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Africa still torn apart by armed conflict in 1999

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Posted
Originally published
Johannesburg, South Africa. December 31 1999
1999 saw wars, guerrilla movements, coups and rebellions affect more than 20 African countries, with civilians often caught up in the midst of the conflicts.

JEAN-PIERRE CAMPAGNE reports

Africa failed to shed its reputation as a continent of armed conflicts in 1999, which saw wars, guerrilla movements, coups and rebellions in more than 20 countries, often affecting civilians the most.

The latest sudden turn of events was last week's coup d'etat in Cote d'Ivoire, where the military ousted president Henri Konan Bedie in a country long held up as a rare example of African stability, though it had seen growing political turmoil.

That coup, however, was largely bloodless and the new military regime has moved fast to work with civilian politicians.

The largest conflagration was in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where an internal insurgency drew in troops from Rwanda and Uganda backing rebels and Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia on the side of President Laurent Kabila.

Fighting continues in the vast central African country despite a ceasefire concluded four months ago.

At stake are the DRC's immense mining, oil and agricultural resources, which foreign troops on both sides of the conflict are busily appropriating: Uganda and Rwanda are mining diamonds and farming land in the rebel-controlled east, while Zimbabwe enjoys huge revenues from the mines of southern Katanga.

The stakes are also geopolitical in post-Cold War Africa, with regional powers jockeying for influence.

Uganda and Rwanda, both with minority Tutsi leaders, have been accused of seeking to create a Tutsi empire in central Africa.

Linked to the DRC conflict are internal conflicts in four of the countries involved:

Angola, faced with civil war virtually non-stop since independence from Portugal in 1975, saw a new upsurge in the fighting with the collapse of peace accords signed in 1994. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos this year launched an all-out offensive to wipe out diehards backing UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. Three million Angolans survive only with the help of international aid when they can get it.

Rwanda and Uganda also face rebellions at home. Kigali is battling Hutu insurgents with bases in the DRC who remain armed after being defeated by the Tutsi-led army which ended the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has waged a campaign of terror for the past decade, attacking civilians in the north from bases in Sudan.

Meanwhile, Kampala allows rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to operate from bases in Uganda in its 16-year-old rebellion against northern domination.

That conflict arose on the continent's fault line between northern Arabs who are Muslim and sub-Saharan Africans who are mainly animist or Christian.

The year's most astonishing conflict has been that in the Horn of Africa, where former comrades-in-arms are disputing the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two armies had triumphed in a rebellion to topple the Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

The war, ostensibly over a few hundred square kilometers (miles) of territory along the disputed border, has cost tens of thousands of lives since it broke out in May 1998.

Asmara's independence from Addis Ababa in 1993 left Ethiopia landlocked, and Eritrean customs duties caused early strains between the two new neighbors.

In the north of the continent, Algeria's civil war continued in 1999, although with less intensity than in previous years as newly elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika launched his "civil reconciliation" campaign.

He secured the surrender of the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), but two other groups remain in arms, largely targetting civilians.

The continent is also rife with nearly forgotten wars such as that in Burundi, where more than 200 000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled and as many have been moved to "regroupment" camps in a government bid to thwart the rebels.

Somalia's conflict among warlords with constantly shifting allegiances carried on, largely ignored by the international community tired of the anarchy which has reigned since the 1991 ouster of the dictator Siad Barre.

Other conflicts included:
A continuing self-rule push in Senegal's southern Casamance Province.

In Chad, a rebellion in the north.

In Nigeria, an upsurge in inter-ethnic fighting and bloody autonomy drives in the rich southern oil region.

The tiny Comoran archipelago, still dealing with the self-declared independence of Anjouan Island, experienced a new coup in April 1999.

Peace and rehabilitation were higher on the agendas of at least some war-torn countries, notably Sierra Leone, which after eight years of brutal civil war is trying to heal its wounds under a peace accord signed in July.

In Congo, rebels concluded the year by signing to a new peace accord to end hostilities in which militias formed by an ousted president and prime minister have gradually been worn down by government forces with Angolan help.

-- The Mail & Guardian, December 31 1999.