Angola + 5 more

IRIN-SA Weekly Round-up 51 covering the period 18-24 Dec 1999

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ANGOLA: Fighting intensifies along southern border with Namibia

Angolan and Namibian defence forces this week blasted suspected UNITA rebel strongholds in southern Angola from positions on the Namibian side of the border sending villagers in some areas fleeing for safety in the bush.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was concerned at the reports of escalated fighting, a growing humanitarian crisis and alleged human rights abuses reported by the independent daily, 'The Namibian', human rights activists, and other observers in Namibia. Ambassadors of the European Union (EU) told IRIN they too were growing concerned at the escalation of tension near and around the Kavango regional capital, Rundu, a major Namibian army base on the border.

Humanitarian officials told IRIN they were also concerned that the number of refugees entering Namibia, now at just over 7,000, had not increased noticeably in the past week despite the evident escalation in fighting. They wondered whether people were simply staying in the bush, or whether, as has been alleged, some of those crossing over had been detained and in some cases handed over directly to Angolan army units granted the right to pursue their drive against UNITA from Namibian soil.

"We are extremely concerned at these allegations, and I am planning to raise them at the highest level with the relevant authorities," UNHCR's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Nicolas Bwakira, told IRIN.

In its latest report on the fighting, 'The Namibian' said this week: "Shelling of UNITA positions by both the Angolan army and Namibian security forces from inside Namibia has increased over the past two days in the wake of the killing of a Namibian Special Field Force officer at Mbambi in the Kavango region. Sources in the Shanvura area, about 130 kilometres east of Rundu, said the shelling of suspected rebel positions from Namibia had also triggered an exodus of hundreds of people who had fled from Makena (an Angolan border town)."

A spokesman for the Namibian department of foreign affairs told IRIN this week: "To the best of our knowledge, there has been no fighting between the Angolan parties, and that means the government and UNITA, on Namibian soil." Officials in Namibia declined further comment on the issue, saying they were monitoring the situation.

In a statement to IRIN, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia said that there were an estimated 1,000 Namibian, and possibly Angolan citizens, being held at a military base just south of Rundu. "Most detainees were arrested on 15 December in joint operations conducted by Namibian security forces and Angolan government soldiers," the statement said.

According to the NSHR the detainees were apparently being held after they failed to produce identity documents or for producing old Namibian identity documents which were issued during the period of transition prior to independence.

Diplomats concerned

Meanwhile, European diplomats told IRIN this week that they were concerned at the worsening humanitarian situation and reports of serious human rights violations.

Ambassadors of the European Union (EU) and the United States based in Namibia were said to be especially concerned at the impact of fighting between Angolan government forces and UNITA on people living in the border zone. Diplomats contacted by IRIN also cited Namibia's deepening involvement in the conflict through its decision to allow Angolan forces to use its northern bases as a springboard for attacks.

The diplomats told IRIN it was difficult to verify reports of atrocities. "The government insists this is all happening on the Angolan side," a diplomat said. But he added: "The military, humanitarian and human rights situation is nevertheless very worrying to us from what we have seen and heard." EU heads of mission were planning to discuss the situation at a meeting in Windhoek next week. They were also weighing a UNHCR appeal to assist more than 7,000 Angolan refugees being housed at a camp in Osire, some 700 km south of the border.

The US embassy in Windhoek this week warned its citizens against travelling to the area. The embassy said in a statement: "There are credible reports of Angolan forces shelling UNITA targets from within Namibia and UNITA retaliatory fire into Namibia, as well as of an anti-personnel mine discovered on the Nkurenkuru road west of Rundu." It also reported an increase in the number of roadblocks in the Kavango area set up by Namibian security forces on the lookout for UNITA rebels.

The director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Andrew Corbett, said the reports and photographs of executed civilians were "a matter of great concern for all people concerned with human rights." He said the apparent lawlessness of the Angolan army would "reflect badly on the Namibian Defence Force".

"The Government should not put Namibia at the disposal of the FAA (Angolan Armed Forces) if they know they are committing atrocities just a few kilometres over the border," Corbett said.

The latest fighting started a month ago. After a lull during the Namibian elections, the government of President Sam Nujoma offered Angola the use of bases inside Namibia as it continues a major offensive against UNITA which started in October. Thousands of refugees have also fled to neighbouring Zambia through Angola's eastern borders, according to UNHCR accounts.

Latest IDP figures

The UN Humanitarian Coordination Unit (UCAH) in Angola this week reported that the number of people internally displaced by fighting between government forces and UNITA rebels had now reached over one million people.

It said that up to 15 December, the number of confirmed internally displaced persons (IDPs) had reached 1,053,336 since January last year. The number of IDPs reported, however, was much higher at 1,732,284. UCAH put the number of people receiving food aid in Angola at 753,302, while those receiving aid other than food was given at 538,163 - indicating that the humanitarian community cannot reach the whole displaced population, mainly because of security constraints.

