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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Serious fighting reported on eastern front
Three separate offensives in Kasai and Katanga provinces - two by the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) and Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), and one by the Forces armees congolaises (FAC) and its allies from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - represent a serious deterioration in the DRC conflict, military and diplomatic sources told IRIN on Wednesday. They added that the situation was very dangerous for the region as a whole. On the one hand, according to independent sources within the country, the RCD and RPA have undertaken the offensive that caused the fighting around Idumbe in Kasai Occidental, and which analysts consider may be an effort to cut communications between Ilebo and Kananga. Between 150 and 200 government and allied soldiers are believed to have been killed in the offensive, the sources said. At the same time, the RCD and RPA have reportedly launched another attack around Kabinda, and there is speculation that both of these operations may be part of a grand plan to isolate the allied-held diamond centre of Mbuji-Mayi.
The government side, meanwhile, has not been standing still and has launched its own offensive in North Katanga and South Kivu along a line between Kabalo and Kongolo, independent military sources said. There are no reports of casualties but, again, this is reported to be a large operation. What is clear, according to analysts, is that these military offensives - all of them ongoing - are not just skirmishes or low-intensity ceasefire violations, but are "preplanned large scale offensive actions". In contrast, the northern front is reported to be quiet at the moment, but "extensive preparations" for war suggest that it will not remain so, the observers added.
DRC: Rebels, government trade accusations
RCD-Goma confirmed the fresh outbreaks of fighting, and accused the government of launching a "major offensive". "At this stage I can say there is fighting on many fronts in the north, west Kasai, Katanga and South Kivu," RCD Second Vice-President Moise Nyarugabo told IRIN on Wednesday. He claimed Mayi-Mayi and Interahamwe militias were being supplied from Kigoma, western Tanzania "in an attempt to attack us from behind". "The issue of who started the fighting is secondary because everyone knows it is [DRC President] Kabila," he added.
For his part, an official at the DRC embassy in Nairobi blamed the rebels for starting the fighting. "Trying to blame the government is an attempt to divert the attention of the international community," he told IRIN. "In fact, they are moving on to try and take Kinshasa."
At a press conference on Tuesday, RCD President Emile Ilunga declared that the country was "in a state of war" because fighting had resumed on all fronts. "If the international community is not able to advance peace by blocking Kabila's armed operations, our units will receive orders to fight until the change of regime in Kinshasa," a rebel army statement said, according to the Associated Press.
DRC: Political Committee action "only way out"
The UN Observer Mission in DRC (MONUC) last week expressed concern over the fighting in Idumbe and urged the Joint Military Commission (JMC) charged with implementing the Lusaka ceasefire agreement to "take the necessary measures to avoid a deterioration of the situation". However, the JMC - comprising the belligerents in the conflict - is itself reported to be "highly-charged" at present, and the gravity and speed of events in Kasai and Katanga has precluded a clear and strong response so far. A meeting of the Political Committee overseeing the peace process was urgently needed, a diplomat close to the process told IRIN on Wednesday. "Lusaka has to be revised to clarify the situation," he said. "It was aimed at people willing to respect their word but, today, no-one is respecting any commitment they have made." He added that the UN Security Council was unable to do anything at this point. "It has insisted there will be no UN peacekeepers until there is a genuine ceasefire in place and the Political Committee will have to contain the deteriorating situation, that's the only way out," he said.
DRC: Mediator to visit Bunia
The facilitator of the inter-Congolese dialogue, ex-Botswanan president Ketumile Masire, is due to arrive in the northeastern town of Bunia on Thursday for talks with leaders of the rebel RCD-ML, including its leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, Bunia radio reported. It is not yet clear if the facilitator will visit the headquarters of other rebel groups in Gbadolite and Goma.
BURUNDI: Arusha talks to resume next week
The Arusha peace talks are set to resume next week, news organisations reported on Tuesday. This round of talks, which will start on Monday, is unlikely to include the rebel FDD, despite leader Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye's conditional pledge to participate. A representative of the facilitation team, Mark Bomani, said it was "too early" to involve the FDD. The facilitator, Nelson Mandela, who will be in Arusha, is expected to meet other armed rebel factions this week, the Arusha-based Internews service reported.
BURUNDI: Economic prospects "worse"
Burundi's economic prospects have worsened as a result of the ongoing lack of foreign exchange and depressed conditions for the industrial and commercial sectors. A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) says that furthermore, the government's regroupment policy has produced "substantial dislocation" in the rural economy. "As a result of this dislocation and worsened drought conditions, the EIU's earlier forecasts for recovery in the agricultural sector have been downgraded," it said. A decision to resume international assistance is expected at a meeting of the World Bank in April. EIU warned that the current account deficit will not improve before international assistance is forthcoming.
RWANDA: National census set for July
A specially-convened commission has started preparing for a national census, scheduled for July, the director of the National Population Office, Maurece Buchaju, said on Tuesday. The cost of the exercise, estimated at US $8 million, would be met by the European Union (EU) and the UN Population Fund, the Rwanda News Agency reported. The last Rwandan census in 1991 put the population at 7.4 million and the growth rate at 3.1 percent. The UNDP's 1999 Human Development Report estimated the Rwandan population at over six million in 1997- taking into account the genocidal slaughter of 1994 and the reduced growth rate that resulted - but has projected that it will reach 10.5 million by 2015, giving rise to considerable development challenges.
RWANDA: Judge says ICTR not driven by ethnic concerns
The presiding judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Navanethem Pillay has said the tribunal neither targets nor favours any particular ethnic group in Rwanda. In an interview with the 'EastAfrican' weekly, she said the tribunal simply sought to try those suspected of committing serious offences in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. While the evidence showed that both Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred, and only members of the Hutu community had so far been indicted, she was authorised "to investigate all parties responsible for the massacre".
RWANDA: Malaria affecting over one million children a year
The incidence of malaria in Rwanda is increasing, and more than a million children under five now contract the disease each year, a Rwandan health official has warned. Another group of people particularly prone to the effects of malaria were child-bearing women, who mostly confused it with pregnancy symptoms, Rwanda News Agency (RNA) quoted Vianney Nizeyimana, head of Biostatistics, as saying. "The increase of malaria cases throughout the country is brought about by the fact that the disease is resistant to some drugs like chloroquine, hence rendering it chronic in some people," Nizeyimana added. Malaria has affected over 1.9 million people a year for the past two years, RNA added. Scientists have also linked the increased incidence of malaria with global warming.
Nairobi, 22 March 2000, 14:50 gmt
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