Kenya + 3 more

East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 31 August

SUDAN: Khartoum calls for condemnation of SPLM/A
The government of Sudan has written to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting that the international community, and the United Nations in particular, condemn "the ongoing aggression by the rebel movement (Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army) against the Sudanese people in general, and the people in the south in particular." In a letter from Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Isma'il, it also called on the UN "to exert pressure on the rebel movement to accept an immediate ceasefire in southern Sudan." Khartoum accused the rebel movement of having exacerbated the war in Sudan by launching "intensive military operations in Bahr al-Ghazal state", displacing thousands of civilians and creating a humanitarian crisis in the state and its immediate environs. The SPLM/A had also made it clear that it would continue its military operations in an effort "to engulf the states of Kordofan and Darfur in western Sudan," the letter stated.

Khartoum has repeatedly called for a comprehensive ceasefire in the war-affected areas of the south, arguing that it would alleviate the suffering of the civilian population and provide a conducive atmosphere for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The rebel movement has said that a comprehensive ceasefire can only be agreed in the context of an overall political settlement, and has also - more recently - stated that the fighting would not stop until there was "a cessation of the exploration, development and export of oil".

SUDAN: Government denies use of ballistic missiles

Sudanese diplomatic officials in Britain have denied reports that the Sudanese army has used ballistic missiles in the war against southern Sudanese rebels, the official Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) reported on Thursday. A statement from the Sudanese embassy in London denied allegations made in a British television programme on 23 August that the government was using such weapons, and said the programme was "full of rhetoric, but lacked accurate information and evidence", according to SUNA.

The statement claimed that pressure groups hostile to Sudan had made the allegations to hamper the official British role for boosting efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Sudan. The UK-based 'Guardian' newspaper reported on 14 August that it had video footage of a missile being fired from a truck near the Ingessana Hills [Blue Nile state, eastern Sudan] during a government offensive. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has also claimed that government forces have used surface-to-surface missiles before trying to advance on Kurmuk town, near the Ethiopian border. 'The Guardian' newspaper quoted a western analyst as saying that aid operations around the oilfields could be put at risk. "The effect of a missile like this falling on a town would be to clear all aid missions out," the analyst added.

SUDAN: UN envoy hopes for progress on IDP mission

The Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Displaced Persons, Francis Deng, has expressed regret in a report to the UN General Assembly at a Sudanese government decision earlier this year against a mission by him to Sudan. Deng, a Sudanese national himself, said he was due to travel to Sudan - the country with by far the greatest number of internally-displaced people (IDPs) in the world, at over four million - in May when, "regrettably, at the last moment, certain elements in the government decided against the mission... for reasons that were not given." That was also supposed to be combined with two workshops on displacement: one to be held in Khartoum, and which had been agreed on by the government, and one to be held in Rumbek, in Lakes region (Al-Buhayrat), southern Sudan, which were also cancelled, he reported on 21 August.

However, Deng said he was welcome to visit Sudan in order to discuss the situation, with a view to agreeing on alternative arrangements, and it was hoped that the matter would be resolved shortly "so that the mission and the workshops can go forward, as originally agreed." There has been some progress on achieving a better coordinated international response to displacement, and important efforts to have Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement promoted and applied, yet the global crisis of internal displacement remained acute and left no room for complacency, Deng told the UN General Assembly.

SUDAN: Isma'il says IGAD meeting would be "untimely"

A proposed meeting of the government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was "untimely" until differences between the two sides were worked out by recently-formed permanent negotiating committees, according to Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Uthman Isma'il, cited by the 'Al-Ray al-Amm' newspaper on Thursday. The next meeting in the IGAD process had been due to take place in August. The permanent negotiating committees, based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, [since Kenya is currently chairing the IGAD peace process on Sudan] were preparing to start work next week, Isma'il added. He also denied SPLM/A claims that the government was bombing civilian positions in southern Sudan, describing the allegations as "repetitive" and "baseless". Isma'il said that SPLM/A leader John Garang continued to make such allegations in order to avoid agreeing to a comprehensive ceasefire which the government had called for, and as a way of strengthening his hand during meetings intended to agree a comprehensive political solution, the report added.

SUDAN: United States set to name special envoy

US President George Bush was set to name former Missouri Senator Jack Danforth as his special diplomatic envoy for Sudan, news agencies reported on Thursday. Government officials had said Danforth and Bush administration aides were in the final stages of negotiating terms for the post, according to the US-based Pioneer Press. Danforth, a lawyer by profession, retired from the US Senate in 1994 after representing the State of Missouri for 18 years. Prior to serving in the Senate, Danforth served as Attorney-General for Missouri for eight years. He is also an ordained cleric in the Episcopal Church. In the Senate, Danforth had a reputation as a conservative-to-moderate Republican with a strong sense of personal ethics, a dislike for stridently partisan politics and a knack for finding common ground - all of which brought him respect from both Republicans and Democrats, according to US media sources.

Bush's first choice for special envoy, former head of the US State Department's Africa Bureau, Chester Crocker, turned down a job offer in June. Crocker claimed that US domestic political situation was hindering peace efforts in Sudan, and that attention from pressure groups in the US such as the Congressional Black Caucus and conservative Christian groups would make the job of an envoy to Sudan very difficult. The Bush-appointed Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, head of USAID Andrew Natsios, travelled to northern and southern Sudan in mid-July for a seven-day assessment mission "to see first-hand the humanitarian situation". USAID Acting Administrator for Africa Keith E Brown emphasised that Natsios' mission was not political - though he had an agenda in relation to vulnerability and access - and noted that the US administration was then still deciding on a diplomatic envoy to the Sudan.

