IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 49 covering the period 4 - 10 Dec 1999

Report
from IRIN
Published on 10 Dec 1999
UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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ZIMBABWE: Protest march planned

Opponents of President Robert Mugabe, said this week they were planning a series of nationwide marches at the weekend to protest against a new draft constitution they say is flawed in favour of his ruling ZANU-PF party despite months of soliciting public opinion over a new constitution.

Morgan Tsvangirai, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) told IRIN the marches were being planned in the country's five main towns on Saturday by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which groups a range of civic organisations, women's' groups, youth groups, human rights activists and churches. It boycotted the official constitutional review and survey.

Tsvangirai, himself a senior member of the NCA, described the constitutional exercise as "a huge fiasco": "People will be turning out to show they are against this draft constitution," he said. Tsvangirai said the protest was to mobilise Zimbabweans to reject the draft constitution as a document designed to further entrench the ruling party and the tenure of Mugabe who has been in power since independence in 1980.

Draft constitution open to debate

Meanwhile, the government dismissed the planned protests and said the protests were likely to be a "non-event." NCA, which has boycotted the government's constitutional reform process, "is visible in the media but is not there on the ground," presidential spokesman George Charamba told IRIN this week.

He denied opposition allegations that the reform exercise, begun by the government in May, was hijacked by ZANU-PF. "I don't think ZANU-PF is any happier with the document," he said. "There are many areas in which ZANU-PF's position is not what was spelled out in the draft."

Charamba said the controversy over the retention of an executive presidency, contrary to what was apparently reflected in a national public survey run by the government-appointed constitutional commission, was one of "interpretation". The survey report was presented to Mugabe on Thursday, and only when it is made public "can we judge the accuracy of the draft,"
Charamba said.

But he added that he was "surprised" over denunciations of the entire reform process. "A draft, by its very nature means that it is open to debate," Charamba suggested.

Draft constitution aims to set up media commission

The draft constitution also aims to include a section calling for the creation of a Media Commission with powers to take disciplinary action against journalists "found to have breached any law or code of conduct applicable to them," the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said this week. According to MISA, clause 213 of the draft constitution said that an act of parliament must establish a Media Commission firstly to uphold and develop freedom of the press, and secondly to "promote and enforce good practice and ethics in the press, news media and broadcasting." Clause 214 of the draft constitution adds that parliament may give the commission the power to conduct investigations or inquiries into any conduct or circumstances that "appear to threaten press freedom."

ZIMBABWE-DRC: JMC to negotiate fate of trapped troops

A Joint Military Commission (JMC) team is to travel to Rwanda to discuss safe passage for Zimbabwean soldiers trapped by Kigali-backed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a spokesman for Zimbabwe's Armed Forces Headquarters told IRIN this week.

The JMC team, comprising representatives of the United Nations, Organisation of African Unity and Zambia, was expected to visit Rwanda in the next seven days to negotiate the safety of 700 Zimbabwean soldiers besieged in the north-eastern DRC town of Ikela by Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie(RCD) rebels. The JMC team will also travel to Goma and Kinshasa in the DRC.

Zimbabwean troops have held Ikela since before the DRC ceasefire was signed in Lusaka in August. According to Mugari, access to the town was a condition of the Lusaka Agreement, and its encirclement by DRC rebel forces an infringement of the truce.

Peace process on track

Meanwhile, the peace process in the DRC was "on track" through a combination of high-level contact between the main foreign protagonists and US diplomatic influence, Charamba told IRIN this week.

"The President is in contact with his colleagues in Rwanda and Uganda," Charamba said. "Hardly two weeks ago the Rwandese presidential affairs minister was here with messages. Four days ago (Ugandan President Yoweri) Museveni was in contact over the DRC issue ... There is real political will to follow through with this."

Two separate US delegations have visited Harare this week led by American UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Democratic Party leader Richard Gephardt. Both discussed the DRC conflict with President Robert Mugabe.

"The general impression is that the US is throwing its moral and material weight behind the Lusaka peace agreement, a factor which had been missing all along," Charamba added.

