Burundi + 8 more

IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 112 covering the period 23 Feb - 01 Mar 2002

UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
DRC: Inter-Congolese dialogue opens, stalls

Amid accusations of attempts to scupper the talks, all the important players were present in Sun City, South Africa on Monday. This was despite threats last week from Jean-Pierre Bemba's Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC), stating that the group would not attend due to biased representation among the unarmed opposition groups, SAPA confirmed. Representatives from another armed rebel group, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD), were also present, SAPA reported. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID"611]

However, it became apparent at the opening ceremony on Monday evening that the representatives of the unarmed opposition and the MLC were not in attendance. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the office of the facilitator told IRIN that the talks had been suspended until the following day, because "many issues had yet to be solved", including that of representation. Jean-Pierre Bemba was said to be staying at a nearby hotel. SABC radio reported that he had had private talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID"923]

However, when the talks resumed on Wednesday, wrangling continued over which unarmed opposition parties should be allowed to participate. Most of the unarmed opposition and the RCD and the MLC seemed to be lining up against the government over the list of unarmed opposition groups, an IRIN reporter observed on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the government was accusing the same groups of trying to scupper the talks. Leonard She Okitundu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) foreign minister, had told journalists that the Kinshasa government was relying on the facilitator, Ketumile Masire, to resolve the representation problem, AFP reported. Masire, meanwhile, warned that the Congolese were just as capable of wrecking their own dialogue as they were of making it a success. As tension rose in Sun City, other delegates at the dialogue were protesting against the interruption. "A failure would be in the interests of all the belligerents," AP quoted Kabare Rugemaninzi, a civil society representative, as saying. Meanwhile, Kabila had met both Bemba and the leader of RCD, Adolphe Onusumba, on Monday evening for talks, Reuters reported. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23108; and: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23315]

However, prospects for the dialogue began looking brighter on Thursday, following a cease-fire announcement by the DRC. In a communique, it said it had ordered a "unilateral cease-fire" and ordered its troops to start withdrawing. The communique blamed opposing Rwandan and rebel forces for a reopening of hostilities at Moliro near Lake Tanganyika from 22 February.

The DRC government also suggested that it could reach a compromise regarding its opponents' demands for the list of opposition delegates at the dialogue to be revised. Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu said a group of 30 opposition delegates, who would be arriving from Kinshasa in the next 24 hours, would settle the problem. The delegates, who call themselves the "genuine opposition", had refused to join in the dialogue unless they were given more say in the selection of the other delegates to represent the unarmed opposition.

The MLC and the RCD welcomed the concessions from Kinshasa. MLC Secretary-General Olivier Kamitatu said they were "very pleased" with the cease-fire announcement, which showed "that everyone is committed to this peace process". Azarias Ruberwa, secretary-general of the RCD, said the talks should resume "probably within the next 48 hours", AP reported. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23486]

[For the dialogue's draft agenda see: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID"613]

DRC: Natural resources exploitation panel resumes work

The United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC resumed its activities for six months on 18 February. The panel's new six-month mandate includes obtaining an evaluation of, and recommendations on, possible actions that could be taken by the UN Security Council, the international community, as well as transit countries and end-users, in order to help bring to an end the plundering of natural resources in the DRC. A statement issued by the Security Council on 19 December 2001, when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was requested to renew the panel's mandate, stated: "The Security Council notes with concern that the plundering of the natural resources and other forms of wealth of the DRC continues unabated. The Security Council strongly condemns these activities, which are perpetuating the conflict in the country, impeding the economic development of the DRC and exacerbating the suffering of its people..." The statement referred to "the disastrous humanitarian and economic situation of the country".

Based on the previous findings of the panel, the Council stressed that no external parties, or groups or individuals under their control, should benefit from the exploitation of the DRC's natural resources at the DRC's expense; that the DRC's natural resources should not serve as an incentive for any state, group or individual, to prolong the conflict; that external parties, and groups or individuals under their control, must not use the natural resources of the DRC to finance the conflict of the country; and that the resources in the DRC should be exploited legally and on a fair commercial basis to benefit the country and people of the country.

The council also stressed the need for the panel to maintain a high level of collaboration with "all the Congolese players, governmental as well as nongovernmental, throughout the national territory". A number of countries were implicated in the previous findings of the panel - particularly Rwanda and Uganda - which has convened three times since it began its work in September 2000.

