Burundi + 2 more

IRIN Update 843 for the Great Lakes

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BURUNDI: Burundians "must get down to business" - Mandela

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has said the misery of the Burundian people "affects us all and diminishes the humanity of all of us". Addressing the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the new Burundi peace mediator said that despite the grave difficulties facing Burundi, there had been much progress since the start of the Arusha negotiations 18 months ago. He said he came away from his preliminary meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, on Sunday "impressed by the potential and quality of the leadership present in Burundi". "But it is time for Burundians to get down to business!", Mandela stated. "No-one can reach an agreement on their behalf. The responsibility rests squarely with their leaders now to find the necessary arrangements by which Burundians can live together." Noting an increase in violence over the past year, Mandela reiterated that the peace process was the only way Burundi could achieve peace and to this end it had to be all-inclusive. He said the facilitation team had accepted an invitation from the Burundi government to visit the country and stressed that peace in Burundi would have a profound effect on stability in the region. Urging the international community to sustain the ongoing negotiations, he said that without underestimating the problems of Burundi, there was "sufficient capacity" among leaders in Burundi to reach compromises and agreements leading to peace and stability.

BURUNDI: Annan warns of "humanitarian catastrophe"

Welcoming Mandela's appointment as mediator, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the session that of the many crises and conflicts affecting the continent, none was perhaps more urgent than Burundi. "Certainly in no other country is it so easy to imagine a repetition of what we have all sworn must never be repeated: ethnic killing on a genocidal scale," he said. He reiterated his opposition to the government's regroupment policy, warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe". Annan also urged the international community to assist Burundi, noting that diplomatic activity must be combined with economic assistance. "I urge all parties to cooperate with you in seeking a political solution," he told Mandela. "If they do, I remain hopeful that this time the international community will assist them." Following Mandela's address, the Security Council adopted a resolution expressing support for the Arusha peace process and appealing for increased international assistance.

BURUNDI: 10 regroupment camps to be closed

Addressing the Council, Burundi's Foreign Minister Severin Ntahomvukiye denied there was a widespread national catastrophe or massacres in his country, according to a UN press release. On regroupment, he said the government had taken special measures for the protection of people and rejected accusations that the camps were part of a policy of ethnic cleansing. He however announced that 10 out of about 50 such camps in Bujumbura Rural province would soon be closed in the presence of monitors, and gradually all the camps would be dismantled. Contrary to information being circulated, all the camps were open to observers and humanitarian workers, he said. He added that Bujumbura Rural had become a testing ground for "destabilisation forces" in what could be described as the "somalisation" of the country.

BURUNDI: Relief workers attacked

A vehicle from the NGO, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), came under rebel fire on Wednesday afternoon, although there were no injuries. CRS country director David Rothrock told IRIN on Thursday the incident occurred on the main road near Magara, south of Bujumbura. He said it was an ambush that occurs from time to time when rebels drop a tree across the road to attack vehicles, and CRS was not specifically targeted. The driver reversed the vehicle, whereupon the rebels opened fire. "Luckily it was an armoured car which probably saved the lives of the three people inside," Rothrock added. He said there was no connection whatsoever with the commencement of food distributions by CRS in two camps near the capital. CRS had been approached by WFP to help with distributions in the camps, where there was increasing malnutrition, he explained. The distributions, consisting of cereals, beans and cooking oil, are sufficient to provide 15-day rations for 47,000 people.

RWANDA: UN to be quizzed on lack of action in DRC

Rwanda is to ask the UN why it is dragging its feet over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Rwanda News Agency reported on Wednesday. It cited the presidency minister, Patrick Mazimhaka, as saying the call would be made during next week's debate in New York on the DRC crisis. "Our country will ask the UN to face up to its responsibility," he said, noting that the organisation had not yet deployed any peacekeepers in DRC. As a result, Rwanda was still confronted by insecurity caused by the Interahamwe militia and ex-FAR troops.

RWANDA: Army rejects Amnesty report

Meanwhile, the Rwandan army rejected accusations by the human rights group Amnesty International of massacring civilians in eastern DRC. Its spokesman Major Emmanuel Ndahiro told RNA that Amnesty's findings were based on "grudge rather than reason". Amnesty "wants to impose its bible law...everything it states - without any proof - must be accepted and the one who is incriminated, such as Rwanda, must then explain," Ndahiro said. On Tuesday, Bizima Karaha, a senior official of the DRC rebel group Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) which is also accused in the Amnesty report, rejected the findings, saying it was "unbelievable" for the organisation to make such allegations.

RWANDA: New parliamentary speaker sworn in

A new parliamentary speaker, Dr Vincent Biruta, of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), has been elected to replace Joseph Sebarenzi Kabuye who resigned amid accusations of abuse of office and trying to divide the army. Sebarenzi has denied the allegations. RNA said Biruta gained 75 percent of votes during an extraordinary session of parliament on Wednesday. "Taking the oath is very easy, but more is required to fulfill the responsibilities," Biruta was quoted as saying.

RWANDA: New list of genocide suspects

The chief prosecutor, Gerald Gahima, has released a new list of genocide suspects, classified as "category one", RNA reported. The new list contains 2,133 names and is "quite different" from the first one, Gahima was quoted as saying. He added that about 643 names were removed from the initial list, and 830 new names appear on the revised one. "It is true that the first list had a number of errors and this was partly due to lack of necessary personnel," he admitted. "This time, errors were by all means minimised as the list was solely prepared by the chief prosecutor himself."

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: MSF stresses urgency of Ituri situation

The NGO, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), has expressed deep concern over the rapidly worsening humanitarian situation in the Ituri district of northeast DRC. In a press release, received by IRIN on Thursday, MSF said that due to growing insecurity it could not reach many of the victims. The area has been wracked by an ethnic conflict between the Hema and Lendu tribes over land rights. MSF said that over the past six months the area had also been ravaged by epidemics such as measles, plague and cholera. "International attention is fixed on the frontline hostilities between government and rebel troops, but the most serious humanitarian crisis is unfolding behind the frontline in Ituri district where the authorities have been unsuccessful in guaranteeing the safety of the civilian population," the press release said. MSF added that the handful of aid organisations active in eastern DRC were no longer regarded as neutral by sections of the population. An MSF team was attacked last Friday, 25 km north of Bunia, by over 50 assailants who threw rocks. The team members managed to escape unhurt. MSF urged next week's UN debate on the situation in DRC to give the most serious attention to the Ituri problem.

Nairobi, 20 January 2000, 15:00 gmt

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