ANGOLA: Zambia, Namibia brace for new refugee influx

Zambia and Namibia braced themselves for a fresh influx of refugees from Angola this week as fighting raged between government forces and UNITA rebels fleeing new offensives near Angola's southern and eastern borders.

According to figures provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Friday, more than 2,500 Angolans entered Zambia's Western Province this week, brining the total number of new arrivals since early October to 7,400.

UNHCR, in a statement, also said it had received reports that 200 Angolan soldiers were among the refugees. "They have already been disarmed by the Zambian authorities. Based on international law, former combatants are not automatically recognised as refugees, but need to be separated from civilians," it said.

It said the refugees would be moved to two established camps at Meheba and Mayukwayukwa away from the border after receiving food and initial medical treatment. But the onset of the rainy season, it added, would make movements in the area more difficult. UHNCR, and its partner, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) were considering possibility of using boats to ferry
refugees on the upper Zambesi River. It said contingency plans had been revised to provide for an influx of up to 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, from the Namibian capital Windhoek, UNHCR said it was also gearing up for a new influx of refugees following a lull in fighting along Angola's southern borders during last week's general election in Namibia.

Namibian government officials had asked Luanda to hold back with further offensives until the election was over because it feared disruptions along the border, most notably in the northeast Caprivi Strip, where earlier this year separatists launched an attack from Angola.

"Our refugee figures currently stand at 2,400 since November," said Hasdy Rathling, UNHCR's Senior Liaison Officer in Namibia. He said that during the past 10 days, all 6,300 Angolan refugees camped along the border had been moved to a secure camp in Osire, 750 km south of the border.

Fighting close to Zambian border

In a related development this week, humanitarian sources and local media reports said bombs had fallen near the northwestern Zambian town of Jimbe, but no casualties were reported.

The Zambian daily, 'The Post', quoted local government deputy minister, Elizabeth Kalenga, as saying bombs had been dropped by Angolan aircraft as government forces were pursuing rebel UNITA units close to the border.

"I don't know yet whether the ruling MPLA forces dropped the bombs deliberately or not," Kalenga said. "What I know is that there were no casualties. As you know the MPLA is pursuing UNITA forces who are suspected to be operating along the border area."

The newspaper quoted intelligence officials saying there had also been heavy artillery exchanges in the area.

Oil profits looted, report claims

A damning report by the British lobby group Global Witness this week accused oil multinationals, international banks,
and key Angolan officials of contributing to the country's "humanitarian and development catastrophe."

The report, alleges that a lack of corporate transparency has encouraged "massive" official corruption, impoverishing Angolans and obstructing the search for a "real peace initiative."

It argued that "the international oil and banking industries are the key factor in this equation of corruption and opacity. This is because the oil companies provide the vast majority of government revenue and the banking sector provides short-term, high interest loans, severely exacerbating the negative effects of low oil prices on Angolan government income."

According to Simon Taylor of Global Witness: "As Angola is set for a massive US $18 billion in oil company investment over the next four years, the starving and war-torn population will see little if no benefit from these vast investments in terms of the most basic human needs."

"It is time for a radical rethink in international business practice," the report argued. The Angolan government has threatened to take legal action against Global Witness, for the report which has also implicated President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in alleged corrupt management of Angola's oil resources. An editorial published in the daily 'Jornal de Angola' said: "The
government has decided to take action against those who are responsible, in civil and criminal terms, for such unwarranted accusations, as well as against those who disseminated them."

NAMIBIA: Ruling SWAPO party sweeps to victory

President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and his ruling Southwest Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) swept to their biggest
victory yet on this week. A spokesman for the independent Electoral Commission told IRIN that Nujoma, had won 77 percent of the votes in the presidential poll, while SWAPO had taken 76 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election.

"It is a huge victory for President Nujoma and for SWAPO," said Peter Mietzner, spokesman for the commission. "This is not just a two-thirds majority they had last time, it is a three-quarters majority, the best they have done so far, and we can say confidently that it was a free and fair election from our point of view, although we will investigate complaints of irregularities. We have had three written complaints, and some verbal complaints so far, and naturally we expect to hear more."

