IRIN Weekly Round-Up 46-98 covering the period 6-12 Nov 1998

Report
from IRIN
Published on 13 Nov 1998
UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for Central and Eastern Africa
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[The weekly roundup is based on IRIN daily updates and other relevant information from UN agencies, NGOs, governments, donors and the media. IRIN issues these reports for the benefit of the humanitarian community, but accepts no responsibility as to the accuracy of the original sources.]

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Kagame admits involvement of Rwandan troops

Rwandan Vice-President Paul Kagame last Friday admitted his troops were helping rebels in DRC, a South African foreign ministry spokesman told IRIN. Kagame told President Nelson Mandela during a visit to Pretoria the troops had been in DRC since August, but declined to say how many. At a news conference in Pretoria, Kagame said Rwanda became involved due to security concerns, news organisations reported. There had been "good reasons" why Rwanda had not acknowledged its troop presence before now, he added. Mandela said Rwanda's admission now paved the way for a ceasefire. Kagame however warned Rwanda would not pull out its troops until its security concerns were addressed.

Rwanda's admission "positive", DRC government says

The DRC government welcomed Rwanda's admission of involvement in the conflict, saying that "although rather late", it was a positive move. In a statement broadcast by DRC television on Saturday, the government said Rwanda's "about-face" now paved the way for a negotiated solution to the conflict. However, Rwanda's admission alone was not enough, the statement added. Negotiations could not take place until Rwandan and Ugandan troops were withdrawn from DRC territory.

Joint Rwandan-Ugandan military command formed

Rwanda and Uganda have formed a joint military command in eastern DRC, according to the 'New Vision' daily on Wednesday. It said the joint command was headed by Ugandan acting chief-of-staff Brigadier James Kazini and comprised 17 Ugandans, 10 Rwandans and five commanders from the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD). Military sources told IRIN Rwandan officials had spoken of preparing for "total war" in DRC in response to a planned reinforcement of troops fighting for President Laurent-Desire Kabila. News reports said Namibian Defence Minister Vincent Mwange had announced his country was sending more forces to DRC, but he refused to divulge numbers. Zambia meanwhile was attempting to organise another summit meeting next week to discuss cessation of hostilities.

Kabila requests return of UN investigation mission, envoy says

The new DRC ambassador to Kenya, Antoine Kyungu wa-ku-Mwanza, on Wednesday said Kabila had asked the UN to send a team to investigate alleged human rights violations in the country. He told a Nairobi news conference that none of the 450 ethnic groups in DRC has "ever been persecuted" and the "only case of genocide...is the Mbandaka massacres perpetrated by the Tutsis from Rwanda" in 1996/97. He blamed former foreign minster Bizima Karaha, now a leading member of the RCD, for "preventing" the work of the previous UN investigation mission, which was withdrawn by the Secretary-General.

Meanwhile Kyungu, who was governor of Katanga in the early 1990s when Kasaians were expelled from the province, said the Kabila government was opposed to the current war "which was imposed by Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda". The "door remained open" for troops from other countries to assist his government, he added.

New rebel movement in Equateur province

Reports from northern Equateur province speak of a new rebel group, the Mouvement de liberation congolais (MLC). According to Radio France Internationale, the group is led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose father, Bemba Saolona, is a leading businessmen who was close to ex-president Mobutu Sese Seko. Sources in contact with the area told IRIN the group had taken Aketi, near Buta, where Chadian soldiers, supporting Kabila, had been "routed". Analysts say the MLC is operating on the side of Rwanda and the RCD.

Chad admits involvement

Contrary to earlier denials, Chad has now admitted it has troops in DRC. Defence Minister Oumar Kadjalami, speaking over Radio France Internationale on Tuesday, acknowledged there had been clashes late last month on the Aketi-Buta axis after a Chadian reconnaissance patrol was ambushed by rebel troops. According to the minister, 10 Chadians were wounded and two later died of their wounds. However other reports put the death toll much higher. DRC Information Minister Didier Mumengi said a team had been set up to investigate reports of heavy casualties among the Chadian soldiers.

South Kivu food security situation "precarious"

Save the Children Fund (SCF) has described the food security situation in South Kivu as precarious, according to a report received by IRIN on Thursday. The report noted that the food situation had been affected by the suspension or delay of agricultural activities due to population displacement, shortage of seeds, supply problems and an increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs. The number of children needing supplementary feeding assistance had increased while a number of nutrition centres had closed as a result of the conflict. The sanitation situation was described as "critical". At least 70 health centres in the province are not operational and local people are unable to meet medical costs. The NGO also expressed fear over a further deterioration of the situation.

