Kenya + 3 more

East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 30 August

UGANDA: Besigye explains reasons for fleeing
Former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, who fled his Kampala home on 17 August and arrived in the US via South Africa on Friday 24 August, has said that he fled Uganda last week because he feared for his life after hearing that Ugandan security agents were planning to arrest him. Ugandan presidential spokeswoman Hope Kivengere told IRIN on Thursday that those who committed crimes in Uganda went to court, and that those who had not committed any crime should have no fear of arrest. "Many people leave Uganda for many reasons, so this business of Besigye leaving the country is neither here nor there," she said.

In an interview with IRIN in the US on Wednesday, Besigye said he hoped to challenge western donors' belief in Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's commitment to democracy, and that he planned to return to Uganda to build a broad coalition of organisations committed to a democratic transformation. Kivengere said Besigye was perfectly entitled to return, and to organise politically, since Uganda was a democracy. "Anyone who wants to organise, to put forward a [political] platform, can go ahead and do so," she said.

While insisting he was loathe to use violence to achieve his political goals, Besigye did not rule it out. "I have gone through a process of violent conflict, a violent change of government before, and I am keenly aware of what it costs," he said, but "... if the government leaves no option open for peaceful and democratic means of changing or addressing leadership issues, then I'm afraid I will not have the option of avoiding the regrettable and disruptive means of using force."

[for more details, see separate IRIN report headlined "UGANDA: Besigye says he feared arrest, physical danger" at: http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/index.phtml]

UGANDA: Amnesty chief encourages rebel surrenders

Uganda's Amnesty Commission chief Justice Onega has said that rebels convicted of treason are eligible for pardon under the government's amnesty initiative, the 'New Vision' reported on Wednesday. Onega said that convicts would have to sever all links with Ugandan rebel groups operating in the north and west of the country in order to take advantage of the government's year-long amnesty offer. "People formally charged with offences, and in lawful detention, have to declare to the prison officer or magistrate before whom they were tried that they have renounced the rebellion and want to apply for amnesty," the paper quoted him as saying.

Speaking at the Commission's western regional headquarters in Kasese, Onega advised active rebels who wanted to surrender to report to their nearest army or police unit chief, a government leader or a religious leader within the community. "They would then surrender any weapon in their possession and be issued with an amnesty certificate," he said. The Amnesty Commission had opened offices to receive rebels in Kasese, Gulu, Arua, and Kitgum, and would soon open another in Mbale, Onega added. The Commission is charged with implementing the amnesty, offered by the government to former and present rebels.

UGANDA: HIV/AIDS vaccine tests given go-ahead

Two experimental vaccines against the HIV virus are to be tested in Uganda, the government-owned 'New Vision' reported on Wednesday. It quoted the resident of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Seth Berkley, as saying that test preparations would begin immediately and that the first volunteers would receive the vaccinations by early next year. The vaccines have been developed using research into the physiology of Kenyan prostitutes, who remain HIV negative despite repeatedly being exposed to the virus, according to the report. The vaccines have been tailored to the virus sub-type prevalent in Uganda, it added. Berkley also emphasised the need for increased efforts to prevent spread of the disease. "Until we test [the vaccine] we don't know if it works and people have to continue doing everything to avoid infection," the paper quoted him as saying.

SUDAN: Concern over health as floodwaters recede

As floodwaters in northern Sudan recede, displaced communities are facing increased health risks from water-borne diseases and lack of clean water and sanitation, the IFRC reported Wednesday. "We fear the spread of disease and cases of eye and chest infections have begun to be reported," said Spanish Red Cross relief delegate Joan Nadal.

IFRC international relief delegate Saraswathi Pasupathy described the situation on the ground as "desperate". With the waters subsiding, people had returned to find their houses washed away, their crops destroyed, livestock dead and food supplies ruined, she said. Saraswathi said there was a strong possibility of additional flooding in early September. "We are worried that people will be hit twice by the floods," she said. "Chances are that for those who do manage to construct some kind of shelter, they will lose it once again."

In its fourth situation report on the flooding, UNOCHA reported on Wednesday that three people had died and 90,195 had been affected. Of the 10 states affected by flooding, River Nile, Sennar, Kassala, and South Darfur States had suffered the most, the report stated.

TANZANIA: Officials warn against Muslim demonstration

The government of Tanzania has directed that Muslims should not hold a planned demonstration in the capital, Dar es Salaam, on Friday, 31 August, without a permit for fear of causing a recurrence of the violent clashes that accompanied a demonstration on Friday 24 August. Minister for Home Affairs Mohammed Seif Khatib said the government recognised the right of worship for every religion but would not accept "defamation of other religions by some believers", the Tanzanian 'Guardian' newspaper reported on Thursday. Khati warned that the protests, aiming to secure the release of 41 people facing charges of demonstrating illegally and rioting in the capital last week, were "a threat to peace", AFP reported. "We are aware of calls being made by some imams urging Muslims to take to the streets. We are hereby calling peace-loving Tanzanians not to take part in these illegal marches," Khatib said.

