DR Congo + 3 more

IRIN Update 838 for the Great Lakes

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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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e-mail: irin@ocha.unon.org

UGANDA: ADF warns civilians

Rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have warned civilians to "separate" from the Ugandan army so that they do not get caught in crossfire. In an interview with the independent 'Monitor' daily on Thursday, ADF spokesman Rogers Kabanda accused the army of using civilians in the camps of western Uganda as "human shields". "Many civilians have been given guns by the UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force], making it difficult for us to differentiate between soldiers and civilians," he claimed. "All civilians must quit and separate from the UPDF, we want to deal with combatant soldiers." However, UPDF information chief Captain Shaban Batariza described the allegations as propaganda. He also denied ADF claims that most of the Ugandan army was in Congo. "That was the ADF's assumption when they attacked, but they realised it was a wrong one," he told 'The Monitor'.

UGANDA: Plight of Rwandan students under review

UNHCR and the Ugandan government on Wednesday denied press claims that there were more than 120 Rwandan students in Uganda whose whereabouts were not clear. Uganda's Deputy Director for Refugees Carlos Twesigomwe told IRIN that his office was only aware of about 40 students who had sought asylum. "The process to determine their status will be reviewed this coming Friday," he said. "I have no idea of the extra number. We don't know where they are, or where they are coming from." A UNHCR official in Kampala also told IRIN that they knew of 60 students who had sought asylum but added that UNHCR had found no evidence of persecution against the group, and therefore "does not intend to provide them with humanitarian assistance".

The Rwanda News Agency (RNA) last Friday said the whereabouts of some 120 Rwandan students, mainly from the country's Butare University, was "not clear". According to RNA, the issue was discussed by Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni during a recent meeting in Kampala. The two presidents resolved that the students did not qualify for refugee status but Museveni suggested they could be allowed to study in Uganda.

RWANDA: Government criticised over language issue

A Rwandan newspaper, 'Rwanda Newsline', in a recent report criticised Vice-President Paul Kagame for his handling of the students. It described a speech by Kagame on the issue as "long on condemnation and short on analysis of the whole problem". "There is a tendency for Kagame the general to forget that he is a politician when he addresses problems that should normally be addressed by Kagame the politician," the newspaper said. "The language issue in schools is slowly evolving into a really hot potato on the RPF's plate for several reasons, but mainly because it probably represents the first real challenge for the RPF-led government of national unity," it went on. "That the bilingual policy on education has turned into a failure is incontestable, no matter what any of our leaders might choose to say, or whom they might choose to blame."

RWANDA: Community service for prisoners

Community service "based on the productive, voluntary, non-paid services" of prisoners is to be introduced by the local tribunals or gacaca, trying genocide suspects, RNA reported. Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo said foreign experts from countries such as Brazil, Uganda and Zimbabwe - where community service had successfully been introduced - had been invited to come to Rwanda in an advisory capacity. "When the gacaca tribunal starts functioning, it is supposed that a person will serve part of his or her punishment in detention and another part outside, serving the community," he stated. The tribunals are expected to begin work in April, RNA added.

RWANDA: Improved productivity in northwest

Preliminary results of a joint food assessment mission to northwestern Rwanda last month indicate that more land is being cultivated with improved productivity, particularly in the fertile volcanic soils. According to a humanitarian update from UN-OCHA in Kigali, the northwest was already supplying other prefectures of the country with certain products such as potatoes and vegetables. Market prices for staple food crops remained low and continued to go down. "Farmers are forced to sell the potatoes at a cheap price partially because they are not able to store them," the report stated. Although the situation had improved significantly, families with very small plots, those who have no access to land, those recently settled (less than three months) and widow or child-headed households were still considered to be the most vulnerable, the report said. It said the FAO estimated that 90,000 people in Ruhengeri and 60,000 in Gisenyi still needed "immediate assistance" with quality seeds, cattle re-stocking and agricultural produce storage.

Access to clean water was still a major problem for the population in the northwest, the report said. Due to the resettlement process, local residents often moved away from the water springs. A number of existing water supply systems needed to be rehabilitated and extended to where the people were now living. Hygiene was very poor in most of the public places, the report added.

RWANDA: Rwandan refugees in DRC continue to return

Rwandan refugees continued to return home from eastern DRC, mainly from North Kivu, the OCHA report said. It cited UNHCR as saying refugees were crossing at an average rate of 420 persons a week. The total number of returnees in 1999 had now reached 31,630 and around 10-15,000 more were expected to return in the coming months. OCHA also reported that there were 65,000 child-headed households in the country. It said there were 6,000 street children and 3,848 children in orphanages.

TANZANIA: Commissioner denies supporting Burundi rebels

Tanzania's commissioner for the Kagera region, General Tumanene Kiwelu, on Wednesday denied claims that Tanzania was assisting Burundi rebels, the BBC Kirundi service reported. Kiwelu, who was visiting Burundi refugee camps in western Tanzania, said his country "has never assisted Burundi rebels and it has no such plan". On Tuesday, the private Burundi news agency Azania reported that Burundi rebels were trading with Tanzanian soldiers to acquire arms. It quoted a former rebel captive as saying intense fighting in southern Burundi had caught the rebels "unawares" and they ran out of ammunition. "As a result, the rebels have been stealing cows to exchange for ammunition with Tanzanian soldiers," he reportedly said.

