DR Congo + 6 more

IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-up 7 covering the period 12 - 18 February 2000

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UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for Central and Eastern Africa
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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Attack on Uvira repulsed

Rebels of the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) said they had fought back an attack against Uvira in South Kivu on Thursday, news agencies reported. Rebel spokesman Kin-Kiey Mulumba said that about 200 attackers had tried to overrun Uvira at about 3 a.m. on Thursday, but "they were dislodged by our forces and our Rwandan and Burundian allies," AFP quoted Mulumba as saying. He said there were no civilian losses in the attack, but one RCD soldier was killed. A local human rights group, Heritiers de la Justice, said in a statement received by IRIN on Thursday that automatic weapons fire had been heard through the night, particularly in the eastern parts of Uvira.

RCD official Bizima Karaha told IRIN on Friday the attack was carried out by Burundian rebels of the Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie-Forces de defense pour la democratie (CNDD-FDD) and militia allied to President Laurent-Desire Kabila. "Kabila had a hand in planning the attack to show the world that he has a presence in this area, and he used the FDD and the Mayi-Mayi", Karaha said. But a CNDD-FDD spokesman rejected the allegation: "Our policy is to fight inside Burundi and we're progressively doing that. We did not attack Uvira," CNDD-FDD spokesman Jerome Ndiho told IRIN on Friday.

DRC: Wamba puts Ituri death toll at 4,000

In an interview with IRIN, rebel faction leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, said that "around 4,000" people had been killed in the Ituri clashes to date, but that the situation was now "more or less calm in terms of killings".

With additional Ugandan troops now in both Lendu and Hema villages, people were being encouraged to return home, he added. Wamba, who heads the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie - mouvement de liberation (RCD-ML), described the authorities as "a little bit confident".

Meanwhile, up to 150,000 people are displaced by the conflict, say humanitarian workers in the area. A large displaced group in Drodro Catholic Mission, occupying two large church buildings and a secondary school, are in poor shape after camping out without assistance since the conflict started last June.

Kwashiorkor and marasmus is evident in children and adults, and there are deaths from diarrhoeal sickness. Skin diseases, cholera and hepatitas are also present. Thirty-five people have died among the group and been buried in fields nearby.

DRC: 230,000 more displaced persons

The number of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in DRC has increased by some 230,000 since December, bringing the total estimated number of IDPs in the country to 1.12 million, according to the latest monthly report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kinshasa.

Reasons for the increase included inter-ethnic tensions in the Ituri area of Province Orientale and renewed fighting in Equateur and Kasai provinces, it said. If the current level of tension in South Kivu continued for another month, most rural areas of the province could become deserted and a significant rise in the refugee flow to Tanzania may occur, the report said, adding that new waves of internal displacement were also observed in North Kivu. "Civilian populations are being deliberately targeted and arbitrary displacements are now an immediate objective, rather than a consequence of the conflict," it stated.

DRC: Claims of Ugandan involvement in ethnic conflict

A report by the DRC human rights group, ASADHO, on the ethnic conflict in northeastern DRC traces earlier outbreaks of violence between the Hema and Lendu, listing incidents from as far back as 1911 to illustrate the long-running problems between the two communities. The report says the current phase of fighting was sparked off by an incident in late April 1999 in which a Hema landowner near Kpandroma, evicted Lendu farmers from land adjoining his, with the support of the rebel RCD-ML and Ugandan authorities. A failed peace meeting on 19 June marked the beginning of open hostilities. ASADHO claims that Ugandan soldiers were actively involved in the killing of Lendus.

Jacques Depelchin, a senior official of the RCD-ML, acknowledged that "Ugandan soldiers have been involved" and agreed that a Ugandan commander, Anthony Kyakabale, named by ASADHO, had been implicated in the killings. Depelchin said Kyakabale had been removed and disciplined by the Ugandan authorities in November. Military sources in Uganda confirmed to IRIN that Kyakabale was recalled eight months ago and that he was under investigation for "mismanagement". However, Uganda denies allegations of general involvement, and in a letter to the UN Security Council on 3 February, rejected Congolese accusations of "genocide" in eastern Congo as "baseless".

