IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-Up 48-98 covering the period 20-26 Nov 1998

Report
from IRIN
Published on 27 Nov 1998
UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for Central and Eastern Africa
Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129
e-mail: irin@ocha.unon.org

GREAT LAKES: Arms inquiry leader warns of potential catastrophe

The danger of a repeated regional catastrophe on the scale of the 1994 Rwandan genocide cannot be ruled out, the chairman of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Flow of Arms to Former Rwandan Forces, Mahmoud Kassem, said on Monday in New York. Briefing journalists on the Commission's final report, Kassem said an outbreak of violence in the region would be "extremely contagious, leading to a situation even worse than Rwanda". He noted that the 23 rebel groups in the region had steadily gained in strength since 1994. (For more information on the Commission's report, see IRIN item of 23 November headlined "Rebel activities financed by drugs trade").

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Regional leaders to attend Franco-African summit

Regional leaders involved in the DRC crisis are among 35 heads of state who were due to attend a three-day Franco-African summit in Paris beginning on Thursday. The presidents of Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC and Namibia are among those invited. Also expected to attend are the leaders of Kenya and Tanzania. South Africa is to be represented at the gathering by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, and Angola by Minister of Defence General Pedro Sebastiao, according to the summit programme. The Secretaries-General of the UN and OAU have also been invited.

DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila will attend as "acting" head of state, AFP quoted French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine as saying on Wednesday. AFP reported that a delegation from the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD), led by Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma, arrived in Paris on Monday but has not been officially invited to the summit.

Kabila urges international community to end its "indifference"

On a European tour to drum up support for his embattled government, Kabila called on the international community to mediate in the Congo conflict, news agencies said. In Brussels on Wednesday, Kabila called on the former colonial power, Belgium, to "courageously take the decision to demand the departure of the aggressors of our territory," Reuters reported. Kabila also said that political parties in the DRC would be legalised in two months' time. Ahead of his arrival, two civil suits were filed against Kabila in Belgium, one by the opposition Union pour la democratie et le progres social (UDPS), accusing him of crimes against humanity. The Belgian authorities said the DRC leader has diplomatic immunity.

Kabila accuses Rwanda of massacres

Kabila has again accused Rwanda of responsibility for the massacres of thousands of Hutu refugees in 1997, saying the DRC did not authorise the killings. In an interview with the Belgian daily 'Le Soir' published on Thursday, he claimed he had protested to the Rwandan authorities at the time and it was from that moment that relations deteriorated. "We never imagined that these people could be so cruel... it was revolting", he told the newspaper. The Rwandan government has strongly denied the accusations.

Unarmed civilians face rape, other abuses by warring parties - Amnesty

Rape has been used by combatants on both sides of the DRC conflict to spread terror among the population and destabilise community identity, Amnesty International said in a report released on Monday. Other serious violations of human rights committed since 2 August by both sides include massacres of civilians, torture, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, Amnesty charged in the report. It said the conflict had had a "devastating impact" on local populations and that government and rebel forces were "effectively waging war against unarmed and defenceless civilians."

Concern over possible further executions of deserters

Human rights sources on Thursday expressed concern over the detention and fate of deserting soldiers in government-controlled areas. The sources told IRIN an estimated 1,000 soldiers in Kinshasa and a further 1,000 in Katanga had deserted, and it was possible there could be more executions. Tension is reportedly rising in the DRC army where power is wielded by Kabila and a small group of Katangese officers, leading to fears of military factionalisation.

Vatican urges dialogue

A statement issued by the Vatican on Tuesday, following a meeting between Kabila and Pope John Paul II in Rome, said the talks focused on the conflict "which has bathed the country in blood". The Pope called for international and national dialogue to resolve the issue and to "safeguard the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty".

Lusaka to host fresh peace talks after inconclusive Gaborone summit

Weekend peace talks in the Botswanan capital Gaborone, which included the RCD, ended inconclusively, news organisations reported. Representatives of the UN, OAU and Southern African Development Community (SADC) also attended the meeting. SADC defence and foreign affairs ministers are scheduled to meet again in Lusaka on 6 December to discuss the Congo conflict, Zambia's independent 'The Post' newspaper reported.