SUDAN: Council on poverty alleviation begins work

First Vice-President of Sudan Ali Osman Mohamed Taha on Thursday inaugurated the first meeting of a national council for preparing and supervising the government's strategic programme for poverty alleviation, the official Sudanese news agency (SUNA) reported. State Minister at the Ministry of Finance, Dr Ahmed Majzoub, said that the meeting was intended to acquaint officials with the framework of the poverty alleviation plan, especially in relations to activities the health, education and water sectors.

KENYA: Kyeni Forest farmers protest displacement

A group of 867 internally displaced persons (IDPs), forced out of Kyeni Forest in Thika District in early June and who have been living in a roadside camp in Huruma, Thika, since, have complained that they were harassed, intimidated and beaten by forestry officials into leaving their forest homes of eight years. Huruma camp committee chairman Gad Wainaina told IRIN that forest rangers had beaten the IDPs and burned their houses to the ground, forcing them to leave the forest where they had lived since 1993, with the consent of the government. Earlier this week, the process of moving the Huruma IDPs to a new plot back inside the forest began, "to remove them from the dangers at the roadside", according to an official from the Thika District Forest Office. However, it was not known how long the IDPs would be allowed to stay on the new land, as it was only intended to be a temporary measure, he said.

The group had been living and farming in the forest with the consent of the Kenyan government since 1993, having fled political violence in surrounding districts that was associated with Kenya's first multi-party parliamentary elections in 1992. The IDPs have claimed that illegal logging in Kyeni was taking place with the tolerance of forestry officials, while a Thika District forest officer told IRIN that the farmers were evicted because they were residing there illegally; although they had been permitted to cultivate land inside the forest, they were meant to travel to the land daily, while living outside the forest boundaries, he added.

Under a new relocation plan agreed by the government following pressure by local MP Patrick Kariuki, the Kyeni IDPs may be able to cultivate a different part of the forest than they were in, pay an increased but still nominal annual rent per hectare, and work a number of days a month (unpaid) for the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, planting trees. Some among the IDPs fear that the relocation plan is a ruse to move them from the roadside, and that violent attacks from forest officials could start again once they are out of public view, but that they have no option but to take up the government's offer. "Our alternative is to die," said one of their number. [for more details, see separate IRIN story of 31 August headlined: "KENYA: Kyeni displaced protest treatment, conditions"]

KENYA: Minister criticises clergy over condom stance

Health Minister Sam Ongeri on Thursday criticised religious leaders for refusing to accept the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the 'East African Standard' reported. Ongeri said the spread of the disease and its impact on the economy was a "matter of national concern" in Kenya, and that all possible means, including condoms, should be used to prevent its spread. "We are losing able citizens to the scourge and it is wise to protect our people," he was quoted as saying. The government in July announced its intention to import 300 million condoms as a major plank of a new HIV/AIDS control campaign, under which it is hoping to reduce HIV infection among 15-25-year-olds by 30 percent in the next four years.

Ongeri said the best way for Kenyans to avoid infection was through abstinence or sticking to one faithful partner but than the use of condoms could not be ruled out as an additional measure. "My church leaders have always blamed me for advocating the use of condoms, but I would like to assure them that we advocate its use as a last measure," he said. Catholic and Muslim leaders in Kenya have opposed the use of condoms, claiming that it promotes immoral behaviour.

TANZANIA: Journalists arrested over Tarime clashes

Police in the Mara region of northern Tanzania have arrested nine journalists from mainstream newspapers and broadcasting stations who were going to witness the signing of a peace agreements between the warring Waanchari and Walyanchoka clans in Tarime, the Tanzanian 'Guardian' newspaper reported on Friday. The journalists were arrested on the basis of claims that they have exaggerated reports of the clashes, during which over 400 house have reportedly been set on fire. This was the second time this week that journalists had been arrested in Tarime in connection with the clashes, which has brought expressions of concern from the Tanzania Media Council. Its chairman, Antony Ngaiza, has appealed for the immediate release of the journalists, the 'Guardian' reported.

TANZANIA: Mkapa says mining compensation "unacceptable"

Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa has said that the country's natural resources, including precious minerals, belonged to all of its citizens and not to a particular group or tribe in whose region they happened to be found, and therefore the revenues raised by the government from such resources would be used for the benefit of all Tanzanians and not local interest groups. Mkapa made his comments when he visited the mineral-rich Shinyanga Region in northwestern Tanzania, where the question of community compensation for companies' access to mineral resources has consistently been raised, Radio Tanzania reported on Thursday. Mkapa said that the demand by some people for compensation for companies mining in their areas was "unacceptable", and was not in the national interest.

UGANDA: Fall in HIV/AIDS rates reported

Ugandan health officials said on Thursday that the HIV/AIDS infection rate among pregnant women had fallen significantly over the last two years, the government-owned 'New Vision' reported. A surveillance report from the Ministry of Health showed that the infection rate among women attending ante-natal clinics had fallen to 6.1 percent at the end of 2000, down from 6.8 percent in 1999, it said. The newspaper quoted Director-General of the Uganda AIDS Commission David Kihumuro-Apuuli as saying that the decline in infection rates in pregnant women reflected a general trend of decreased HIV/AIDS infection across the country.

According to the report, the fall was much steeper in urban areas, where the average infection rate dropped from 10.9 percent to 8.7 percent. Rural areas only benefited from a 0.1 percent decrease, with the infection rate at the end of 200 standing at 4.2 percent, the 'New Vision' reported. The highest infection rate ever reported was 30.2 percent in Mbarara in 1992, where the rate had now dropped to 10.0 percent, it added.

[ENDS]

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