DRC: Experts report dramatic increase in seismic activity

Early Monday morning, volcanologists and researchers from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Observatoire Volcanologique de Goma observed a dramatic increase in seismic activity of Mt Nyamuragira, northwest of Goma, eastern DRC. After the lava flows from neighbouring Mt Nyiragongo on 17 January, researchers have been keeping a close watch on the area. "One minute the reading said there was no seismic activity at all, and the next showed dramatic activity," said one volcanologist, Dario Tedesco, professor of volcanology at the University of Naples and consultant for OCHA in Goma.

Nyamuragira has an active history, with eruptions occurring every one to two years. An eruption in February 2001 lasted several weeks, but did not threaten local human populations, as lava flows descended toward the west, entering Virunga National Park. Tedesco and Congolese seismologists anticipate an eruption to happen as soon as within several days, or as late as a few weeks from now. "It is not the eruption, however, that is our main concern," he added, noting that the seismic activity recorded in the past few weeks threatens to upset the balance of nearby Lake Kivu. "If the seismic activity reaches the lake, the combination of it and possible volcanic activity at the bottom of the lake would upset the balanced layers of carbon dioxide and methane that lie in the lake." If this occurred, Tedesco continued, these toxic gases could be released from the lake, posing a lethal threat to the surrounding population.

Furthermore, seismic activity is causing cracks in the earth and widening those already present, creating a potential situation for more lava flows and toxic gas emissions. In one instance, the Observatoire Volcanologique de Goma reported that a long fissure discovered under a local church, Kanisa La Mungu, in the centre of Goma, is emitting carbon dioxide at a concentration of 0.1 percent, which was strong enough to cause two women cleaning the church to faint. The church has since been sealed off. The volcanologists report that fissures such as this throughout the region could be future eruption sites. The Observatoire is continuing to monitor volcanic and seismic activity, and will be informing the local population of the situation.

ROC: IMF calls 2001 "disappointing", but hopeful for 2002

Following a recent assessment mission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described the Republic of Congo's (ROC) economic performance in 2001 as "disappointing", while recognising "the very difficult circumstances under which the [nation] had embarked, with limited external assistance and under severe capacity constraints, on an economic and financial programme".

In a summary issued on 25 February after the conclusion of their 2001 Article IV consultation with ROC authorities, IMF directors found the 2002 budget to be "broadly consistent" with established priorities. However, they emphasised: the importance of sustained efforts to raise non-oil-revenue collection and tighten expenditure control; the central role that an effective management of ROC's oil resources should play in contributing to poverty reduction efforts; the importance of accelerating structural reforms aimed at creating an environment conducive to private-sector development and diversification of the economy; the need for substantial financial and technical assistance to build administrative capacity and to help meet the country's reform and poverty reduction challenges; and that serious shortcomings in ROC's statistical base hamper a timely assessment of economic conditions and the design of appropriate policies.

Nevertheless, IMF executive directors commended the progress made by the ROC in "laying the foundations for lasting peace and stable political institutions", and were encouraged by the "home-grown nature" of this post-war renewal. The IMF also welcomed the strong recovery of the non-oil sector, as well as the ROC authorities' efforts to rebuild the country's physical and institutional infrastructure. [For the complete summary, go to http://www.imf.org]

CAR: EC to provide over US $92 million to fight poverty

The European Commission (EC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday signed a cooperation agreement in the CAR capital, Bangui, worth 106.5 million euros (US $92,216,220) to fight poverty over the next five years. A statement from the EC described the programme as "a new stage in relations between the CAR and the European Union [EU] in the framework of the partnership agreement signed in Cotonou [Benin, West Africa] on 23 June 2000 between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific states".

The funds are targeted for meeting priority objectives such as fighting poverty, supporting the health sector, improving the road network throughout the country, and promoting good governance and the rule of law. Over the past 15 years, the EC has provided a total of 272 million euros (US $235,519,360) to the CAR in support of its development. This latest agreement is part of a larger cooperation programme that began in 2000 and is effective until 2007.

BURUNDI: Eleven killed in ambushes

A total of seven soldiers have been killed in the past few days in rebel ambushes in western Burundi, Burundi's Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) reported on Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, a vehicle travelling from Bujumbura to Rumonge fell into a rebel ambush at Nyarukona in Gitaza zone, RPA said. Five people, including a soldier, were killed while four civilians were kidnapped during the incident and the vehicle burnt.

In another ambush in Bubanza Province, northwestern Burundi, six soldiers were killed in an ambush on Tuesday morning as they were walking to Kivyuka market in Musigati commune, it reported. It said the soldiers were allegedly killed by rebels who recognised them. The attack was reportedly to avenge the death of Louis Sinabajije, a former leader of the rebel Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD), who was gunned down last week during a confrontation with the regular army, RPA added. Kivyuka market was deserted immediately after the exchanges of gunfire intensified between the assailants and the army, who had come to the rescue of their slain colleagues.

