territory.

The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) said the army clashed with UNITA near Kongola in a part of Caprivi not far from where the foreigners were ambushed. NBC said seven UNITA soldiers had been killed. According to analysts, the Caprivi clash was the first direct confrontation between the two sides on Namibian territory.

Sources told IRIN this week that although the situation was "not very encouraging" and that further such hit-and-run attacks could not be ruled out, UNITA forces in southern Angola were being routed. Their communications and supply lines had been disrupted, their fighters were demoralised and many were isolated from their traditional command structures.

ANGOLA-NAMIBIA: Human rights concerns

The Namibian Society for Human Rights (NSHR), this week accused the government of handing over 41 male Angolan refugees to Angolan government forces. "The Namibian public and the international community at large are made by Namibian authorities to believe that the arrival of Angolan forces on Namibian soil would enhance human security and stability along the border," an NSHR statement said. "However, immediately after the arrival of such forces, incidents of growing human rights abuses, reminiscent of those common in Angola, have increased considerably as compared to the period prior to the arrival of such forces."

The international community has expressed concern that the refugees, whose numbers have now reached over 7,000, have not been accorded sufficient protection by the Namibian authorities. The Regional Director for Southern Africa of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nicolas Bwakira, flew to Windhoek this week for a first-hand assessment and consultations with the government. A senior European diplomat told IRIN: "There is no question that our assessment of the situation is less positive than that of the Namibian authorities. The government is quite adamant that there are no risks in the region and that the area is under control. We cannot verify the reports of human rights violations, but they persist all the time, and rumours are flying."

ANGOLA-NAMIBIA: Regional implications

UNHCR said it was checking reports that an estimated 3,000 people had fled across the Angolan border this week into a corner of southwest Zambia north of the Victoria Falls which also shares borders with Caprivi. Zambia is already accommodating 13,000 Angolans who fled across its western borders in recent weeks.

The South African government said it was also growing "concerned". Daniel Ngwepe, a foreign ministry spokesman said: "South Africa has always maintained that the road to lasting peace is only through a concerted effort to address the root cause of the problems. If the MPLA or if UNITA win on the battlefield, the problem will not go away. We have called for a dialogue and a negotiated solution." In an editorial this week, 'The Namibian' said: "The situation on our northern borders could erupt into yet another regional conflagration unless it is handled as diplomatically as possible."

For an IRIN focus report on the border conflict see www.reliefweb.int/IRIN

ANGOLA: Humanitarian crises forecast well into New Year

Angola's humanitarian crisis is expected to last well into the New Year even if an end to the country's quarter century of civil war was imminent, a senior humanitarian official told IRIN. Looking back at what she called a "grim year", Marjolaine Martin, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer of the UN's Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (UCAH), said UN agencies and local and international NGOs had provided relief food and assistance to approximately 550,000 vulnerable Angolans in 1999.

Most of those assisted had sought refuge in government-held cities besieged by UNITA rebels, and their numbers constitute roughly a quarter of those in need. Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council recently that 2 million Angolans are living a precarious existence, in need of or dependent on aid.

"We estimate that another three million people are entirely inaccessible and their condition is therefore impossible to assess," he said. Martin told IRIN the humanitarian crisis was further exacerbated by the fact that in many places to which people had fled in their tens of thousands this year, the resident populations were equally, if not more vulnerable and therefore dependent on aid.

"If there was peace in Angola tomorrow, it be would very good for the country," she said. "But by no means would it resolve the humanitarian problems because the needs and the numbers of people becoming accessible to the relief community would simply increase. It is a question of a very large proportion of territory and people still out of access. They would have to be progressively reached and assisted, as the military situation permitted."

MOZAMBIQUE: RENAMO rejects Supreme Court ruling

Mozambique's main opposition party, RENAMO, this week rejected a Supreme Court endorsement of last month's elections which it alleges were rigged. Speaking at a press conference in Maputo, RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama said: "We do not recognise the verdict. We think there is no distance between FRELIMO and the Supreme Court, and so we're not accepting it and we propose a recount."

