IRIN Emergency Update No. 66 on the Great Lakes

from IRIN
Published on 27 Dec 1996
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IRIN Emergency Update No.66 on the Great Lakes (Friday 27 December 1996)

- Laurent Kabila, leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) claimed that his troops had captured the town of Bunia some 360 km north of Goma in eastern Zaire. He stated that the battle ensued when Zairian forces, some 4,000 strong, had launched a counter- offensive against the rebels. Reports claim that some 300-307 Zairian and 23-33 rebel soldiers were killed in the 12-hour battle that occurred on 25 December. The reports were carried in several papers and on local radio stations but, until recently, there was no independent confirmation of Kabila's claim. Independent sources have today confirmed the capture by rebel forces of both of Bunia and Walikali following two days of heavy fighting. Walikale is situated 300km east of Kisangani on the Bukavu-Walikale-Lubutu-Kisangani axis.

The fall of Bunia is of strategic significance because of its paved airstrip. The fall of Walikale to Kabila represents the most westerly territorial gain for rebel forces. Moreover, the defeat of Zairian forces would be a serious blow to troop moral following the renewal of hope at the nomination of General Dona Mahele Bokungu as commander in chief of the Zairian army.

- Kabila informed Reuters that he has ordered gold miners in the areas controlled by ADF to come forward by January 3 in order to negotiate their claims or risk losing them. According to Reuters, the rebels have been unsuccessful in exploiting the recently acquired Sominki mining concessions in Katamituga 100 km southwest of Bukavu. According to Reuters, the current ADF target is the mining concessions in Okimo, 60 km north of Bunia. The rich mineral resources would provide financing for the rebel movement.

- In eastern Zaire, authourities, NGO and UN agencies continue to improve the infrastructure and basic services in the rebel held Zairian towns of Goma and Bukavu. According to humanitarian workers, despite the appearance of normalcy, there is a strong undercurrent of fear and anxiety among the local population in regard to possible reprisals should the towns return to Zairian control.

- Radio France Internationale reported that the French foreign minister had rejected accusations by ADF leader Kabila that France was providing military assistance to Zaire for their counter-offensive, stating that France was respecting the 1993 EU arms embargo.

A humanitarian worker visiting the Zairian held town of Kisangani reported a significant presence of white Afrikaner-speaking "mercenaries" at the airport.

- On 27 December, ICRC announced the temporary evacuation of seven staff members from Kindu and Shabunda for security reasons. ICRC has been assisting some 55,000 Hutu refugees who recently appeared in Shabunda, eastern Zaire. MSF was also reported to have pulled out of Lubutu because of rising insecurity.

- Reports are once again circulating regarding Mobutu's political demise. However, indications from Kinshasa are that he retains political control and continues to be seen as the only person capable of restoring stability. In Kinshasa, Kengo wa Dondo was re-confirmed as Prime Minister following an announcement by the government that his post was never up for discussion. Despite an abundance of rumors in Kinshasa predicting the contrary, Zairians did not riot at the news of Kengo's re-confirmation as Prime Minister. The main changes following the reshuffling include the removal of Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, Kikitwa Tumansi, and the Defense Minister, Admiral Mavua Mudima, and the move of former Minister of the Interior Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda to the Foreign Affairs portfolio and the appointment of General Bolongo Likuya, a man known for his moderation, as Minister of Defense. Tshimbombo Mukuna was appointed Director General of National Security specifying that the restructuring of the security services was a special resolution of the transitional parliament in view of the current war situation. The appointments still have to be approved by the transitional government before the government can be invested.

The new government is expected to organize a constitutional referendum to bring in the Third Republic, which has been stagnating because of political in-fighting since 1990. The main task of General Bolongo Likuya and the new government will be to quash the rebellion. However, to date there have no indications that the armed forces have received their back pay, some as much as four years in arrears, which is considered essential to restoring troop moral.

- According to UNHCR, on Christmas day some 27,261 refugees crossed from Tanzania, mainly from Ngara and Karagwe camps, into Rwanda bringing the overall total to some 415,000, approximately 300,000 of whom are reported to have already reached their communes. Official UNHCR figures claim a further 18,675 arrivals for 26 December, most of whom are from Karagwe camp. Some concern has been expressed that many of the refugees availing themselves of the limited humanitarian transportation resources are not the most vulnerable but the strongest. Four unconfirmed cases of cholera among Tanzanian refugees have been reported.

