Angola + 6 more

IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 50 covering the period 11-17 December 1999

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ANGOLA: Southern offensive resumes

Angolan government forces this week resumed their offensive against UNITA rebels in the south of the country near the Namibian border in clashes which brought a new wave of refugees into Namibia.

The latest clashes come in the wake of a government offensive in October which forced UNITA to retreat towards the Namibian and Zambian borders after being routed from their strongholds in Angola's central highlands. Analysts said it appeared government forces were now seeking to oust the rebels from their last major stronghold at Jamba in southeast Angola.

Until the weekend, there had been a lull in the offensive. Namibia had asked Angola to go slow during the presidential and parliamentary elections at the beginning of the month so as not to inflame secessionist tensions in the Caprivi Strip which lies along the eastern stretch of the border between the two countries.

According to human rights activists, the latest fighting heightened tensions in the remote Kavango and Caprivi Strip border areas. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was keeping a tight watch on the situation as a mission in the region began assessing the needs of those fleeing.

A report in 'The Namibian' quoted residents in the Kavango regional capital, Rundu, as saying that Angolan army forces were recruiting Namibians, after giving them promises of good monthly wages. The newspaper also said an Angolan government lorry was seen driving around a Rundu squatter camp on Sunday appealing to people to sign up. An army spokesman told IRIN the report was untrue, saying Angola did not need Namibian manpower.

Sources told IRIN that in recent days, Angolan artillery bombardments on UNITA positions had rocked the Angolan border town of Calai, while on Sunday a rebel mortar shell landed in a Namibian village, wounding eight people.

Earlier in the week, Namibian army chief of staff, Major-General Martin Shalli, told reporters that if necessary, Namibia would provide the Angolan government with facilities in the renewed drive against UNITA forces. Prior to Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990, the country's ruling Southwest Africa Peoples Organisation which was allied with the Angolan government, clashed frequently with UNITA rebels.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia said in a statement on Wednesday it had been "receiving worrisome reports about the deteriorating human rights, humanitarian and security situation in Kavango and Caprivi". It said it was checking reports of a crackdown by Namibian security forces and the army against suspected separatists and UNITA sympathisers.

It appealed to all warring parties to prevent atrocities perpetrated by their forces along the border.

Nujoma says offensive aims to "totally liquidate" UNITA

President Sam Nujoma told a news conference that the Angolan military offensive had been unleashed from the formally UNITA controlled region of Bailundo into the Cuando Cubango Province which borders Namibia. Nujoma said that Angolan government troops had been targeting a strategic southern base at Jamba so as to "totally liquidate UNITA."

His remarks followed a joint communiquÚ after a weekend summit in the Namibian capital with President Laurent-Desire Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. They expressed their "strong support for and active solidarity with the government and people of Angola in their determined and successful military offensive against UNITA."

Annan urged to open new UN office

The UN Security Council this week called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to finalise arrangements with the Angolan government to open a new UN Office in Angola (UNOA) as soon as possible.

In a statement released by ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain, which currently holds the Security Council's rotating presidency, it also called on all parties in the conflict, especially UNITA, to ensure the safety and security of all UN personnel in Angola.

Following the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers at the behest of the government, the Security Council voted on 15 October to restore a UN political presence in the form of the new UNOA mission. Greenstock also called on UNITA to comply "immediately and without conditions" with the UN-brokered Lusaka Protocol peace accord of 1994.

"Members of the council reaffirmed their belief that lasting peace and national reconciliation in Angola can only be achieved through political dialogue, with all those genuinely interested in peace and stability," he said.

Both sides held responsible for human rights abuses

Meanwhile, a report this week by the New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said human rights abuses by government forces and UNITA rebels are continuing unabated in Angola where sexual slavery, rape, summary executions, looting and starvation had become a hallmark of the nation's 25-year civil war.

The author of the report, Alex Vines, told IRIN that the abuses also included the increasing use of landmines, growing violence against civilians as well as the failure of the UN to act.

Vines, who travelled to Luanda this week to present the report, said he had been researching the crisis in Angola for the past five years. "There have clearly been abuses by both sides in this conflict, and the rebels have been able to engage in sanctions busting with the help of people flying weapons and supplies to UNITA territory from Europe via a number of African countries," he said.

