IRIN Update No. 523 Central and Eastern Africa

Report
from IRIN
Published on 14 Oct 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

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Kinshasa economy deteriorating

The economic situation in Kinshasa is deteriorating rapidly, with rising unemployment and a dramatic decrease in the purchasing power of the population, humanitarian sources told IRIN today (Wednesday). Commercial imports to the capital have been limited and prices of basic goods are at least twice as high as before the war, the sources said. One senior government official in Kinshasa predicted that the economic situation would be "catastrophic" within two months. About 75 percent of the primary-school seats in Kinshasa remain empty because most parents can't afford to pay their children's school fees, the sources added. "It's a daily miracle the country doesn't fall apart," one diplomat in Kinshasa was quoted as saying.

Food aid sought for half a million

The DRC government has requested WFP to provide food assistance for 500,000 residents affected by the recent fighting in Kinshasa, WFP's latest weekly emergency report said. WFP assistance is currently being targeted to 120,000 of the neediest persons, particularly those from the slums in the outskirts of the capital, the report added.

Fall of Kindu confirmed by arrival of rebel plane

The first plane belonging to the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) landed in Kindu yesterday (Tuesday), confirming the town's fall to the rebellion, Rwandan radio reported from Kindu today. It said there had been intensive shelling and some material damage had occurred. The RCD's foreign affairs representative Bizima Karaha arrived in Kindu yesterday as part of an RCD delegation. "Kindu is for {President Laurent-Desire] Kabila what Kisangani was for Mobutu," he said, referring to Kindu's strategic position as Kabila's forward military headquarters. According to Rwandan radio, 1,377 government soldiers have surrendered to the RCD.

RCD pushing on to Lubumbashi

Rebel officers were quoted as saying the battle was not yet over and they were now setting their sights on Lubumbashi and on Kasai province. RCD military commander Jean-Pierre Ondekane said the fall of Kindu marked a turning point in the war. "Roads are now open for the conquest of the entire country," he said, according to Bukavu radio monitored by the BBC. Ondekane noted that the nearby town of Samba was also captured by the rebels.

Fall of Kindu a government "strategy", spokesman says

In Kinshasa, government spokesman Didier Mumengi described the loss of Kindu as a "strategy" by the Congolese army. In comments broadcast by DRC television yesterday, he said the aim was to draw the rebels into the town and then surround them. Kabila meanwhile held talks in Lubumbashi with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe, yesterday. The South African news agency SAPA said details of the one-to-one talks were not available but they were thought to have centred on ways of launching an offensive on the eastern front.

Rebels still in Bas-Congo

Meanwhile, some 3,000 to 4,000 rebel soldiers remain in the western province of Bas-Congo, threatening security along the Matadi-Kinshasa road, informed sources told IRIN today. The rebels have also looted homes and caused "considerable hardship" for local communities in Bas-Congo, the sources added.

Cholera outbreak near Bunia

Humanitarian sources told IRIN today that a cholera outbreak in the Nyankunde area of Province Orientale near the Ugandan border had claimed 22 lives, out of a total of 120 cholera cases reported up to the end of September. Some cholera drugs are available in the area but lack of transport and insecurity are making it difficult to move the supplies to treatment centres, the sources said. No cholera cases have been reported in neighbouring Bunia. Meanwhile, the cholera situation in the Shabunda area of South Kivu remains severe, with a serious shortage of treatment drugs reported, humanitarian sources said.

Vulnerable refugees trucked back to Sudan

World Vision started a trucking operation over the weekend to rescue vulnerable Sudanese refugees stranded at the Sudan/DRC border, the NGO said in a press release received today by IRIN. Some 500 Sudanese returnees have been brought to the town of Yambio, in Western Equatoria region, from the Dungu area of northeastern DRC. According to the World Vision project manager, Abraham Hadoto, the refugees were in a distressed condition following attacks by forces loyal to Kabila and by the local population. He added that some 11,200 returnees had been registered in Yambio, but others had arrived and were as yet uncounted. More than 40,000 Sudanese were accommodated in Dungu camp before the crisis.