According to a Reuters report, UN officials have received reports of brutal treatment of refugees by Tanzanian troops and police. UN officials have requested the Tanzanian army commander to have soldiers and police escorting the column of refugees to ease up on the pressure to keep them moving. Following complaints of looting, brutality and rape, a Tanzanian Brigadier General announced on Tanzanian radio that all of the police officers sent to escort the refugees had been sent back to Karagwe camp and that investigations had been initiated against police officers accused of robbing refugees. No confirmation has been received on the removal of the police escort. One Tanzanian police officer was reportedly arrested after allegedly killing a refugee. The Kenyan News Agency announced (26/12/96) that the governments of Tanzania and Kenya were to tighten security along their common border to prevent the entry of refugees into Kenya.

- The Rwandan Minister of Defense, Dr. Nteziryaro Faustin, announced on Radio Rwanda that the first cases of genocide will be tried today, 27 December, in Kibungo and that the exercise would be extended to other prefectures at a later date. The first cases are that of a former nurse from Kibungo hospital, accused of genocide and a former local administrative leader accused of training groups of people to commit genocide and with rape. The first suspect Deogratias Brizimana, whose lawyer was absent at the opening trial, pleaded not guilty. The trials are being broadcast live on local radio. Two more accused will be tried on 30 December in Kigali.

The Rwandan government recently published a list of 1,900 suspects who face the death penalty for their part in the genocide. The trials are a test for the Rwandan judicial system which has only just begun to recover from the murder and flight of most of its members. The Hutu Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy to Rwanda (RDR) denounced the trials as a "parody of justice" by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Rwanda is to try the "lesser criminals" while a UN International Tribunal, established in Tanzania, will try the ringleaders of the genocide. To date, no UN Tribunal case has been completed. Unlike Rwandan courts the UN Tribunal cannot hand down death sentences.

- Regarding the arrest of genocide suspects among returning refugees, the Rwandan Minister of Defense stated in a local radio broadcast that instructions for the arrest of strictly defined categories of genocide criminals had been issued. He further emphasized that arrests and trials would be based on the presentation of evidence. According to the UN Human Rights Field Operation, the number of arrests among returning refugees from Tanzania, 1,300 in Kibungo and 520 in Umutara prefectures, is much higher than for their Zairian counterparts, which stood at 700 as of 15 December. It has been speculated that the higher number of arrests is due to the severity of the genocide crimes perpetuated in the prefectures of Kibungo and Murambi, where many refugees in Tanzania originate from, as compared to the western prefectures. Some refugees have reportedly turned themselves in to protective custody rather than risk possible vigilante justice in their commune of origin. Tensions are reportedly running high in Kibungo, where the returning refugees outnumber the local population.

Land settlement issues were discussed by the Rwandan Cabinet on 25 December. The aim is to streamline resettlement of Rwandans to preserve and increase available farmland.

- The Burundian government has issued a communique criticizing the international community for allowing the five-month old "unjust" sanctions imposed by neighbouring countries to continue. Radio services announced that the main Hutu rebel force in Burundi, the National Defense of Democracy (CNDD), had declared a unilateral 11-day cease-fire until the 3rd of January. Burundian authorities rejected this offer as "propaganda". The governor of Cankuzo province in eastern Burundi warned his people not to listen to "inflammatory messages" broadcast by BBC and VOA.

- The Ugandan army (UPDF) told the East African Standard that it liberated over 100 people, mainly youths, who were being held hostage by Joseph Kony's Lords Resistance Army in Gulu and Kitgum districts.

- The UN Security Council is preparing to approve the appointment of a UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region pending the appointment of a resident UN Special Representative. The UN Security Council has also reiterated its support for an international conference on peace and security in the Great Lakes Region.

- In his traditional Christmas message, Pope John Paul II denounced the "scandal" of the international community's indifference to the crisis in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Nairobi, 27 December 1996,17:45 gmt


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