FAO concerned at food situation

In a brief report this week, the UN Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) said that the war in Angola was "making an already precarious food situation even worse". In central and northern Angola, FAO cited "severe food supply difficulties and malnutrition" among the country's hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

ZIMBABWE: Fuel crisis relief

The government of Zimbabwe this week staved off a potential fuel shortage crisis by securing a loan of about US $100 million enabling the National Oil company of Zimbabwe (NocZim) to purchase fresh fuel supplies.

The loan came from a consortium of European banks and is part of an overall agreement to renew a US $60 million credit facility granted about a year ago. "The consortium not only agreed to renew the facility but to increase the amount involved to US $100 million," a spokesman for the consortium was quoted as saying.

Earlier, the cash-strapped national oil company had warned that the country only had about two weeks of reserves left. Most of Zimbabwe's fuel comes from South Africa and Middle East.

Britain warns on economy

Meanwhile, a British government report this week warned of worsening economic problems in Zimbabwe unless government policies change.

According to the 'Financial Times' in London, the report describes declining foreign reserves, a growing budget deficit and inflation of over 70 percent.

"The Reserve Bank's holdings of usable foreign exchange are said to provide only 2-3 days' import cover," it said. It also said that government and state enterprises were in arrears to almost all creditors. The report added that the budget deficit was expected to reach 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for this year.

Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister responsible for Africa said London was "very concerned" about the economic situation in Zimbabwe.

Police fire teargas at protesters

In a reflection of growing public concern at the situation, rights groups inZimbabwe this week pledged further protests against the country's new constitution even though riot police at the weekend fired teargas to disperse a crowd of almost 300 in the capital, Harare.

Bidi Munyaradze, director of Zimrights, told IRIN that the weekend marches in major towns across the country were the first of a planned series of protests against the constitution planned by the National Constitutional Commission (NCA), a coalition of civic groups, rights activists, trade unions, churches and lawyers.

The NCA has maintained that after six months of speaking to people throughout the country, a government appointed commission had rejected the wishes of many Zimbabweans to have a ceremonial president, and instead presented a document slanted in favour of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

In Harare on Saturday, Munyaradzi said police had ignored a court order allowing the march in Harare to go ahead and fired dozens of rounds of tear gas to disperse the protestors.

"We are expecting further marches and assemblies in coming weeks because people have to be made aware of the situation ahead of the constitutional referendum which we hear is now scheduled early in the New Year," he said. "We want people refuse a constitution which does not reflect their wishes."

ZAMBIA: Copper deal

In a pivotal deal for Zambia's ailing copper industry, a subsidiary of the South African mining giant Anglo American this week said it had signed an agreement to purchase Zambia's most productive copper mines.

Through a new company called Konkola Copper Mines Plc, Zambia Copper Investments will take an 80 percent interest in the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines assets of Konkola, Nchanga and Nampundwe mines. ZCCM will receive 5 percent free and 15 percent repayable delayed participation in Konkola Copper Mines Plc, as well as a cash consideration of US $30 million payable by 31 January 2000. It will also take a deferred consideration of US $60 million and the benefits of copper and cobalt participation schemes with a cap of US $125 million over the life of the company.

"Our signing shows that Anglo is committed to the completion of this deal. We intend to keep to the January 31 deadline," Jack Holmes, chairman of Anglo subsidiary, Zambia Copper Investments, told a news conference after a signing ceremony on Wednesday.

UNICEF cites hope in AIDS battle

The UN's children fund, UNICEF this week cited Zambia as a country of hope in Southern Africa in the battle against AIDS.

In its 'State of the World's Children - 2000' report, UNICEF said: "In the grip of this calamity and against sobering odds, some Zambians have chosen to live hopefully even as many struggle with their own poverty and difficult life circumstances. They brave a stigma by their association with AIDS and often are themselves discriminated against as they work to spare future generations from the ravages of this disease."

According to the report, one in five Zambians are HIV positive, while nearly everyone is either affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. "Virtually everyone you meet has lost friends or relatives to AIDS," the report noted.