Over 170 people were arrested and 11 taken to hospital during violent demonstrations Dar es Salaam on 24 August when riot police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of mainly Islamic protesters demonstrating against the court conviction in Morogoro District of 28-year-old Khamis Rajab Dibagula for defaming Christianity. Khatib commended Christians for being patient on the issue of demonstrations, and Muslim leaders for telling their followers not to participate in last Friday's demonstration. He said the demonstration had been politically motivated, pointing to the fact that the High Court had revised the sentence and freed Dibagula; and to targeting of CCM [the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party] offices and government vehicles.

The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) has denied any involvement in organising the demonstrations, party chairman Ibrahim Lipumba saying that he was aware that some people were making such a link but that it was not the case. Lipumba also attempted to allay fears that the tension that has arisen as a result of the clashes would hinder ongoing negotiations between CUF and the CCM on the political stalemate in Zanzibar, the 'Guardian' reported on Thursday. "These are different things and I don't think the incidents will affect talks," it quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian Assistant Deputy Police Commissioner warned that people were coming from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam to incite and strengthen the Muslim demonstration planned for Friday, but that the police were ready to use greater force than they did last week to face it down, the Kiswahili-language 'Nipashe' newspaper reported. Police spokesman Aden Mwamunyange told a press conference on Wednesday that many protestors had been paid to take part in last week's demonstrations. "Several people, who were arrested, admitted to have received between Tsh 1,500 and Tsh 2,000 (about US $2) to participate in the demonstrations," he stated.

TANZANIA: MPs form anti-AIDS advocacy group

Some 80 members of the Tanzanian parliament have formed a movement aiming to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS issues in parliament, the 'Guardian' newspaper reported on Wednesday. It quoted Tanzania Parliamentarians Aids Coalition (TAPAC) chairwoman, Lediana Mafuru, as saying that the group's main objective would be to increase understanding of HIV/AIDS issues, including the effects of the spread of the disease on society, inside and outside parliament. Mafuru said the group would visit the country's most affected areas and look for possible solutions to the HIV/AIDS crisis. "We want to eliminate the notion that MPs fear to speak about HIV/AIDS in their constituencies for the fear of losing votes," she said. The joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS estimates that 8 percent of Tanzania's teenagers and adults (15 to 49 years) are infected with HIV/AIDS.

KENYA: WFP representative takes up post

The new UN World Food Programme (WFP) Representative and Country Director for Kenya, Tesema Negash, on Tuesday presented his credentials to the Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Christopher Mogere Obure, and thanked the government for its support to WFP's humanitarian and development activities in the region. Since the start of the drought emergency in February last year, the Kenyan government has donated more than 100,000 mt food from its own resources, thereby strongly supporting a unified pipeline of relief food for the drought response, which has seen WFP provide more than 670,000 mt of drought food aid assistance in the last one and a half years, WFP stated in a press release.

Obure assured WFP of the Kenyan government's support, including the use of Lokichoggio - in the northwest - for air and relief operations into southern Sudan, and the continued availability of Mombasa Port as the key entry point and supply route for WFP humanitarian food aid arrivals in the sub-region, including the Great Lakes, southern Sudan and eastern DRC. Negash arrived in Kenya on Monday, 27 August, to replace Holdbrook Arthur, who has moved to Cameroon as WFP's Regional Director for Central Africa.

WFP Kenya currently provides humanitarian drought assistance to 3.1 million people, including 1.8 million drought-affected people and 1.3 million students in arid and semi-arid areas through its school-feeding programme. WFP also feeds 210,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia and Sudan. Kenya is also host to WFP's Country Office for Somalia, where drought is affecting an estimated half a million people.

KENYA: Commissioner decries suspension of donor funding

A senior official from Nyanza province, western Kenya, has said that the suspension of donor funding to the area was damaging development projects and threatening the health care of local people, Kenyan Radio reported on Wednesday. During a tour of Bondo District Hospital, Provincial Commissioner John Nandasaba reported that development work on the hospital, started in 1990, had stalled following the suspension of aid from multilateral donors. Many communities in the district currently had little or no access to professional medical care, he added. Nandasaba said that ordinary Kenyans were facing continued hardship after calls from some politicians and donors to suspend aid, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) reported.

The Kenyan parliament on 14 August rejected a bill that would have paved the way for the reinstatement of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA). The IMF discontinued aid to Kenya last year because of its failure to fulfil promises on privatisation of state utilities and tackling corruption, with the reestablishment of the KACA a key condition for the release of US $198 million in funding. Opposition parties and civil society groups argued that the constitutional amendment proposed by the government to allow KACA be reestablished would have guaranteed a weak and ineffectual institution.

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