TANZANIA: Rising crime in Kagera region

Meanwhile, Kiwelu admitted that crime in the Kagera region was on the increase. He said thefts and criminal activities had increased in recent days. Most of those arrested were Burundi refugees and former Burundi soldiers who had fled with their arms. Kiwelu told the refugees they were not permitted to stay outside the camps.

TANZANIA: Burundi refugee numbers continue to swell

The recent influx of refugees from Burundi is continuing, with 10,000 refugees having arrived between 1 and 12 January, UNHCR figures received by IRIN on Thursday stated. There were now some 20,000 Burundi refugees at a new camp at Karago, Kigoma Region (opened on 22 December to receive new arrivals from Burundi, due to the saturation of existing refugee camps), the agency said. Some 22,000 people sought refuge in western Tanzania during December, despite a lull during the first half of the month, UNHCR added. In all, almost 50,000 Burundians have arrived in Tanzania since the beginning of October 1999, bringing the total number of Burundi refugees in Tanzania to over 320,000.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Amnesty report slammed

The DRC has slammed a recent report by Amnesty International on the human rights situation in the country, describing it as "misguided". According to AFP, the DRC embassy in Washington said the report "reaffirms the West's misguided notions of the strife in the Congo". It failed to take into account the nature of the war in DRC. "The Amnesty report alludes to the conflict but doesn't seriously consider its implications," the embassy statement said. "It disregards the principle that governments are justified in adopting heightened security measures when civilians and the state are threatened by foreign forces." The Amnesty report, released on Monday, accused the DRC authorities of "brutally curtailing" the activities of peaceful political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders and trade union activists. "Although the armed conflict has exacerbated the situation, the government is using the war against armed opposition groups and foreign military forces as a pretext to subject the Congolese to unwarranted repression, despite the fact that most of the victims are themselves opposed to the insurgency," the report said.

DRC: Kabila sets precondition for presence at UN debate

President Laurent-Desire Kabila has confirmed that a high-level Congolese delegation will take part in the UN Security Council's open debate on the DRC conflict in New York from 24 January. However, he set as a precondition for his own participation that Council president and US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke demand the withdrawal of Rwanda and Uganda from Congolese territory. "Mr Holbrooke should demand the departure of the Rwandans and Ugandans from Congolese territory. Once he does that I can go, but if he doesn't he can forget about it. I am happy here at home," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. Kabila, speaking on state television, also rejected any inter-Congolese dialogue in New York, saying any such talks must take place on Congolese soil

RCD: Rebels rejects proximity talks at UN

The rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) described as absurd Kabila's reported insistence in Harare on Monday that rebel representatives could be "allowed along the corridors but not in the meeting hall". The Lusaka agreement recognised equal rights and equal opportunities for all signatories, so the "proximity" strategy that Kabila wanted to impose on the UN was surprising and absurd, a rebel spokesman told the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) on Wednesday.

DRC: Annan to outline "concept of operations" for peacekeepers

The next report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council on the DRC, which is expected to come out on Monday, 17 January, will contain "a concept of operations" for proposed UN peacekeepers based on the information sent back by teams of military liaison officers (MLOs), Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard stated on Wednesday. The Security Council is scheduled to have a week-long open debate on the DRC from 24 January.

DRC: US $4.2 million project to protect world heritage sites

Five national parks adversely affected by the continuing armed conflict in the DRC are scheduled to benefit from a US $4.2 million investment under a project called 'Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict' to be implemented by UNESCO. The project, for which UNESCO has recently received a pledge of US $2.9 million from the UN Foundation is intended, among other things, to protect endangered species unique to the sites targeted. These include the northern white rhino and northern savannah giraffe of Garamba National Park; the okapi of the Okapi Faunal Reserve; the mountain gorillas of Virungas National Park; and Guaer's Gorilla of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a UNESCO press release stated. Salonga National Park, another Natural World Heritage site in danger, is also to benefit.

"The influx of refugees along border areas, rebel activities, banditry and increased poaching are affecting these sites adversely. The expansion of commercial hunting is also seriously undermining the hunter-gatherer way of life of the Mbuti Pygmies of the Okapi Reserve and other indigenous people who depend largely on wildlife for survival," the UNESCO statement said. Millions of dollars invested in the parks over past decades may be lost if the sites were not protected through the current period of conflict, it added. [for further information, see http://www.unesco.org/opi/eng/unescopress]

DRC: Former CAR president denies supporting MLC

The Rassemblement democratique centrafricaine (RDC) party of former Central African Republic president Andre Kolingba has denied allegations by the Forces armees congolaises that he has been supporting the Congolese rebel Mouvement de liberation du congo (MLC). RDC secretary-general Idriss Salao categorically denied the allegations, which he said were "nothing but a string of lies", and called on the national and international community not to be deceived by "gross and undignified manoeuvres" that originated in the internal political dynamics of the Central African Republic.

Meanwhile, DRC Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Yerodia said on Wednesday that opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi had colluded with DRC's rebel leaders and hinted that he could face treason charges, Reuters reported. "He has joined the traitors and will be treated as such," Yerodia told Congolese television, in reference to criticism of the DRC regime by Tshisekedi while in South Africa this week and his stated intention to run for the presidency in a post-conflict scenario.

Nairobi, 13 January 2000, 13:55 gmt

[ENDS]

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