DR Congo

IRIN Emergency Update No. 123 on the Great Lakes

UNITED NATIONS
Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129
e-mail: irin@dha.unon.org

- The leader of the rebel group, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), Laurent-Desire Kabila, said on Saturday that he was ready to negotiate a ceasefire along the lines of the proposed UN peace plan, reports AFP, but he refused to stop his westward push on Kisangani. Kabila told reporters at the weekend that several columns of rebel troops had surrounded Kisangani and that they were meeting fierce resistence, mainly from ex-FAR who are fighting alongside Zairean government troops. Until Saturday, Kabila had refused to discuss a ceasefire. His about-face came after the UN Security Council called on Friday for the rebels to "declare publicly" their acceptance of a truce. The Government of Zaire accepted the peace plan on Wednesday and has called for international observers to be deployed immediately to monitor the withdrawal of foreign troops. The five point plan provides for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries, negotations, elections and the protection of refugees.

- An inter-agency emergency relief programme for Tingi-Tingi camp and Amisi in eastern Zaire is expected to start within the next few days. A UN-NGO inter-agency mission which flew into Tingi-Tingi yesterday reports that the condition of the refugees is extremely poor and that many would probably die within days. Some 600 - 1,000 refugees were seen in Tingi-Tingi and others are trickling in from the surrounding forest. Many had fled the camp on 1 and 2 March just before it was taken by the ADFL. The refugees claim that there are "thousands more refugees" in the forest and that thousands had fled eastwards on the Walikale road. Sources said that the ADLF has given assurances that aid workers can return and assist the refugees.

The mission, led by UNHCR and accompanied by the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, also overflew Amisi and observed some 250 refugees. During the overflight of parts of the road between Walikale and Lubutu, no other significant numbers of people were seen. Filippo Grandi, UNHCR Head of Sub-Office and Field Coordinator for the region - Zone 2 said: "Many of the refugees we saw were elderly or women and children. Most are sick or wounded. All of them are exhausted and want to go home quickly". In addition to emergency assistance, plans are being put in place with the ADLF to reopen road access between Tingi-Tingi and Bukavu and to establish transit centres to facilitate repatriation to Rwanda. Some of the weakest will be flown back to Rwanda. This was the first time rebels have allowed humanitarian officials to approach the front-line to look for refugees. Tingi-Tingi camp housed between 160,000 - 170,000 refugees before being overrun by rebels ten days ago.

- Britain and the United States have effectively "killed off" proposals for a multi-national force to protect refugees in eastern Zaire, reports AFP. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anann had tried to resurrect the proposal after talks in Paris with French leaders, but both the US and British Governments have rejected it.

- The World Food Programme delivered on Saturday some 65 tonnes of food for thousands of Rwandan refugees who have arrived in the town of Ubundu from Tingi-Tingi camp. The food was transported by train from Kisangani. Relief workers who tried to distribute the food were "overwhelmed", AFP reported. Another 120 tonnes of food was expected to be dispatched today. An airlift of high protein biscuits was also planned but the plane was unable to take off because of heavy rain. As many as 20,000 had arrived in the town as of Sunday and a further 20,000 were expected today. Refugees in Ubundu said that many thousands of refugees were fleeing 140 kilometers west of Ubundu to Opala - a perilous journey that covers swampy terrain and dense forest.

- The French Secretary of State for emergency humanitarian affairs, Xavier Emmanuelli visited Ubundu on Sunday and said that the refugees faced death through starvation, illness, or at the hands of rebels if they did not receive aid urgently. Emmanuelli was due to leave for Kinshasa for a meeting with the Zairean Government later today. At the weekend acommunique from the French Foreign Ministry called on "all those who have influence over" the rebels to use it to obtain an end to the fighting.

- According to the Daily Nation newspaper, Uganda claims that it has driven rebels of the Lord's Resistence Army (LRA) back to Sudan but says that it continues to be on the alert against counter-attacks. Uganda's Minister of State for Defence said that Uganda believed that the rebels "would be rearmed by their Sudanese backers", but heavy deployment of government troops in the north of the country would counter any attacks.

- HIV infection is declining in parts of Uganda. A report, compiled by the Ministry of Health's STD/AIDS Control Programme in October, but only recently released, says that researchers monitoring infection amongst pregnant women at six hospitals between 1991 and 1995 report that in two hospitals the average rates dropped from 27.8% and 22% in 1991-1992 to 16.8% and 13% in 1993-1995 respectively. Only at one hospital was the decrease insignificant. In spite of the decrease, overall, statistics for Uganda and Africa remain grim. WHO says that there are about 14 million people with HIV in Africa, some 63% of all cases worldwide. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million infected Ugandans. In addition, while infection rates have dropped in urban areas, they are increasing in villages, particularly in areas plagued by civil war.

- The recent decision by Brussels to halt the construction of a bullet factory in Kenya arose from differences with the Kenyan government over an end-user agreement for munitions, reports the "East African". The decision to suspend the US$ 26.7 million project - partly financed by a Belgium firm - followed concerns that bullets from the factory could reach the Great Lakes region.

- Rwanda's national assembly has elected Joseph Sebarenze of the Liberal Party as speaker to replace Juvenal Nkusi, a Social Democrat who was ousted on 10 February. Jacqueline Muhongayire from the Social Democrat Party was elected deputy speaker. Nkusi was voted out of office when he followed President Pasteur Bizimungu in refusing to sign a bill which would allow the national assembly to exert control over the government.

- Rinderpest, a highly infectious cattle disease, is threatening livestock and wildlife in northern Tanzania, the official Shihata news agency reported on Sunday. The reports says that Tanzania needs US$ 3 million to fight the epidemic. A vaccination campaign is already underway.

Nairobi, 10 March 1997, 19:09 GMT

[ENDS]

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