UNICEF said that an estimated 360,000 children had lost at least one parent, most of them to AIDS. Life expectancy at birth, has dropped from 50 to 40 years since 1990, and "child mortality rates are rising to levels not seen since the early 1970's, erasing a quarter-century of progress on children's health and welfare."

In UNICEF's under-five mortality rate ranking, a critical indicator of the wellbeing of children, Zambia has been listed at number 12 in the world, with Sierra Leone at number one. In sub-Saharan Africa, the report said, children's health continued to be under "severe threat", with an estimated 4.1 million children under the age of five dying last year, compared to 3.3 million in 1980.

US aid for Zambian children

In a related development, the US government launched a US $3 million aid package for orphans and other vulnerable children in Zambia.

The US Department of State said the funding would be disbursed over a three-year period to help children suffering from poverty and the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

"Three-fourths of the children in Zambia live in poverty, while orphans and vulnerable children are less likely to attend school, receive adequate health care, or enjoy proper nutrition. With the number of children in Zambia needing help likely to increase dramatically in the coming years, this new programme targets these challenges," it said.

BOTSWANA-NAMIBIA: World Court rules in favour of Botswana

The International Court of Justice in The Hague this week ruled in favour of Botswana, in a long-running territorial dispute over an island of the Chobe River border between the two countries.

Namibian officials told IRIN on Monday that although they were disappointed at the outcome, Namibia would abide by the Court's decision.

In a statement the Court said: "In its judgement, the Court finds, by 11 votes to four that the Kasikili/Sedudu Island forms part of the territory of the Republic of Botswana." However, the Court added in its judgement that the waters surrounding the island were not owned by either country and that it "shall enjoy equal national treatment."

The two countries took their case to the Court in 1996 after they were unable to reach an agreement over the ownership of the island. Botswana occupied the island in 1991, shortly after Namibian independence in March 1990.

The dispute between the two countries dates back to the early 1800's, when the territory which is now Botswana and Namibia was divided between the two colonial powers, Britain and Germany.

MOZAMBIQUE: European observers satisfied with elections

Observers of the European Union (EU) have declared Mozambique's presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this month "free and fair". The results of the elections are expected to be announced next week.

A spokesman for the EU Joint Observer Mission told a news conference that "polling has been conducted in a free and fair manner allowing the Mozambican people to express their will, and that the election results will validly reflect this." Irregularities found were of "such a minor scale" that they would not invalidate the outcome of the polls.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Southern African leaders concerned at slow pace in DRC

Leaders of the Southern African military alliance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called at the weekend on all parties to uphold the Lusaka ceasefire agreement and demanded that UN observers be brought in as soon as possible, senior officials told IRIN this week.

The latest attempt to get the peace process on track was made at a summit meeting in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, where President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and Angolan Defence Minister Kundy Paihama, met with DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila. The three nations in the alliance have all deployed troops in DRC to back Kabila against Ugandan and Rwandan-backed rebels.

"There have been too many violations of the ceasefire and the allies are concerned about that," Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba told IRIN. "They are also concerned that we have a new timetable for implementation. It was also emphasised that the political process in the form of a national dialogue within Congo has to move forward."

Former Botswana president Ketumile Masire, meanwhile, was formally nominated by the OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim as a mediator in the conflict acceptable to all sides.

Other ceasefire violations which concerned the alliance leaders, were looting in northern DRC by Ugandan-backed forces and "hostile movements" detected in the Mbuji-Mayi region, some 1,000 km southeast of Kinshasa, Charamba said.

WHO defends "traditional medicine"

The World Health Organisation (WHO) this week launched a new strategy to defend and promote the use of "traditional medicine" at the primary local health care level in Africa.

Dr Ebrahim Samba, WHO regional director for Africa, pledged at a conference at the organisation's Southern African regional headquarters in Zimbabwe to defend intellectual property rights covering new inventions and production in African nations of traditional treatments.

"It is imperative that African nations are accorded a special priority in the field of traditional medicine through the production of medication at the local level," he said. WHO said the aim of the new strategy over the next 20 years would be to meet African health objectives by helping countries integrate traditional practices with their national health programmes at the primary health care level.

Johannesburg, 17 December 1999 08:45 GMT

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