Burundi + 2 more

IRIN Update No. 491 for Central and Eastern Africa

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News and Press Release
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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

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Loyalist forces reported in northeast

After a weekend of conflicting claims and a sharp increase in war rhetoric from both sides, the DRC government and its allies had apparently regained control of the west of the country and the capital Kinshasa while the rebels remained firmly in position in the east and pledged a return to guerrilla warfare.

Flush from its gains, the DRC presidency vowed to push on and attack the rebels in their eastern strongholds near the borders of their main allies, Uganda and Rwanda. Rwanda, meanwhile, reiterated its warning it would invade its neighbour to protect the interests of ethnic Tutsis.

Zimbabwean and Angolan troops have reportedly arrived in the northeast town of Isiro, sources with contacts in the town told IRIN today (Monday). It is believed they are preparing to launch attacks on the rebel-held towns of Bunia and Kisangani.

Rebels admit loss of Matadi

The rebels battling the government of President Laurent-Desire Kabila acknowledged yesterday (Sunday) they had withdrawn from Matadi, the capital of Bas-Congo and the main port linking Kinshasa with the sea, and from the Inga hydro-electric dam to the west, the main source of power for the capital.

"We pulled out of Matadi and Inga and we will concentrate on Kinshasa now," Reuters quoted Ernest Wamba die Wamba, chairman of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) as telling reporters in the rebel stronghold of Goma. "Now, we are conducting a guerrilla type of war." The RCD also claimed to have taken Moba on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the southeast of the country on Saturday.

RCD chairman says rebels ready to meet Kabila any time

Wamba dia Wamba also stressed the conflict in DRC should be resolved politically. In an interview published by 'The EastAfrican' today, he said the end of the war would "depend on Kabila". "We are willing to meet Kabila whenever he wants to meet us and discuss a ceasefire," he said. "The aim is find a solution to Congo's problems once and for all."

In another interview carried by the same paper, rebel military commander Jean-Pierre Ondakane said he wanted a "short war". "I'm not going to ask my boys to walk all the way from Goma again," he declared. He again ruled out any Rwandan involvement in the war, stressing the pan-Congolese nature of the rebellion: "soldiers from Mobutu's old army, Katangans, Banyamulenge, Kabila's fighters, the Mayi-Mayi."

Meanwhile, Gabonese Africa Number 1 radio, monitored by the BBC, reported the Angolan army entered Matadi in force following heavy looting overnight after the rebel pull-out on Saturday. It said the Angolan troops immediately began mopping-up operations in the city. The local authorities called on the police to work with the Angolans to arrest looters.

Kinshasa reported less tense after fighting

Kinshasa was reported "less tense" after DRC troops, backed by their Angolan and Zimbabwean allies, ousted rebel infiltrators from the eastern outskirts of the city. Radio France Internationale reported "a considerable decrease in tension" and said "summary executions had practically ceased". "Military road blocks have been reduced and traffic is resuming gradually," the radio said.

Loyalist forces had spent much of Friday and Saturday pounding the eastern suburbs of Masina and Kimbanseke with heavy weapons. Accurate casualty tolls from the fighting were not available, media organisations reported. Early on Monday, Reuters reported a series of flashes lit up the night sky, but said no sound of fighting reached the capital where a curfew was in force for the fifth successive night.

On Sunday, AFP reported the main road leading from the centre of Kinshasa to Ndjili airport was partially reopened. It said a group of Congolese journalists were able to travel to the airport along the road which had been closed since last Wednesday. The 'Daily Herald' newspaper in Harare reported on Saturday that Zimbabwean-led troops had driven the rebels from their positions on the strategic highway. It said the rebels had been forced to abandon a bridge on the road following a three-day battle with troops from DRC, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Kabila visits Mugabe

Kabila flew to Zimbabwe on Sunday and held talks with his ally President Robert Mugabe to discuss the next stage in the war, news organisations reported. Mugabe, who has reportedly now sent as many as 2,800 troops to DRC, previously launched a bitter attack on Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa, saying they were "hypocrites" for urging a ceasefire while "pouring arms into the conflict".

"Those countries have in the past said they are not involved in the war, saying the war is a result of Kabila's failure to accomodate others. That is not true. It's completely false. They speak about the need for peace when in fact they are waging war," he was quoted as telling a press conference.

On Saturday, Angola's national media broke with its hitherto veiled commentary on the conflict and dubbed the action of its forces "a liberation". National television reported the "triumphant march" of its forces.

As the war of words between protagonists and their allies hotted up, Rwanda again reiterated it reserved the right to intervene in the conflict if its borders were threatened. Calling for a ceasefire, Foreign Minister Anastase Gasana once again denied his country was already militarily involved. "We do know Kabila and his government have gathered today 10,000 members of a militia force being trained in Katanga... if we feel we need to protect our country from the militia, then we may need to go into Congo," he told reporters.

Gasana is leading the Rwandese delegation to the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement meeting this week in Durban, South Africa. Rwanda has submitted a paragraph to a summit document calling for intervention and condemnation of Kabila's government. If approved, it would be binding on all 113-member states. Gasana told 'The Star' newspaper the international community has a moral obligation to stop "the genocide which Congolese Tutsis face in the DRC." He also alleged that Kinshasa was training ex-FAR in preparation for an attack on Rwanda. SUDAN: Foreign minister again calls for UN fact-finding mission

The Sudanese authorities have again urged the UN Security Council to send a fact-finding mission to the country to investigate US claims of a chemical factory on Sudanese territory, media reports said. Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail reiterated at a news conference in Nairobi yesterday that the factory bombed by the US on 20 August was a pharmaceutical plant manufacturing medicines. He said Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir had written five times to President Bill Clinton and so far had received no response.

For his part, the US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, said no investigation was necessary, according to AFP. The news agency noted that the Khartoum factory, which supplied 50 percent of the country's medicine requirement, was completely destroyed, leading to an acute shortage of drugs in Sudan.

NAM to condemn US "aggression"

Delegates preparing the non-aligned movement summit yesterday agreed to condemn "US aggression" against Sudan, an Arab source told AFP. The text of the statement would be presented for consideration by NAM foreign ministers today. The OAU has already backed calls for a UN fact-finding mission to visit Sudan.

BURUNDI: Moi says sanctions should be reviewed

President Pierre Buyoya, who is currently visiting Nairobi en route to the NAM summit, held talks with his Kenyan counterpart Daniel arap Moi today. Kenyan radio said they discussed the situation in Burundi and the ongoing regional sanctions against the country. Moi was quoted as saying progress has been made in meeting the conditions for lifting the embargo and said the issue should be reviewed to alleviate the suffering of the Burundian people.

Burundi "neutral" in DRC war

Burundian Foreign Minister Severin Ntahomvukiye has said his country is "completely neutral" in the DRC war. "We know neither who is fighting in the Congolese war nor their objective," news reports quoted him as telling journalists on Friday. He denied Burundi was involved in the fighting, saying the only intervention would be "to resolve the conflict peacefully". On Friday, Tanzania also reiterated its refusal to enter the war.

UGANDA: Troops deployed to counter "rebellion" in east

Army spokesman Captain Shaban Bantariza has announced the deployment of troops to eastern Uganda to confront an unknown rebel group, the Ugandan Salvation Front, according to news reports. He told reporters soldiers had been sent to the Mount Elgon area on the border with Kenya, but added he believed the so-called rebels were "opportunists who want to play with the psychology of the public". The troop deployment follows an attack by the group on a prison in Mutufu during which inmates were abducted.

Nairobi, 31 August 1998 14:30 gmt

[ENDS]

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