ZAMBIA: UNHCR revises Angolan refugee influx upwards

Meanwhile, UNHCR said this week that it had revised its contingency plans for refugees fleeing into Zambia from eastern Angola upwards. In recent weeks, the refugee agency told IRIN, a total of 13,000 Angolan refugees had crossed over. It was now revising plans upwards to accommodate 30,000 new arrivals "in the near future". The influx has prompted a joint relief effort in which UNHCR has sent plastic sheeting, blankets and soap to the influx areas, while WFP has provided food. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)has delivered emergency medical kits and provided two doctors and two nurses to assist the refugees. Further relief has been provided by the government, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Dutch chapter of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF-Holland), UNHCR said.

MOZAMBIQUE: Victory for Chissano and ruling FRELIMO party

Mozambique's National Elections Commission (CNE) announced this week that President Joaquim Chissano and his ruling FRELIMO party had won the country's presidential and parliamentary elections held earlier this month.

Chissano was re-elected president of Mozambique, winning 52.29 percent of the vote. His only opponent in the presidential race, Afonso Dhlakama, leader of former rebel movement RENAMO, garnered 47.71 percent of the votes. In the parliamentary race, the official results showed Chissano's FRELIMO party had retained its majority in the 250 seat parliament by winning 133 seats. RENAMO took 117 seats.

International and local observers declared the election "free and fair" and praised Mozambicans for the way they conducted themselves during the elections. Former US president Jimmy Carter, who led a 50-member monitoring team from his Carter Centre, said the people of Mozambique had "demonstrated a commitment to freedom, to peace and to democracy."

South Africa urges Dhlakama to accept results

And South African President, Thabo Mbeki this week urged Dhlakama to accept the results of the country's general elections. Mbeki said in a statement that all parties should "respect the integrity of the democratic process and outcome of the vote." He added: "The people of Mozambique have once again demonstrated their unwavering endorsement and belief in democratic governance and this should serve as an endorsement to countries aspiring for democratic rule."

Dhlakama said that his party had "vowed" not to accept the results, claiming that the results had been "forged". Dhlakama added that his party would contest the results in court.

COMORO ISLANDS: OAU urges breakaway island to sign agreement

Ministers from the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) meeting in South Africa this week have urged the separatist island of Anjouan in the Comoro Islands to sign an agreement that is designed to keep the Indian Ocean archipelago intact.

A statement issued by the OAU said: "The ministerial meeting urged the Anjouanse side to reconsider their intransigent position and sign the agreement without further delay so the processes provided therein can be implemented." The statement said that OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim had given the separatists until 1 February next year.

OAU ministers at the meeting in Pretoria said that "serious measures" would be taken if the separatist leaders failed to sign the agreement. The agreement, according to media reports, sets out broad autonomy for each of the Comoro Islands under a national structure.

ZIMBABWE: US, Canada sought asylum for Mengistu

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe told the official 'Herald' newspaper this week that the United States and Canada had asked him to grant political asylum to former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

He said the American and Canadian governments offered to help his government look after Mengistu, who is accused of serious human rights violations during his 17-year rule. Mugabe said that while Zimbabwe was being accused of "harbouring the genocide fugitive," there was no mention of the role played by both the two western powers. "Both the Americans and Canadians even offered to assist financially if we could not meet the expenses of looking after Mengistu," he said. "We have not received a cent because we have not requested their assistance. He (Mengistu) helped a lot of the continent's liberation movements."

Mugabe declines to discuss resignation

Mugabe this week declined to say when he would step down or suggest a potential successor to take up the helm of his ruling ZANU-PF party. In an interview with the South African daily, 'The Star', Mugabe was asked what would happen once his current term as president of the country ends in the year 2002: "Ask me nearer the time, and I will tell you. I also have to protect my party from internal fights that could start if I were to say I will not stand in 2002," he said.

New food price controls

Mugabe also said in the interview his government planned to reintroduce price controls on essential foods. He said prices of the staple, corn meal, as well as bread and beef will be fixed by state-imposed regulations, but declined to say when this would be done. "We definitely want to restore controls. We have already started by preventing corn millers from raising their prices without government permission," Mugabe said. Price fixing was abandoned when Mugabe's government adopted market-led economic reforms in 1992, ending a decade of socialist economic policies. The move, analysts said, was likely to further displease major donors, and lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund which have backed market-linked reforms. The IMF and the World Bank earlier this year put further funding on hold over Zimbabwe's failure to meet economic reform targets.

No compensation for white landowners says Mugabe

Meanwhile, Mugabe told a convention of his ruling ZANU-PF party at the weekend that there would be no compensation to white farmers for lands requisitioned by the government. Mugabe said: "We have waited long enough and now is the time to take back our land." Mugabe also said his party would scrap the constitution's clause that guarantees compensation to landowners. Mugabe told delegates that Zimbabwe's 12.5 million blacks could not achieve economic goals as long as the country's 60,000 white community owned large tracts of land and dominated the nation's industry and commerce. "Without land, there is neither economic development nor empowerment," he said.

New Vice President appointed

Mugabe has appointed Joseph Msika as his second Vice President. Msika takes over from the late Joshua Nkomo who died in July of cancer. A statement from the office of the president and cabinet said: "Msika has a long history in the national liberation struggle and played a very important part alongside the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo in the negotiations that yielded the unity between the Zimbabwean African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU - PF) led by Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), led by Nkomo." At a ZANU - PF congress at the weekend, Msika was also elected second vice president of the ruling party.

Johannesburg, 24 December 10:00 GMT

[ENDS]

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