Analysts in Windhoek, said the victory had surprised many observers because they had expected disillusionment over the military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and corruption to dent SWAPO's support. There was also criticism by opposition parties ahead of the election over Nujoma's controversial change in the constitution enabling him to stand for a third five-year term.

One of those in the opposition who had been expected to curb SWAPO support was Ben Ulenga, a SWAPO dissident and former ambassador to Britain, who nine months ago, broke away to form the Congress of Democrats (CoD) with other allies also disillusioned with the ruling party. But in the presidential stakes, Ulenga polled 11 percent, just ahead of the 10 percent garnered by Katuutire Kaura, leader of the other main opposition party, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA).

The results of the parliamentary contest, in which the CoD scored 10 percent against the DTA's nine percent, meant that the CoD will replace the DTA as the official opposition. In the 1994 election, the DTA won over 20 percent support in parliament.

The Electoral Commission reported a turnout of 62 percent of the country's 878,000 registered voters.

Real challenge almost impossible

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) and the CoD told IRIN that SWAPO was so dominant in Namibia that a real challenge is almost impossible. They accused the ruling party of using its parliamentary majority to guarantee it the main share of resources for the campaign and favourable radio and television coverage.

"This was not a free and fair election by any means," said Nora Schimming-Chase, a former ambassador to Germany who also joined CoD. She told IRIN: "The international observers will go home and say it was free and fair - with reservations. We find that insulting because the election was held without a registry of voters, but that's ok in Africa as far as they are concerned."

MOZAMBIQUE: FRELIMO parliamentary victory uncertain

As life in Mozambique returned to normal this week after a weekend of voting, political analysts told IRIN that the ruling FRELIMO party and the opposition former rebel movement RENAMO were in a tight race for control of the country's parliament.

"Although there is very little doubt in people's minds that President Joaquim Chissano will keep his post, the outcome in parliament is very different. People just don't know," one analyst told IRIN.

"If RENAMO does take the parliament, governing Mozambique may become very difficult for Chissano. We may end up with a system where every piece of legislation will be a negotiation between the president and his parliament. This does not bode well for a country that is trying to attract foreign investment. Investors like to be assured of the fact that the president is
supported by his parliament," the analyst said. In a television interview on Sunday, Chissano indicated that he would be
"open to negotiations" should RENAMO take control of parliament.

Elections free and fair

Former US president Jimmy Carter, who headed a 50-member monitoring team, said this week that the elections were "overwhelmingly free and fair." Carter was quoted in media reports as saying that Mozambicans had demonstrated "a commitment to freedom, to peace and to democracy." Carter added that he expected the counting of votes and the issuing of final results "to go well."

However, at a press conference at the weekend, RENAMO leader, Afonso Dhlakama, said he had "evidence of rigging" and that he had lodged a complaint with the National Elections Commission (CNE). The CNE said that it had received no formal complaint from RENAMO, but "would thoroughly investigate any complaint that was made."

COMORO ISLANDS: "Double crisis" unresolved

The military leader of the Comoro Islands, officially isolated by the international community, has formed a new government to include representatives from several political parties ahead of planned elections next year.

Colonel Azaly Assoumani, who took power in a bloodless coup in April, formed a new 12-member government this week to include leaders from 22 out of 33 parties on the archipelago that have signed a pact in support of the military authorities. The government is led by newly appointed Prime Minister, Bianrifi Tarmidi, who coordinated the now dissolved "Committee of State" through which Azaly had ruled.

However, according to one diplomat on the main island of Grande Comore, the archipelago's biggest political parties remain opposed to the new government and have distanced themselves from Azaly's economic reform programmes, which have targeted corruption among the business elite and politicians.

Despite the lack of international recognition, the military's reforms aimed at streamlining the public sector and repaying arrears to international financial institutions, have won quiet applause from the donors.

"The reforms are well received by the international community, and it seems, the people," the diplomat told IRIN. "The old political order have decided they will do whatever they can to come back to power, but the military seems to be in control and may have some interesting ideas on how to run things."