Zimbabwe says eastern offensive begun

Weekend air raids by Zimbabwean war planes on rebel positions in the Lake Tanganyika area have signalled the beginning of the allies' "long-awaited" eastern offensive, according to a Zimbabwean government statement. Rebels acknowledged that Kalemie had been bombed but they denied there were any casualties, news organisations reported. Rebel commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane told 'Les Coulisses," a weekly publication issued by the RCD, that the rebels were successfully containing the government's counter-offensive. "The situation on the ground is in our favour," he said. The RCD also denied claims by Kinshasa that 600 rebels died at the weekend when Zimbabwean planes strafed and sank barges ferrying troops between Kalemie and Moba.

Situation in Mbandaka described as "tense"

Meanwhile, the Rwanda News Agency reported a rebel claim to have taken the town of Bumba in Equateur province. Humanitarian sources in contact with Bumba told IRIN there had been looting in the town and a curfew had been clamped on the provincial capital of Mbandaka, where the situation was becoming increasingly tense and more military reinforcements had arrived, including Zimbabwean troops.

Differences emerge between RCD and Uganda

'Les Coulisses' denied the existence of a joint command with Uganda, saying that such a policy would lead to the "Somalisation" of DRC. According to AFP, 'Les Coulisses', in its 18 November edition, wrote that Ugandan armed forces chief-of-staff James Kazini had stated in Kisangani that "nothing could be done without the authorisation of Kampala".

Kinshasa affected by continued fuel and food shortages

Humanitarian sources told IRIN on Thursday that Kinshasa was affected by a global shortage of food and fuel as commercial imports have been significantly reduced or suspended since the outbreak of the conflict in August. While many products can be found on the markets, prices remain much higher than before the war. They added that the current crisis has triggered a collapse of coping mechanisms, a severe cash flow problem and the shrinking of economic activity. Humanitarian organisations are distributing relief food to some 70,000 vulnerable people in Kinshasa. The government meanwhile is providing water and electricity free of charge.

North Kivu population at risk

The local population in North Kivu is now facing an even more dramatic situation than before the war, humanitarian sources told IRIN. An inter-agency mission that recently visited Goma reported that the most urgent needs were assistance to 80,000 displaced, support to the health sector and the reopening of schools. Six international NGOs are currently operational in Goma.

Humanitarian aid urgently needed in Kindu

A "dangerous combination" of circumstances has created urgent and large-scale needs in the Kindu area of Maniema province, a recent NGO assessment mission has found. Heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in Kindu between 5-12 October had led at least 80 percent of the town's population fleeing into surrounding forests, where many deaths were reported due to disease, an international NGO said in a report received on Monday by IRIN. There has been a sharp increase in cases of malaria, diarrhoea and other diseases in Kindu since then, while prices of basic food items have increased by between 200-800 percent, the report said.

National polio campaign rescheduled

The first round of a national polio vaccination campaign in the DRC, postponed due to the outbreak of the conflict in August, has been rescheduled for 21-23 December, an official from WHO's regional office for Africa told IRIN. The campaign will initially only take place in provinces under the control of the government, according to the official.

UGANDA: Rearmament drive reported

Uganda has imported scores of tanks through the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, according to media reports. The armour arrived on Friday and was loaded onto rail wagons at the port. A Reuters correspondent counted at least 64 tanks but quoted one port official as saying a total of 90 had been offloaded. The make of the tanks could not be determined, but according to one report Russia was the country of origin.

Museveni visits Rwanda for talks with Kagame

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni paid a flying visit to Rwanda on Sunday for talks with Rwandan Vice-President Paul Kagame, the independent 'Monitor' daily reported on Tuesday. It said Museveni "shocked his security team when he unexpectedly changed his helicopter flight to Rwakitura [southwest Uganda] and instead flew to Rwanda first".

BURUNDI: Parties meet in Bujumbura to discuss Arusha process

Inter-party talks took place in Bujumbura last week aimed at allowing an exchange of views between the sides, within Burundi, who are represented at the Arusha peace process. In a statement, received by IRIN, 17 sides - including the government, national assembly and main FRODEBU and UPRONA parties - reviewed the results of the previous three sessions and discussed the next round of Arusha talks due in January. They agreed that the combination of continuing violence and sanctions constituted a major obstacle to the talks and called on the international community to resume cooperation with Burundi to ease the suffering of its people.

Meanwhile, the Nyerere Foundation, facilitating the Burundi talks, has asked donors for US $7 million to cover the costs of the Arusha peace process over a ten-month period, the 'EastAfrican' newspaper said on Monday.