UGANDA: Defence adviser goes to Kigali for consultations

Ugandan military adviser Major-General Salim Saleh has flown to Kigali following reports of a rift between the two countries' armies over the DRC conflict, the state-owned 'New Vision' said today. According to the newspaper, the semi-official 'New Times' of Rwanda claimed differences had emerged between the Rwandan army and a "clique" of Ugandan army officers over operations in DRC. It wrote that the "clique" viewed the war as a "goldmine" and was "wreaking havoc" in DRC. The 'New Times' article appeared to be in response to an earlier report by the independent Ugandan 'Monitor' daily which described the Rwandan troops in DRC as "indisciplined, arrogant and colonialist". 'New Vision' quoted Ugandan army chief Brigadier James Kazini as saying it would be "unfortunate" if the 'New Times' article was sanctioned by the Rwandan army. Emmanuel Ndahiro, spokesman for the Rwandan army, said the problems were between individual soldiers rather than between the two army institutions, 'New Vision' added.

Situation calmer in north

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which operates in Uganda, told IRIN today the situation in the north of the country has quietened down considerably with no real threats by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army of late. However, it warns that the LRA may step up its activities later in the year. The troubled Gulu and Kitgum areas are relatively calm at the moment, although there is still the sporadic kidnapping of children from protected villages by the rebels. The NRC noted however that the displaced population in the region currently stands at 500,000, up from 180,000 a year ago.

BURUNDI: Peace talks underway in Arusha

A second day of peace talks began in Arusha, Tanzania, today, with indications that the sides are still far apart. At yesterday's opening session, the leader of the pro-monarchist Parti pour la reconciliation du peuple (PRP), Mathias Habimana, called for the resignation of President Pierre Buyoya, while in Bujumbura the sacked leader of the pro-Tutsi UPRONA party, Charles Mukasi, dismissed the talks as a "manoeuvre by the authorities to institutionalise ethnic racism, crime and genocide", news reports said. The independent Hirondelle news agency noted that yesterday's meeting adopted the agenda which includes debate on democracy and good governance in Burundi.

Meanwhile, the peace process mediator Julius Nyerere said regional sanctions against Burundi could be lifted "in a week" if Burundians demonstrated their "seriousness" at Arusha, Hirondelle reported. "If the Burundians show they are serious in these negotiations and give me a clear message on lifting sanctions to transmit to the heads of state of the region, I'm sure they would be lifted in a week," he was quoted as saying. He urged the Burundians to prepare the message straightaway, the news agency said.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Children's plight one year after war

One year after the end of the 1997 civil war in Congo-Brazzaville on 15 October, the lingering impact of the five-month conflict combined with renewed insecurity in parts of the country are taking an increasingly heavy toll on Congolese children, UNICEF has warned. In many remote areas, children have remained un-vaccinated over the past 18 months, access to adequate food supplies is precarious and the successful re-opening of the coming school year has been jeopardized, UNICEF said in a statement received by IRIN today. The presence of large numbers of arms and unemployed ex-militia are among the factors fueling rampant violence against women and children, including sexual violence, it added.

Recent insecurity in the Pool region underscored the fragility of the country's peace, the statement said. "While a pattern of hopelessness and despair appears to be taking hold of youth in the country, Congolese children are being deprived of their basic rights," UNICEF representative Eric Laroche said. "At the same time, international attention and action in response to the plight of Congolese children has been wholly inadequate," he said.

Pool residents in possible "hostage situation"

Meanwhile, the human rights group l'Observatoire congolais des droits de l'homme (OCDH) has expressed concern that the population in the troubled Pool region may become "hostages" as they remain caught between suspected armed bandits and security forces sent to restore order. In a statement received by IRIN today, OCDH said that the "illegal behaviour" of certain elements of the security forces - particularly young recruits without proper training - had already resulted in the death of several innocent people.

SUDAN: Presence of Chadian soldiers denied

Both Chad and Sudan have denied reports that Chadian troops were sent to Juba last week to bolster Sudanese government forces in their battle against the SPLA, AFP reported. Chadian Information Minister Bessane Sekimbaye was quoted as saying the reported airlift of 1,000 Chadian troops to southern Sudan was "baseless", while a Sudanese army spokesman described the reports as a "pure lie".

The editor-in-chief of the weekly 'N'djamena Hebdo' in Chad, Begoto Oulator, told IRIN-West Africa yesterday it seemed very unlikely the Chadian government would send troop reinforcements to Sudan in view of its earlier military commitment to the DRC. He said the Chadian army could not afford to be on several battlefronts at the same time.

[ends]

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