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IRIN Update 827 for the Great Lakes

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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Thousands displaced as tribal clashes resume in Ituri

Ethnic clashes between the Lendu and Hema people in Ituri district of eastern DRC have broken out again in the past fortnight, displacing tens of thousands of civilians and greatly increasing humanitarian needs in an already difficult situation, the regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Philip Spoerri told IRIN on Tuesday. Tribal clashes between the Hema and Lendu - traditionally arising from tensions over land use but increasingly complicated by military-political issues in the broader DRC conflict, according to observers - broke out again in mid-December after mediation efforts had brought about a temporary lull in November, Spoerri said. "It has not calmed down. It can bubble up at any time," he added.

The current clashes were at their most intense around Djugu, and had sent 20,000 to 30,000 displaced people towards nearby towns, particularly Bunia, for shelter, he said. In light of the renewed clashes, the ICRC hoped to reach 85,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in 10-15 sites in and around Bunia and Djugu by the end of January, Spoerri told IRIN. Even with those numbers, "some of the most needy are probably not even reachable" in the rural areas, he said. The current crisis last week spurred the ICRC - one of the few relief agencies operating in the area - to start airlifting relief supplies from Entebbe, Uganda, in order to increase the volume and speed of its deliveries to vulnerable populations.

DRC: Danger of acute malaria outbreak in Kinshasa

The international medical agency Merlin on Monday warned of the danger of an acute malaria outbreak in Kinshasa resulting from the flooding of low-lying areas by the River Congo. "The Congo often bursts its banks, but this flooding is already the worst on record. Malaria isn't new to Kinshasa either - it's endemic there - but this deadly combination means the city could be facing an acute outbreak," said Linda Doull, medical adviser for Merlin's DRC programme. Families evacuated from low-lying areas of the city, which are also the most populous, are now living rough in derelict warehouses and there has been an increased incidence of diarrhoea and malaria as people are cramped together without basic shelter, clean water, adequate sanitation or mosquito nets. Half a million people are estimated to have been affected so far in the Congo Basin flooding, with the prospect of additional problems arising before the end of the rainy season around mid-January.

DRC: Rebel movements "agree on need to reach agreement"

The three Congolese rebel movements that agreed on Monday to create a common political front for talks with the DRC government and to coordinate their military activities, have emphasised there is to be no merger of the three movements: the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) headed by Emile Ilunga, the RCD-ML (Mouvement de liberation) led by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba and the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba.

RCD-ML official Sesanga Hipungu said it should be possible for the rebels to agree a common stand on the setting up of a national Congolese army and a vision for the DRC, but it was "out of the question to talk about any merger that would sweep away the existing movements," Radio France Internationale reported. "We all agreed on the need to reach agreements on all these issues," Hipungu said. The three rebel movements were "afraid of going too fast towards merging" and wanted to retain their respective identities, an RCD official quoted by Agence France Presse stated. They had agreed to set up two working commissions, one on political and diplomatic issues and another on military concerns, but had yet to determine their composition and structure, news media reported on Tuesday.

DRC: Kinshasa denies US influence in prisoner releases

Human Rights Minister Leonard She Okitundu has refuted that the recent release of 156 political prisoners in the DRC, on the order of President Laurent-Desire Kabila, was in any way dictated by external influences, specifically that of the US. "The people who are claiming that do not know the president. He is a man of principle who has a very strong character. Nobody can impose anything on the president," Congolese television quoted Okitundu as saying. He denied in particular that the releases, announced at the end of a forum of the demobilisation of child soldiers and the promotion of human rights in Kinshasa on 10 December, had anything to do with the arrival in Kinshasa on a Great Lakes fact-finding tour of US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke. "We are totally astonished to hear such claims, which are unfounded. The decision was made without any external influence," Okitundu added.

UGANDA: ADF reported to have killed 90 prisoners

The rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have killed 90 of 365 prisoners they abducted when they attacked Katojo Prison near Fort Portal in western Uganda last week, the semi-official 'New Vision' newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing Ugandan army sources. The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) had discovered the hacked and decomposing bodies of the deceased on the slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains where the ADF has its bases, the 'New Vision' said. It added that military sources suggested they may have been killed "for failing to cope with the pace at which they were fleeing from the UPDF soldiers pursuing them".

UGANDA: Latest rebel attack claims eight lives

Meanwhile, eight people were killed and six injured when the ADF attacked a Ugandan army detachment at Bungwa, 4 km outside Bundibugyo, early on Monday morning, news organisations reported. A defence ministry official had confirmed the attack but had no casualty details, the Associated Press agency reported. Among the dead and injured were guards of a nearby camp for internally-displaced people (IDPs), from which hundreds of people fled to the centre of Bundibugyo town after the attacks, the 'New Vision' stated. An army official who declined to be named claimed the UPDF had killed more than 100 rebels in the last 10 days, while media reports have estimated the number of mostly civilian victims of rebel attacks at 32, AP added.

BURUNDI: Food shortages reported in Kirundo and Muyinga

The northern provinces of Kirundo and Muyinga, where rains had "scarcely fallen" for the past three years, along with sections of Cankuzo Province and the lowlands area of Gihanga were among the worst affected by current food shortages, with officials having observed malnutrition and "a certain measure of famine," Radio Burundi on Monday quoted a senior agriculture ministry official as saying. Mosso in southeastern Burundi, Imbo in the west and northern areas of Bugesera region were also severely drought-affected, he added.

Nairobi, 21 December 1999, 14:30 gmt

[ENDS]

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