DRC: South Kivu bishop prevented from landing in Goma

Civil society groups in South Kivu condemned the refusal by the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) to allow the South Kivu bishop Emmanuel Kataliko to disembark from his plane in Goma on Saturday. Sources in the region told IRIN he has since gone to his home area of Bunia, after the RCD declared him persona non grata, accusing him of "preaching ethnic hatred". In an interview with rebel-controlled Goma radio on Monday, RCD vice-president Jean-Pierre Ondekane said the bishop was "calling his flock to violence".

The Catholic church in Bukavu has called for Kataliko's return. In a statement, it said that until he came back, there would be an end to church worship in the Bukavu diocese.

DRC: Civilians flee Equateur fighting

Thousands of civilians in Equateur province have crossed the Oubangui river into the Republic of Congo to escape heavy fighting between DRC government forces and advancing rebels of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said on Friday. He said MLC rebels had been progressing towards the town of Mbandaka over the past several weeks. UNHCR was currently providing assistance to between 10,000 and 15,000 refugees, who were scattered along a 400-km stretch in the Impfondo area of the Republic of Congo, he said. Most of the refugees referred to the rebel forces as "liberators" and said they were fleeing alleged violence and harassment by retreating government troops, Redmond stated. UNHCR has opened a field office in Impfondo to respond to the needs of the refugee population. The majority were fishermen and were largely self-sufficient in food, he said.

DRC: Marburg fever suspected in Durba

Sporadic suspected cases of Marburg haemorrhagic fever have been reported from Durba in northeastern DRC. A WHO statement said a new case of the disease had been confirmed by virological tests performed by the National Institute for Virology (NIV), South Africa. The patient, a 30 year-old gold miner in Durba, became ill on 8 January this year. Fifteen suspected cases were reported during November and December 1999. The report said clinical samples from 12 people were submitted to NIV for testing. "All of these were found to be negative for Marburg and other pathogens," WHO said.

BURUNDI: Peace process given "new lease of life"

An analytical report on the Burundi peace process, due to resume in Arusha on 21 February, noted it has been given a new lease of life with the mediation of former South African president Nelson Mandela. The report, by Jan van Eck of the South-Africa based Centre for Conflict Resolution, said the chances of progress in trying to reach a compromise agreement had increased significantly. However, the report stressed that at the same time the Burundian sides were negotiating within the framework of an "extremely negative internal and regional environment". A worsening economic situation, coupled with heightened insecurity, had led to a highly volatile situation. "The fact that the Arusha process has not led to an improvement in either the security or economic situation, is resulting in more and more people seriously questioning whether it is indeed worthwhile to continue negotiating," the report warned. It concluded that the new mediation could play a major role in promoting trust and confidence among the sides, without which a meaningful agreement would be difficult to achieve. [copies of the report available from the following email address: emyburgh@ccr.uct.ac.za]

RWANDA: Prosecutor asks Appeals Court to reject Semanza plea

The Prosecutor of the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Carla Del Ponte, asked the ICTR's Appeals Court on Wednesday to reject a motion by genocide suspect Laurent Semanza to have his arrest and detention declared illegal on the grounds that his rights were repeatedly violated, the independent Hirondelle news agency reported. Del Ponte argued that procedural delays during Semanza's initial detention in Cameroon in 1996 were beyond the prosecution's control and that it had shown "due diligence" at all stages, Hirondelle stated. The defence team has said the facts of Semanza's case were "the same, similar or even identical" to that of genocide suspect Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, whom the Appeals Court ordered released on procedural grounds last November. Del Ponte has already asked the court to review the Barayagwiza decision. "I have 800,000 to one million corpses crying out for justice and it is your task to decide what to do," Hirondelle quoted her as telling the court. to his diocese and said he was currently in his home town of Butembo.

On Monday, the Appeals Court upheld the verdict against Omar Serushago who had appealed for a reduced sentence. The Hirondelle news agency quoted presiding judge Claude Jorda as saying the appeal was rejected and reasons would be given in writing as soon as possible. Serushago, a former Rwandan Interahamwe militiaman, was sentenced in February 1999 after pleading guilty to the genocide charges against him. It was for this reason he appealed for a lesser sentence.