Cholera situation "critical" in South Kivu

The provincial health authorities have reported a critical cholera situation in South Kivu, with very high mortality rates. A report by an international NGO, received last Friday by IRIN, quoted the provincial authorities as saying that 16,396 cholera cases had been registered between 1 January and 1 November. Of these 1,290 had died, 50 percent of them since the war broke out in August. The most affected areas visited by the authorities and the NGOs are said to be Shabunda, Mwenga, Uvira, Katana, Bukavu, Baraka and Nundu.

BURUNDI: Government acknowledges civilian deaths

The government has expressed regret over the deaths of civilians killed near Bujumbura earlier this month. Defence ministry spokesman Colonel Longin Minani told the BBC Kirundi service on Wednesday a total of 38 people were killed in Mutambu commune by soldiers who mistook them for rebels. He said there had been no prior announcement of the deaths because the government was investigating the incident. Minani explained that rebels had attacked Maramvya hill in Rutovu sector late last month, killing five people and stealing a number of cows and goats. Between 1-4 November, the army pursued the rebels who opened fire on the soldiers. He said unknown to the army, the rebels had taken hostages. "As you know, the bullet does not choose," he said, adding had they known civilians were among the rebels, the soldiers would not have opened fire. Minani said 10 Kalashnikovs and a number of traditional weapons were recovered from the rebels.

Burundian media reports said an investigation commission, made up of soldiers, interior ministry officials and MPs, had gone to the site and would clarify the number of dead. Witnesses have told Burundian journalists the death toll is at least 100, but a defence ministry statement, reported by Burundian radio, described the figure as "exaggerated".

Buyoya never admitted troops were in DRC

President Pierre Buyoya has rejected reports alleging he admitted his troops were fighting against Congolese forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A presidential statement, reported by the Agence burundaise de presse on Wednesday, described the allegations as misinformation taken from an interview with Radio France Internationale. In the interview, the statement says, the president referred to the fact Burundian rebels from the Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD) were fighting alongside President Laurent-Desire Kabila's forces, but this did not mean Burundian troops had gone into the DRC as a result. The statement "challenged anyone" to come up with proof of Burundian involvement in DRC.

The Burundi embassy in Nairobi also took issue with comments made by the new DRC ambassador to Kenya alleging Burundian involvement in Congo. In a statement, received by IRIN on Thursday, the embassy described the allegations as "false and unfriendly", and reiterated that Burundi "will never allow itself to be involved in a war outside the national boundaries".

RWANDA: WFP to double food aid to northwest

WFP has announced it will double the amount of relief food to northwest Rwanda to meet the needs of a rapidly-increasing displaced population. In a statement, WFP's Rwanda representative Gerard van Dijk said six months ago the UN agency was feeding 100,000 displaced people in the northwest. "Now we're having to feed four times this number," he said. He added the situation was "continually deteriorating". Insecurity was forcing more and more people to leave their homes. Van Dijk said many of them were living in "frightening" conditions and falling sick as a result.

About 342,652 people are displaced in Ruhengeri prefecture, and 224,390 in Gisenyi. OCHA-Rwanda noted that 86 percent of Ruhengeri displaced are in camps, whereas in Gisenyi only 31 percent of displaced are in camps. The largest camp site - Mucaca in Ruhengeri's Cyeru commune - contains 45,841 people. http://www.expediamaps.com/results.asp?Place=Ruhengeri

Prisoner releases to go ahead

The Rwandan government on Tuesday said it would go ahead with the planned release of tens of thousands of genocide suspects, despite protests from survivors, AP reported. The government had earlier announced it would free 31,000 people for whom there were no files or a lack of evidence. Minister in the president's office Patrick Mazimhaka said there was "no option". "We won't succumb to public pressure," AP quoted him as saying.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE: Rwandan males leaving camps in large numbers

UNHCR has expressed concern over the departure of "significant numbers" of Rwandan men from camps in Congo-Brazzaville. It said it feared the Rwandans would take up arms after observers in Mbandaka, northwest DRC, reported the arrival of several boatloads of people. There were also reports of Rwandans arriving in Kinshasa. UNHCR on Tuesday said the departures began 10 days ago by pirogue from the Congo-Brazzaville refugee camps in Liranga and Njoundou and continued from Loukolela. The Congo-Brazzaville camps housed 11,000 Rwandans.