A security official in Burundi confirmed to IRIN on Wednesday that the reported incidents had taken place, adding that there have been infiltrations by rebels from neighbouring DRC. He added that soldiers had been trying since last week to flush out rebels in the Rukoko valley and Mutimbuzi area in western Burundi.

BURUNDI: Rebel faction, government agree on framework

A faction of the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) and the transitional government on Friday 22 February agreed on a general framework of negotiations intended to lead, as soon as possible, to a definite agreement on a cease-fire and the restoration of democracy in Burundi. In a statement, CNDD-FDD said the two delegations had agreed to meet again "shortly" to study ways of establishing a favourable environment for negotiations, including the implementation of a suspension of hostilities.

"Things went very well. It was a very positive meeting, and we decided to meet soon to discuss a cease-fire so as to restore democracy in our country," a CNDD-FDD official contacted by IRIN on Tuesday said. The delegates met between Monday and Friday last week in South Africa, under the facilitation of the South African deputy president, Jacob Zuma. The meeting was also attended by Gabon's foreign minister, Jean Ping, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, Berhanu Dinka.

The CNDD-FDD faction which attended last week's meeting is headed by Pierre Nkurunziza, while the one which did not is led by Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye. The other armed rebel group, Forces nationale de liberation, declined to attend, saying it had received the invitation too late - three days before the meeting - so it lacked sufficient time to prepare for it.

BURUNDI: Ban lifted on Net Press news agency

Burundian Communications Minister Albert Mbonerane on 23 February lifted the suspension of the right of the private news agency Net Press to publish or post news on its web site, Net Press Editor-in-Chief Claude Sibomana told IRIN on Monday. "The keys to our office were returned to us on Saturday. We are very grateful to all our colleagues who helped negotiate our reinstatement with the minister," Sibomana said. The suspension of Net Press was ordered by Mbonerane on 14 January, on the grounds that the news agency had not been observing Burundi's media law.

"For some time now, we have noted that Net Press editors and management have not been respecting the media law of March 1997, which stipulates that the media should avoid publishing information that is subversive, defamatory, abusive, false or even lies that are published with the sole aim of disturbing the prevailing situation in the country," Mbonerane told Burundi Radio at the time. The country's public prosecutor had submitted the Net Press file to Mbonerane for scrutiny, he added, "so that urgent and fitting measures are taken to protect the media law and public order".

Net Press resumed publication on Monday.

CENTRAL AFRICA: UN refugee commissioner on tour of four countries

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers began a four-nation tour of Central Africa on Sunday to highlight the problem of refugees and displaced people in the continent. The trip began in the CAR, followed by the ROC on Monday evening. An official from the office of the UNHCR on Monday said that the tour would afford Lubbers an opportunity to see refugees' problems in the region first-hand, as well as to gather information about the various peace initiatives in progress, and on political, social and economic developments.

Following meetings on Sunday with government, UN and aid agency representatives, Lubbers visited a camp at Molangue, about 110 km southwest of the CAR capital, Bangui, AP reported. The camp houses over 2,500 refugees who have fled conflict in the DRC. "The UNHCR's goal is the repatriation of the Congolese refugees," AP quoted Lubbers as saying at the camp. He also discussed the plight of CAR's estimated 23,000 refugees, stranded in the DRC since an attempted coup in May 2001, an official from the UNHCR office confirmed. Most of the refugees belong to the Yakoma ethnic group, to which opposition leader Andre Kolingba - whom President Ange-Felix Patasse blamed for the May coup - also belongs. The refugees fled the country, fearing reprisals. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID"608]

On Tuesday, Lubbers met officials of the ROC and visited refugees living in remote northern areas of the Oubangui river in the northeast of the country, a statement from the office of the UNHCR said. Some 84,000 refugees, mainly from the DRC's northwestern Equateur Province, sought asylum along an 800-km stretch of the river to escape renewed fighting between government forces and the rebel MLC, UNHCR said. Lubbers, who was on his third day of a seven-day mission to the Great Lakes region, was scheduled to visit the Loukolela camp in the east of the country, which was opened in July 2000 and hosts 1,700 people. The camp has a significant number of vulnerable refugees, including children, women and the elderly. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23113]

On Friday, Lubbers visited Byumba refugee camp, northern Rwanda, which is home to some 16,000 Congolese refugees, a UNHCR spokesman told IRIN. He said Lubbers, who arrived in the country on Thursday, held meetings with the UN country team and government officials, including the foreign minister, André Bumaya. Lubbers was scheduled to meet Rwanda's President Paul Kagame later on Friday and would leave the country on Saturday for Goma, eastern DRC.