UGANDA: Museveni directing war in west

Last Friday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni flew to the war-affected district of Bundibugyo in western Uganda to meet military commanders and local people. "The visit is both of military and political significance," Captain Shaban Bantariza, the army spokesman in western Uganda, told IRIN on Monday. "As commander-in-chief, the president is obliged to go to where there are problems to give his wisdom to the commanders and the troops. Given his military background, his input in crucial. Politically, the local people have been calling on the president to visit them and assure them that the bad situation is temporary."

On Monday, the semi-official 'New Vision' reported that despite the president's presence in the war-torn area, rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed five people over the weekend. Museveni has so far addressed public rallies and called on displaced people to return home, as the army is "taking an upper hand" in the war. An estimated 140,000 people have been displaced.

ERITREA: Government, UNHCR dismiss "opposition" claims

The Eritrean government and UNHCR have denied accusations allegedly from the opposition Sewrawi Democratic Front for Eritrea (SDFE) that the decision to repatriate Eritrean refugees living in Sudan is "short-sighted" and does not care about the future of the returnees. "Organised or spontaneous repatriation has been going on for the past eight years in which some 160,000 people have returned to Eritrea," Eritrean government spokesman Yemane Ghebre Meskel told IRIN on Wednesday. "These people are usually repatriated on a voluntary basis with the help of the government's Commission for Relief and Refugee Affairs and UNHCR," he said. "It has been established that there are about 100,000 Eritreans currently in Sudan but their return all depends on whether they want it or not," he added. Ghebre Meskel also dismissed the whole report as "Ethiopian propaganda" maintaining that there is no "opposition" in Eritrea.

UNHCR, for its part, told IRIN that it is planning to go back to the country after being expelled in 1998. "It is true recently UNHCR discussed the return of its staff to Eritrea and about the refugees in Sudan," UNHCR spokesman in Geneva Jacques Franquin told IRIN. "It is UNHCR's mandate to facilitate the return of refugees who indicate the desire to do so on voluntary basis," he said. "It is true we negotiated on the possible return of the refugees, but it is untrue that we are colluding with the government and there is no evidence that the refugees could be forcefully conscripted," he added. He said the agency will redeploy staff and "monitor" the situation in the country before it can possibly facilitate any returns.

SOMALIA: Cholera cases and deaths reported in parts of Somalia

Eighteen people have died and 54 cases reported between 1-13 February following a cholera outbreak in Marka and Qoryooley in central Somalia, an official of the Somalia Aid Coordination Body's (SACB) Cholera Task Force told IRIN on Thursday. He denied press reports that between three to four people were dying in these areas every day. He said in Forlanini in northern Mogadishu where MSF-Spain has set up a cholera treatment centre, three deaths and 100 cases have been reported. He also said that in southern Mogadishu at the Action Contre la Faim (ACF) centre in Hirja 11 cases have been reported with no deaths. "The situation is not as alarming as portrayed by the news organisations," he said. WHO is also providing assistance to the centres.

SOMALIA: Severe food insecurity noted in some districts

Severe food insecurity has been noted in Hudur and Wajid districts of Bakol region, southern Somalia. The latest Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU)report said lack of cereal stocks and severe water shortage, in addition to the lack of social services, has worsened the situation in general. It said that information from Wajid confirmed that food aid distributed towards end-January will play an important role in decreasing the flow of people moving from Wajid towards Bay and Gedo, except those who evacuate because of water shortages. FSAU reported that the region was "relatively" calm and stable.

SOMALIA-KENYA: UNCHR begins voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees

UNHCR on Wednesday began the voluntary repatriation of about 1,000 Somali refugees from Dadaab and Kakuma camps in northern Kenya. The first of the eight UNHCR-chartered flights departed from Dadaab with some 100 refugees returning to the northern Somali sea-port of Bosasso, a statement from the agency said. It said that over the next eight days it will assist the refugees to travel to Bosasso in northeastern Somalia or "Puntland" and to Berbera in "Somaliland". "The returning refugees have each received a repatriation grant which will help them to start life anew in homes they left nearly a decade ago when civil war broke out in Somalia," the statement said. About 140,000 Somali refugees, mainly from southern Somalia, are in camps in Kenya.

Nairobi, 18 February 2000 18:00 gmt

[ENDS]

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