Rebel attacks reported in Bubanza and Makamba

An armed gang killed 24 people in Bubanza province on Sunday, according to the Agence burundaise de presse (ABP). It said two separate attacks occurred in Gihanga commune. Twenty people were wounded, 13 of them seriously, and 114 houses were set ablaze, the report added. Meanwhile, five people were killed in an ambush on a car in Makamba province on Sunday, AP said, adding that soldiers responding to the raid killed one of the attackers.

RWANDA: Three high-ranking administrators sentenced to death for genocide

A court in Gikongoro on Monday sentenced six people to death following a joint trial of 22 genocide suspects, the independent Hirondelle news agency reported. Those sentenced include a former sub-prefect and two former mayors, the highest-ranking administrators to be condemned to death by a Rwandan court for genocide, it added. Meanwhile, a former Rwandan officer was sentenced to death for genocide and rape by the Kigali military tribunal, the Rwanda News Agency reported.

"Strange disease" kills 40 prison inmates

The justice ministry says a "strange disease", possibly typhoid, has broken out in a Kigali prison, killing 40 genocide suspects, the Rwanda News Agency reported on Friday. Health officials are investigating the outbreak at Rilima prison.

Eminent Personalities' Panel begins work

An International Panel of Eminent Personalities (IPEP), set up under OAU auspices to investigate the 1994 genocide, has begun its work in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Rwandan radio reported on Friday.

TANZANIA: Rebel capture of Moba leads to refugee influx

Congolese refugees arriving in western Tanzania said the recent capture of Moba by DRC rebel forces will lead to more refugees crossing in the coming days, UNHCR said. Over 400 Congolese refugees were reported to have arrived in recent days in the Rukwa and Mwakizega areas, while 81 new arrivals were reported in Kigoma between 16-19 November. Over 14,700 Congolese have arrived as refugees in the Kigoma area since the beginning of August, according to UNHCR.

SUDAN: Warring parties sign humanitarian agreements

The government of Sudan, the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the UN have signed two agreements aimed at increasing access to people in need of humanitarian assistance and improving the security of relief personnel in the country. The agreements were signed in Rome, Italy, on 18 November following three days of talks chaired by UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan Tom Vraalsen.

In the final communique, received on Friday by IRIN, the government and SPLM said they would "consider" prolonging the current humanitarian ceasefire, although no truce extension was agreed upon. The ceasefire, which now covers only famine-stricken Bahr al-Ghazal, expires on 15 January. The Rome talks were convened at the request of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast said his efforts to help find a way to end Sudan's civil war were focused on how the UN could support the IGAD peace process, BBC reported on Tuesday at the end of Prendergast's visit to Khartoum.

Food aid reached 1.5 million in October

Some 17,283 mt of relief food was provided to about 1.5 million beneficiaries in Sudan in October, mostly in famine-stricken Bahr al-Ghazal, according to WFP's latest monthly report on Sudan. As part of the relief efforts, a WFP barge convoy along the Sobat river in Upper Nile State on 3-4 November completed its deliveries of food aid to 99,292 people in 41 different locations.

Meanwhile, WFP said there are indications that the massive relief efforts of the last few months combined with the start of the harvest has led to an improvement in the food security situation in many areas of Sudan. However, WFP said this was only the "first step" in the protracted recovery process.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: First-round elections peaceful

The UN's Mission des Nations Unies en Republique Centrafricaine (MINURCA) has confirmed that the first round of legislative elections on Sunday had gone well, without serious hitches or violence, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General in New York said on Monday. Voter turnout in the capital Bangui was estimated at 70 percent, news agencies said. The elections are to appoint 109 deputies who will make up the National Assembly. The second round of voting is slated for 13 December.

UNITED NATIONS: Security Council calls for better protection of refugees

The UN Security Council on 19 November expressed support for the deployment of specially-trained international military and police units to help protect and maintain security of refugee camps and settlements. In a resolution, the Council also called upon African states to seek international assistance to help improve the treatment of refugees, particularly regarding locating refugees at a reasonable distance from borders and separating refugees from armed elements and others who do not qualify for international protection. In a separate resolution, the Security Council urged African states to enact legislation on the possession and use of weapons, including small arms.

Nairobi, 27 November 1998

[ENDS]

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