KENYA: Shanty demolitions leave thousands homeless

A local human rights organisation has warned of severe long-term humanitarian and socioeconomic problems in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa if municipal authorities continue to implement a local cabinet minister's order to demolish kiosks and shanty towns, which so far has left tens of thousands of people homeless and without any livelihood. The latest demolition of shanties took place on Wednesday in the Tudor and Kaa Chonjo slum villages, leaving more than 5,000 people homeless, hardly a week after the minister, Sheriff Nassir, issued an instruction to clear them, the Daily Nation newspaper reported on Thursday.

Khelef Abdulrahman Khalifa, who runs the Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) organisation told IRIN on Thursday that many of the people displaced by the ongoing demolition were now camping in churches and mosques, where they were receiving temporary shelter and food. "It is a great shame that the same government which claims to protect the rights of children is the government that breaks down their houses. Many families are sleeping out in the rain," he said. "In the long run, when many people are left without jobs or shelter, it will create a lot of disorder in society."

Nassir - the area MP - had said a week earlier that slum dwellings in Mombasa, popularly known as "Muorotos", would be destroyed in the same way kiosks were brought down a month ago, as part of his campaign to "clean up" the city, the report stated. However, victims of the demolition raid complained that they had read of the intended demolition only in the press and had received no formal notice to move out of the slum areas, it added. Prior to Wednesday's demolition, five other slum villages - Kalahari, Fuata Nyayo, Mutaratara, Majengo ya Simba and Mishomoroni - had been destroyed, leaving an estimated 2,000 people homeless, according to the Daily Nation. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23383]

UGANDA: Army rescues 80 LRA abductees

An estimated 700 Ugandan soldiers rescued some 80 civilians who were captured by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in a weekend attack on a market in northern Uganda, according to a Ugandan army official. "The UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] pursued the rebels 10 or 20 kilometres inside the Sudan, freed 80 civilians, and have now returned to Uganda," the army spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza, told IRIN on Thursday. About 300 LRA rebels on Saturday 23 February attacked a local defence unit detachment in the Agoro Market area of Lamwo County, Kitgum District, and kidnapped around 100 people - mostly men between 15 and 25 years of age. Four people, two civilians and two soldiers, were reportedly killed in the attack.

Bantariza confirmed reports that the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, had been involved in the incident, and claimed Kony's presence indicated the rebel group was now in desperate need of reinforcements. "The whole of last year they were not able to make any incursions into the north and have become desperate. The weekend incident was a kind of suicide attack," Bantariza said.

The US in December included the LRA - as well as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in western and southwestern Uganda - on its "Terrorist Exclusion List" under the US Patriot Act. "They are now on the terrorist list. They know the United States, Sudan, and everyone else is against them," Bantariza said. [Full report at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23312]

TANZANIA: Environment award for Mt Kilimanjaro activist

Sebastian Chuwa, an environmentalist who has long been active in implementing educational and tree-planting efforts for sustainable development around Mt Kilimanjaro, northern Tanzania, was one of five international prizewinners during the just-ended Winter Olympics in the US. In 1994, the International Olympic Committee adopted environment as the third principle of Olympism - along with sport and culture - and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee was keen to put across a strong environmental message while staging the 2002 Games. Through its "Spirit of the Land" project, it tried to raise awareness of green practices "and to honour individuals from around the world who have made substantial educational efforts on behalf of the environment".

Chuwa has been active in organising communities on Mt Kilimanjaro to institute programmes to protect the ecology of the mountain, according to the African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP), which he co-founded. Mt Kilimanjaro has major socioeconomic significance, as it is a major source of water for about 5 percent of Tanzanians, as well as generating a total of 95 MW in hydropower, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which last year launched a programme with the UN Foundation to promote the mountain's sustainable conservation. Furthermore, up to one million people use the rich volcanic soils and water of Kilimanjaro for agriculture, or earned their living through the growing tourist industry, UNDP stated, in promoting the Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Project for the mountain.

Encroachments around mountain resources - through farming, grazing, gathering of fodder and commercial logging - have resulted in increased levels of poverty for resident communities, according to Nehemiah Murusuri of UNDP Tanzania. Other major threats include land degradation, shrinkage of the water resources, and the melting of the ice cap through global climatic warming. [see http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=11175; for full IRIN report see: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID"921; for more details of Chuwa's work, see: http://www.kilimanjarotrust.org and http://www.blackwoodconservation.org]

ALSO SEE:

CONGO: Focus on multi-agency HIV/AIDS initiative at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23111

KENYA: Focus on new legislation and hopes for child welfare at: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=23483

[ENDS]

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