The Supreme Court dismissed RENAMO's allegations of fraud and ruled that presidential and parliamentary elections were "free, fair and transparent" and had been held in an "orderly fashion in observance with the constitution and law." In its verdict read out by Judge Luis Mondlane the court said: "The arguments presented by RENAMO are inconsistent and do not justify any annulment of the elections or a recount of the votes."

RENAMO said this week that it would boycott the first sitting of the country's newly elected parliament to demand a recount of the votes. "This will not affect the workings of parliament, because FRELIMO have a 16 seat majority, they need 126 seats to pass any piece of legislation," one analyst said. He added that later on some kind of negotiations may have to take place between the two parties, possibly with an outside mediator. "But at this stage it is still too early to say."

Mozambique's newly elected parliament will begin its first session on 14 January and Chissano will be officially sworn in as president on 15 January.

ZIMBABWE: Pace of land reform criticised

The slow pace of land reform in Zimbabwe, aimed at correcting a historical imbalance in land ownership and boosting rural development is "disappointing", analysts and diplomats told IRIN this week.

Fifteen months after a land reform conference set the framework for the purchase of largely white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless black peasants, there has been little in the way of government or international financial support for the inception phase of the programme.

"The framework is there but land reform is moving slowly," Sam Moyo who led the government's technical team on land reform told IRIN. The ambitious inception phase of the programme calls for the resettlement of 77,000 rural families on a million hectares over two years based on principles of transparency in the selection of beneficiaries and poverty alleviation criteria.

The donors and government were to provide 40 percent each for the funding of the inception phase, with the private sector and civil society providing the remainder. But "we are not anywhere near the money needed," Moyo said, and on average only 50 farms were being redistributed a year.

According to the land expert, the government has only provided some 10 to 15 percent of its planned spending, with donor funding limited to little more than the start-up money for technical support of the trial phase. Moyo said part of the problem was that attention to redistribution was being diverted by the government's programme of leasing land it has bought in the past to black commercial farmers, which donors have criticised as benefiting in some cases members of the government and senior civil servants.

A Western embassy official said that running two land initiatives in parallel - one of which on occasion had rewarded government ministers - had confused the debate at a time when the government does not have the resources to adequately support land redistribution for landless rural families. "Donors find it difficult to support land reform in Zimbabwe when they can see some land has not been transferred in a transparent way," he told IRIN.

ZIMBABWE: Parliamentary elections in March - Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe has underlined that Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections are still on schedule for March and that the government has not taken a decision to postpone them.

His announcement to state media this week followed remarks last December by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa that the elections had been postponed to June so they could be run under a new constitution - which is in draft form and still has to be approved by Zimbabweans in an upcoming referendum - and with a new voters role. Mugabe said the polls would be delayed only if absolutely necessary and, at the latest, only to the first week of April.

Although analysts predict Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF should win handsomely, it faces a stiff challenge from a new unions-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that has focussed on the deterioration in living standards over two decades of virtual single-party rule.

"The ruling party will be returned to power but they will be confronted by a real opposition for the first time," economist Eric Bloch told IRIN. "If that occurs it will have positive repercussions for business confidence."

ZIMBABWE: Trial of journalists postponed until July

And the trial of two Zimbabwean journalists charged with publishing a false report about an alleged coup attempt against Mugabe, has been postponed until July. The magistrate accepted a request by both the prosecution and defence to further delay the case to allow the Supreme Court to hear an application by the two men that a section of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, under which they were charged, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in March.

Mark Chavunduka, editor of the 'Sunday Standard' newspaper, and Ray Choto a journalist with the newspaper were arrested by the army after a story published in January 1999 which said soldiers had plotted to overthrow Mugabe's government in December 1998. The journalists allege that they were tortured while in detention.

ZIMBABWE: Civil service wage hike, job losses

The Zimbabwe government announced last week it would raise civil servants salaries by up to 90 percent but at the cost of 20,000 jobs.

The pay awards of between 69 to 90 percent would take effect from January to "significantly improve the conditions of service", acting Public Service and Social Welfare Minister John Nkomo said. But he added the government would also cut the 171,000-strong public service by 20,000 over four months saving an estimated US $79.2 million in its annual wage bill.