But "the double crisis" faced in the Comoros - apart from the issue of the government's legitimacy - is the unresolved question over the independence demands of the island of Anjouan.

The hardline separatist Anjouanese leadership refused to sign an Organisation of African Unity (OAU)-mediated agreement reached in April in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The deal provides for greater autonomy for the two smaller islands of Anjouan and Moheli within a federal structure.

South Africa has been mandated by the OAU to coordinate a diplomatic initiative by regional countries to break the impasse. "South Africa is the key," the diplomat said. "If the Anjouanese realise that countries of the region are serious about Comoro integrity, they will sign."

However, a South African foreign affairs official downplayed Pretoria's influence in the crisis. He told IRIN on Wednesday that there were unconfirmed reports that the Anjouan leadership has decided to put the issue of the island's status to a referendum.

"The root of the problem is that the Anjouanese believe they got nothing out of the (Comoros) union - they were always last in line when it came to development or aid. They think they have nothing to lose from independence, and under a different constitutional framework they could get more aid from the donors," the official said.

MALAWI: Election recount underway

An inspection of polling materials began this week in Malawi following a Supreme Court ruling to allow opposition parties access to the ballots of the controversial June general elections.

Electoral commission lawyer Arthur Nanthuru said the first ballot boxes were opened on Monday at a government warehouse whose gates were manned by soldiers. Heavily armed Malawian soldiers have been deployed to provide security during the inspection and have been instructed to allow only eight officials from each contesting party and the electoral commission to do the inspecting. The recounting and inspection was due to last 21 days.

ZAMBIA: Holbrooke seeks DRC mediator

Holbrooke said this week that the main aim of his current African tour is to find a "facilitator" to bring together the parties in the Congo civil war.

"The main point is that we are trying to find a facilitator," Holbrooke told reporters after meeting Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who played a key role negotiating July's fragile peace accord. Chiluba said Organisation of African Unity (OAU) leaders will meet in Addis Ababa next week to discuss names from an undisclosed list. "The choice of a facilitator is still
elusive," he told a news conference after meeting Holbrooke.

SOUTH AFRICA-ETHIOPIA: Mengistu slips out

As human rights groups and diplomats stepped up the pressure on South Africa to try or extradite the former Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, it was announced this week that he had quietly slipped out of the country back to his home of exile in Zimbabwe.

"All I can tell you is that he left the country last Friday before we received the Ethiopian request later that day for his extradition," presidential spokesman, Parks Mankahlana told IRIN. All week, however, the South African foreign ministry insisted it was reviewing what action should be taken on Mengistu who arrived for medical treatment last month from exile
in Zimbabwe. The official statements implied that Mengistu was still in the country.

The confusion was made no clearer by a foreign ministry spokesman who insisted the issue was still under consideration: "The matter of his extradition is still under review as far as we are concerned. He did not enter this country as an official guest, so we cannot comment on his movements. We are aware of the reports now saying he has left."

But in an interview from Zimbabwe, Mengistu told the BBC that he had not been forced to flee South Africa in the wake of pressure on the South African government by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and local legal and human rights groups.

"The present government in South Africa are my comrades-in-arms. There was no question of sending me back to Ethiopia," said Mengistu who has lived in Zimbabwe since 1991. His government, like many in Africa at the time, provided a second home to South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) during the fight against apartheid. The biggest ANC military camps were located in Ethiopia, Angola and Tanzania.

Amnesty International criticises Pretoria over Mengistu

Amnesty International said that South Africa failed to fulfil its human rights obligations by failing to press charges against the former Ethiopian dictator. "The South African government has singularly failed in its obligations under both its national constitution and international law," Amnesty said in a statement.

"The government, at the very least, should have ensured that Mengistu had remained in the country until the National Director of Public Prosecutions had undertaken an investigation into his possible prosecution in South Africa or extradition to another state." Amnesty International said that the South African government must explain "its failure" to keep Mengistu in the
country until he was charged or extradited to another country for a fair trial.

Johannesburg, 10 December 1999 10:00 GMT

[ENDS]

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