In the Central African Republic, Rwandans at the Bouca camp have threatened locals and UNHCR staff with violence if they are not allowed to leave the country. In response, the authorities have started transferring the Rwandans, numbered at 918, to Bangui some 300 km away, UNHCR said, adding it was not associated with this move.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Sudanese refugee camp attacked

Two refugees were killed last Friday when armed assailants, believed to be Sudanese rebels, attacked a refugee settlement in eastern CAR, UNHCR said in a press briefing received by IRIN. The Mboki settlement, located some 70 km from the Sudanese border, houses about 35,000 Sudanese refugees. UNHCR said gunfire was heard on Monday and some NGO workers were relocated to Bangui.

UNHCR added the attack was similar to incidents in refugee settlements in Dungu, northeastern DRC, where refugees were chased back across the Sudanese border by rebel SPLA fighters. World Vision said the number of Sudanese who had returned to the Yambio area from northeast DRC now stood at 26,000.

SUDAN: Poor crop production expected in south

Preliminary assessments indicate the overall crop production is expected to be poor in most of the southern states, including Bahr al-Ghazal, although the harvest is better than last year, WFP said. In its latest emergency report, the UN agency reported that the poor harvest was a result of major population displacements prior to the planting period, an inadequate supply of agricultural inputs and late and erratic rains. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment mission is due to start work mid-November in Sudan. WFP added in view of this situation it planned to continue to deliver an average of 17,000 mt of food per month from the period November 1998 to April 1999.

LRA rebels cross into Uganda

About 300 rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army have crossed into northern Uganda from bases in south Sudan, a Ugandan official said on Monday. According to AFP, Minister of State for Defence Stephen Kavuma said they crossed on Friday night through Lokuny sub-county in Kitgum district and split into smaller groups which are heading towards Kitgum town. "We will deal with them," he added. A subsequent attack was reported in Gulu district, but the army said the rebels had been repulsed.

Plague reported in Arua

The ministry of health is investigating reports of plague in the Arua area of northern Uganda, WHO said in a statement received by IRIN on Monday. Since April, 49 cases have been reported, it said. WHO is awaiting confirmation of the number of deaths. The last recorded incident of human plague in Uganda was in 1993 when 167 cases and 18 deaths were reported, the WHO statement said.

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia says it accepts OAU peace plan

Ethiopia said it had accepted an 11-point proposal put forward at OAU-sponsored peace talks in Burkina Faso last weekend. On his return to Addis Ababa on Monday from the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told a news conference however that Eritrea had rejected the proposal and "thus, the OAU's efforts have failed". The Pan-African News Agency says the proposal provides for a demilitarisation process supervised by a group of military observers who would also assist the "interim civilian adminstrators" to run the disputed territory.

For its part, Eritrea said the gap between the two sides "could not be sufficiently bridged" due to Ethiopia's demand for an "unconditional Eritrean withdrawal from territory that is Eritrean". In a press release received on Tuesday by IRIN, Eritrea however described the meeting as positive, "providing a forum for a better understanding of all the pertinent issues".

Djibouti warns Eritrea ties at low ebb

Djibouti warned Eritrea that bilateral ties risked running into "serious difficulties" after Asmara demanded that Djibouti withdraw from an OAU committee mediating the dispute with Ethiopia. News organisations said Eritrea made the call after accusing Djibouti of siding with Ethiopia, a charge rejected as "slanderous and baseless" on Tuesday by Djibouti's Foreign Minister Mohamed Moussa Chehem. He said Djibouti was seeking to "reconcile brother-enemies to save the sub-region from the anguish of a new war". Cut off from the Eritrean ports, landlocked Ethiopia is now conducting most of its maritime trade via Djibouti.

Sudan, Eritrea agree to hold regular talks

Meanwhile, Sudan and Eritrea have signed a memorandum of understanding in Qatar aimed at resolving their differences, news organisations reported. The two countries' foreign ministers met under Qatari mediation earlier this week. Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani told reporters in Doha both countries had "agreed to resolve their differences through mutual consultations and hold high-level meetings in the future".

Nairobi, 13 Nairobi 1998, 07:50 gmt

[ENDS]

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