The government's decision has been applauded by employers. "The government realises the civil service is too big and it was getting no return in value for its money," Josh Nyoka, president of the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe told IRIN. "We need a leaner more efficient civil service to attract people with potential." He also welcomed the government's plan to privatise parts of the civil service and provide incentives to retrenched workers to form micro businesses. "The challenge for the government is to secure resources to enable them to create jobs," he said.

ZAMBIA: Large scale doctors strike averted

The Zambian government this week averted a large scale doctors' strike after it agreed to reinstate junior doctors who had been dismissed earlier this week. Senior doctors in the country had threatened to join their junior colleges in their strike action. Dr Ben Chirwa, spokesman for the Central Board of Health in Lusaka told IRIN the strike action by junior doctors stems from their concerns that "facilities within government hospitals were not conducive to proper patient care." News reports added they were also demanding a wage increase. Chirwa said the duties of the junior doctors have been taken over by senior staff who had been "treating all emergencies and the most critical cases."

ZAMBIA: Senior government minister predicts economic crisis

A senior Zambian minister has said that Zambia is in an economic crisis and that its rulers were "autocratic and intolerant". Environment and Natural Resources Minister Ben Mwila, who has also been named as a possible presidential candidate, published a full page advertisement in the country's main newspapers in which he said: "We should focus our attention on the economy which is regrettably in an intensive care unit." He added that although his ruling party the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) had improved fiscal discipline, the economy was still in "dire straits." Mwila added: "We proclaim we are democrats from the highest platforms but, with due respect, have yet to learn the art of dialogue. Autocracy and arbitrariness in the ruling party can only diminish our status in the public eye."

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Economic winners and losers in 2000

Africa is expected to be the world's fastest growing region this year, with Mozambique the best performing economy, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The EIU's latest report anticipates that higher commodity prices will nudge overall growth in sub-Saharan Africa to 4 percent in 2000, and forecasts particularly good results for three southern African countries. In Mozambique, GDP growth is expected to hit 10 percent, in Botswana 8.9 percent, and Angola 8 percent - all based on boosted mineral production.

In Botswana, a sharp expansion in diamond output combined with increased vehicle production is expected to result in a 2 percent increase in GDP in 2000 from the 6.9 percent forecast for 1999. In Angola, growth is expected to double on the back of rising oil production and higher international prices despite the country's return to civil war.

Mozambique, one of Africa's few consistent success stories, has seen its economy grow at an annual average rate of 10 percent between 1996-98, albeit from an extremely low base as a result of almost two decades of civil conflict. During 1996-98, agricultural merchandise exports increased by 42 percent.

However, next-door-neighbour Zimbabwe is likely to record another poor year in 2000 with GDP growth of just 2 percent. According to the London-based EIU, the government is set to miss all of the fiscal and macro-economic targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund. The deficit is forecast to remain above 5 percent, inflation to average 40 percent, with an average exchange rate of Zimbabwe $52 to US $1 compared to the 1999 value of Zimbabwe $38 to US $1.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: SADC trade deal delayed

The proposed Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) free trade area that was to come into being on the 1 January this year has been delayed because of a disagreement over rules of origin in the original agreement.

Sifiso Ngwenya, director for SADC at the South African Department of Trade and Industry told IRIN this week: "On most issues we have a common understanding but we have reached a deadlock, so to say, about the rules of origins of clothing and textiles." He added: "As South Africa and SACU (the South African Customs Union), we feel that the rules of origin in the original free trade agreement are too lax." He said SACU felt that stricter rules were needed to prevent the region from becoming a dumping ground for cheaper goods from other parts of the world.

Ngwenya said that SACU had insisted that both the process from yarn to fabric and from fabric to finished product had to take place within the region. Currently countries such as Malawi and Mozambique make some of their products from fabric which is imported from countries outside SADC.

According to the South African official, SACU had proposed a compromise whereby countries would be allowed to continue with the process of exporting goods made of imported fabric for a period of three years. During this time they would have the opportunity to transform their industries, developing their own domestic sources of supply or finding other textile sources within the region such as from SADC's main manufacturers, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

SADC ministers of trade and industry met on 17 December last year and gave officials from the various countries involved in the negotiations three months to seal a deal. "We are optimistic that by March we would have reached some kind of agreement," Ngwenya said.

Johannesburg, 7 January 2000, 10:00 gmt

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